Recording the understory bird communities in the Peruvian Amazon

Black-spotted bare-eye

Male black-spotted bare eyes were found to have larger bodies and also redder bare-eye patches than females

Surveys of an under-explored part of the Peruvian Amazon have revealed the rich diversity amongst the understory bird community there.

Peru is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet for avifauna, with nearly 1900 species recorded and 139 endemics. To put this into perspective, the entirety of Europe only contains around 700 species. But, whilst many large and showy birds, such as macaws, have attracted a lot of interest and study, very little is known about the vast majority of the species in this country, especially understory passerines. No thorough literature of morphology and identification is available like in North America and Europe, for example.

Reserva Nacional Pacaya-Samiria is the largest protected flooded forest area in the Amazon at more than 20,000 km2, and yet with just 260 species recorded in the Park, avian biodiversity is certainly under-recorded and understudied. 2012 saw the start of the first concerted effort to address this with a project initiated by Operation Wallacea to assess the understory birds of the park.

Recording species

Lines of mist nets were distributed through the tropical forest understory in an attempt to catch and record the birds found here. Despite 2012 just being the first year, 86 species were recorded from these mist nets – an incredible diversity for such a small patch of forest surveyed. Eleven of these were firsts for the reserve.

86 species were recorded from the mist nets and 11 of these were firsts for the reserve

Each bird was identified, colour ringed and basic measurements were collected. This allowed the species present in the reserve to be assessed, along with diversity and abundance.

The first break-through has come with black-spotted bare-eyes (Phlegopsis nigromaculata). Despite the literature claiming that this species could not be aged and sexed, sufficient individuals were caught in 2012 for ornithologists to attempt to find the characteristics that would allow this species to be aged and sexed in the future.

Males were found to have larger bodies (primary chord, tail etc), with very little overlap, and also redder bare-eye patches, than females. The birds caught in 2012, along with additional specimens from the British Natural History collections at Tring, will provide the sample for a paper by these authors to be published on these findings.

Future conservation

Blue-chinned sapphire

Blue-chinned sapphire

The continuation of this new Amazonian bird project is very exciting and will hopefully shed much light on many aspects of the understory bird community, from species make-up, through taxonomy to behaviour.

A thorough understanding of the physiology of each species is necessary to understand their basic biology and may lead to research into how the floods affect species and communities, allowing interpretation of future conservation impacts to the reserve to be assessed.

From next year, individually marked metal rings will be used to further this project’s value. This study site will no doubt give rise to very interesting findings!

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