Mindo is a town, a river and an area… actually the area is quite large and El Monte is located pretty much in the central part of this area, about 3 kilometers from the town of Mindo on the Rio Mindo and all three are located on the western slope of the Andes, we’re the wintering home of many temperate species. Also, at 1,300 meters above sea level we are at the mid-point elevation between the highland Quito area and the coast. Therefore we have birds that occasionally visit from the Coastal and the Sierra region. For these reasons (and others) over 400 species of birds have been seen just in the immediate area. Including areas that can be visited in day trips from the town of Mindo, there are an estimated 550 bird species. Birds that can be seen in the Mindo area include Cock-of-the-Rock, Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan, Toucan Barbet, Giant Antpitta, Scaled Fruiteater, Club-Winged Manakin and Torrent Duck, among others.
Mindo Bird Highlights...
- 2000 Mindo is named an “Important Area for Birds” by an international bird organization. This was due to the high diversity and threatened nature of many of the birds that are found here. It is the first area so-named in South America.
- Mindo is also home to the greatest number of endemic montane birds of any place in the world (Birds of Ecuador, Ridgley and Greenfield).
- 2000-2005 Christmas Bird Count (CBC) – sponsored by the Audubon Society. Mindo has been among the top 3 highest bird counts in the world for the last 6 years. This is with over 2,000 locations participating. Each location is a 25 kilometer radius, and the count lasts for 24 hours. Mindo had the highest count in 2000 with 350 bird species recorded, and in past years has exceeded the 400 bird species mark.
Around El Monte there are many places that are excellent for birding or nature observation…
- House Birding. This may seem pretty tame but some excellent birds have been seen just from the main house. Birds, such as, Olivaceous Piculet, Red Headed Barbet, Tiny Hawk, Golden Headed Quetzal...
- Flat Loop Trail. This trail follows the Rio Mindo, just in front of the Cabanas and winds back to the Main House. Along the river it is possible to see White-Capped Dipper, Torrent Torranulet, Sunbittern and in the forest mixed Tanager flocks, flycatchers, woodcreepers, foliage gleaners and woodpeckers are always a possibility.
- Rio Mindo Dirt Road. The dirt road that is on the other side of the Rio Mindo from El Monte can also be excellent for various sorts of birds.
- Trail and Dirt Road along the Cordillera San Lorenzo. This path/road brings you from 1,300 meters up to about 1,600 meters. There is a possibility of various bird species not generally found at El Monte, such as Plate-Billed Mountain Toucan, Olivaceous Piha, Crested Quetzal… with luck Club-Winged Manakins are a possibility at a lek in this area.
- Trail and Dirt Road loop along the Cordillera San Lorenzo. This trail loops back to El Monte and offers an excellent opportunity to see many forest and secondary forest species.
There are many areas inside of Mindo or just outside that are best accessed by car. Transport can be arranged to the following areas...
- “Y” of Mindo. This area is about 20 minutes from El Monte and is a great spot to locate various foraging birds that come to feed on moths at a streetlight. Toucan Barbets, Masked Trogan and the Rufous Bellied Nighthawk are among the many possibilities.
- Milpe. This area is about a 30 minute drive from El Monte, and is home to a Club-Winged Manakin lek. The altitude is about 1,000 meters so many Foothill and Coastal species are found here.
- Tandayapa/Santa Rosa. About a 40 minute drive, this affords an opportunity to view birds above 2,000 meters.
- Pedro Vicente Maldonado. About a 1 hour drive from El Monte and at 800 meters many lowland species are visible in this area.
We welcome and cater to the needs of birders of all levels. Our cable car entrance ensures us privacy and access to the old road that crosses the Mindo-Nambillo ridge that is one of the best areas for birding.
Sometimes described as a “singles bar”, a lek is a meeting place for male and female birds. The singles bar description seems even more appropriate when you consider that the males dance wildly and engage in all sorts of displaying behavior. Not all bird species use leks, in fact most don’t, but ones that do include grouse, some hummingbirds, Cock-of-the-Rocks and mmanakins… among others.
The Cock-of-the-Rocks in Mindo are bright red, with black wings and a bit of white on the rump and have a crazy pompadour-looking crest. The males come together at precisely 6:00AM to dance, squawk, mock fight and sometimes to actually physically fight to maintain territory to impress the occasional female who may fly into the lek.
Males are able to spend all this energy and time (sometimes up to 6 hours a day!) to attract the females because they have no parental responsibilities at the nest. They don't help build the nest, nor help feed the chicks… but prefer to hang out at the “bar” trying to pass on their genes.
At El Monte we are able to arrange a trip to visit a Cock-of-the-Rock Lek. It entails waking up at about 4:00AM, meeting a car at 4:30AM and being driven for about 45 minutes. From there it is about a 20 minute walk to the lek. You should arrive to the lek a little after 5:30AM where you wait until dawn for "the show".
As far as we know there are about 5 or 6 leks in our area. All seem to be very old and nobody can remember when they actually began… unfortunately it appears that new leks don't start very easily and therefore that makes existing ones that much more important. An odd thing about the leks in Mindo is that there are always males at the lek, everyday of the year… rain or shine. This seems to contrast with almost all other leks in other areas that seem to be more seasonal.
The cost of the car is $20 - $40 if you would like to bird for about 3 hours after the lek… and the owner of the land where the lek is located charges up to $20 per person entrance fees. The prices vary because there are two different leks. We at El Monte have encouraged this land owner to receive guests and feel it is a valuable asset to conservation of the Rio Cinto area, where we are hoping will become under official protection of the Mindo-Nambillo Protected Forest.
Mindo bird list available upon request
While mammal species are difficult to see, over time we have spotted on the El Monte reserve; agouti, ocelot, red brocket deer, paca, tayra, coati, three-toed sloth, and white-fronted capuchin monkeys. There is also a high diversity of reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and other insects in Mindo.