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Birding in El Cajas National Park

Situated in the Ecuadorian highlands, around 30 km west of Cuenca, El Cajas National Park features varied habitats that are home to an amazing variety of bird species, some of which are considered to be endangered by conservationists. Covering an area of more than 285 square kilometers, with altitudes of between 3100 and 4450 meters above sea level, El Cajas was added to Ecuador's list of official National parks in November 1996, and has become a popular destination for birding enthusiasts.

One of the more prominent bird species found in El Cajas National Park is the national symbol of Ecuador, the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus). This large black vulture has a distinctive ruff of white feathers around its neck and white feathers on the tops of its wings. It has a wingspan of up to 3.2 meters and is primarily a scavenger. This majestic bird, which features in mythology and folklore of the Andean regions, is considered to be 'near threatened' by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), mainly due to loss of habitat and poisoning.

Birders can also look out for the largest member of the hummingbird family, aptly named (when compared with other members of the species) the giant hummingbird (Patagona gigas). Weighing between 18 and 24 grams, the giant hummingbird has a wingspan of around 21.5 cm and flaps its wings only 12 times per second, which is quite slow when compared with other hummingbird species that flap their wings between 50 and 200 times per second. Nevertheless, giant hummingbirds have amazing maneuverability skills and hover to feed from flowers in the same manner as all hummingbird species.

The violet-throated metaltail (Matallura baroni) is a hummingbird species endemic to Ecuador. With metallic green tail feathers and violet-colored feathers at its throat, this hummingbird favors subtropical or tropical high-altitude grassland and montane forest. Its continued existence is threatened by habitat loss, but for now birders visiting El Cajas may have the good fortune of spotting one of these beautiful birds.

A more common, but no less eye-catching, hummingbird species birders can look out for is the sparkling violetear (Colibri coruscans). With their iridescent blue-green feathers and violet markings at the sides of their heads, these pretty little bids are seen virtually throughout Ecuador, even in urban settings.

With its varied habitats being home to 157 recorded bird species, El Cajas National Park is certainly a destination birding enthusiasts may want to consider visiting.

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