Birdwatching in the Pantanal in Mato Grosso

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The Pantanal in Mato Grosso is the richest floodplain in terms of bird species on the planet and is a perfect place for birdwatching.

The Pantanal has around 650 birds already catalogued by researchers.

This diversity is all the more formidable because the vast Pantanal is famous for harbouring numerous populations of the same species.

arara-azul ou hyacinth macaw
arara-azul ou hyacinth macaw

During the early hours of the day or in the late afternoon, for example, it is not difficult to see flocks of up to twenty hyacinth macaws perched on manduvis and palm trees – a bird on the List of Endangered Species in Brazil, drawn up by the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama).

At these times, what is most striking is the symphony made up of a wide variety of species, especially the striking sounds (low, strong and well-paced) emitted by the carão and the aracuã.

Observações de Aves no Pantanal Matogrossense

Birdwatching in the Pantanal in Mato Grosso

Observations of Birds in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
Birdwatching in the Pantanal in Mato Grosso

1. Adaptation to the Environment

Throughout the evolutionary history of species, birds have developed biological and ecological mechanisms capable of ensuring survival in their natural environment.

Thus, animals from flooded regions have different needs from those that inhabit savannah areas, which have undergone different adaptations from those that live in forests.

The Pantanal environment is influenced by the three major ecosystems that surround it:

  • the cerrado, to the east
  • the tropical rainforest to the north
  • the chaco of Bolivia and Paraguay, to the west – the latter marked by aridity

The confluence of these biomes, in conjunction with the cycle of water that floods and drenches extensive areas and then gives way to completely dry land, has created conditions for harbouring very different birds.

In the Pantanal, you can easily spot species that are used to the hot and humid places of the Amazon, others that are used to the open fields and low forests of the Cerrado, as well as those that are common in drought-stricken areas.

Despite the rich diversity of its avifauna, the region has only one endemic species: the marsh antbird, a rare bird with a dark grey colour and small white spots.

2. Best time 

The behaviour patterns of birds vary, of course, according to the species. Despite this, the best time to observe them is in the early hours of the morning, at sunrise, when they are most active in search of food and busy marking their territory.

On colder days, the birds tend to stir a little later and are mainly seen where they can be exposed to the sun.

In the late afternoon, when the sun is lower and the temperature is milder, the morning movement is repeated, but with less intensity.

The breeding season is the most notable time for birdwatching. At this stage, they are naturally more active and the chicks, escorted by their parents, rehearse their first flights.

This is what happens between July and November, when the waters are low and the birds flock to the neighbourhood of bays (the local name for lagoons) and corixos (channels through which the waters of the bays, vazantes, swamps and low fields drain into the rivers).

This is also the main time when birds from the Amazon and the northernmost regions of the Americas migrate or pass through.

In search of the region’s generous food supply, some migratory species arrive to breed, others to stay for a few days before heading south: a phenomenon that is repeated every year and can be easily appreciated on the Pantanal plains.

Between December and June, with the areas flooded, observation is more difficult as the birds are more dispersed.

3. What to take

In general, birds can be observed with the naked eye, especially in the Pantanal region, where it is common for many of them to congregate in one place. However, the use of suitable equipment makes it possible to identify important details of the species.

For this reason, binoculars and spotting scopes are two of the most common tools used by birdwatchers.

Experts recommend that binoculars are chosen not only for their magnification potential, but also for their lightness and brightness. Binoculars that are too large are more difficult to hold firmly – and hand tremors get in the way of a good activity.

Smaller binoculars with a magnification of between seven and ten times and good light input are ideal.

To observe animals from a distance, especially birds that have a habit of staying put, such as hawks, we recommend telescopes with a magnification of between twenty and sixty times, which require the use of a tripod or monopod.

For those who have made birdwatching a hobby, recorders with directional microphones – capable of recording the sound coming from a specific point, reducing ambient noise – are useful for later identifying chirps and songs, as well as for attracting birds (using the playback technique).

This practice, however, can irritate birds.

4. Clothing

Birdwatching in the Pantanal requires special care with what you wear.

Extremely sensitive to any unusual movement in their environment, birds are also able to perceive very vibrant colours or colours that reflect sunlight from a distance.

For this reason, avoid wearing clothes in strong colours (such as orange, red, yellow and blue), as well as white, whose reflective power is absolute.

Ideally, clothing, including caps, should be camouflaged or have discreet colours, such as moss green and its variations, light brown and beige – an artifice that “disguises” the human silhouette in the woods and fields.

Despite the heat, don’t wear shorts or tank tops; trousers and long-sleeved shirts are almost obligatory because of the presence of mosquitoes and other insects.

As birdwatching can require many hours of walking, it is also recommended that you wear light and comfortable clothes – but don’t forget to pack a sweater, as it tends to get cold in the early hours of the morning, when the walks usually begin.

In the Pantanal, waterproof boots will help you overcome the areas that remain flooded even during dry periods. A cap is far from being a complementary item: it’s indispensable.

As well as preventing sunburn, it cuts down on its brightness when using binoculars.

5. Observation rules

Birdwatching requires you to pay attention to some important aspects.

Keep a distance of at least 400 metres from the nests.

Disobeying this rule can cause serious damage to nature: many species feel threatened by human presence and may abandon their nests, leaving eggs and chicks behind. Causing flocks is another risk.

Without their parents nearby, young birds are vulnerable to predators.

The abusive use of playback can also disturb adults during breeding periods. Small groups of no more than six people, led by an experienced guide, are ideal for birdwatching.

6. Professionals and field guides

Some agencies have professionals who specialise in birdwatching.

On many farms you can also hire a local guide with a good knowledge of the region and the birds.

Another essential aid for birdwatchers are field guides – bird identification catalogues, illustrated with drawings or photographs, and small in size so that they can be carried easily on walks through the forests.

Some of them, like the ones below, although not easy to find, can be ordered from booksellers, on the internet or from publishers.

See the following publications on the Pantanal of Mato Grosso:

  1. Watching Mammals and Reptiles in the Pantanal
  2. Fishing in the Pantanal – Best places, baits, methods and seasons
  3. Most common fish species in the Pantanal
  4. Bird watching in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  5. Most common bird species in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  6. Flora of the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  7. Fauna of the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  8. Mato Grosso Pantanal – Geography, Climate, Soil and Rivers
  9. History of the Mato Grosso Pantanal – Discovery and Economic Development
  10. Southern Pantanal Region
  11. North Pantanal Region
  12. Why go to the Pantanal in Mato Grosso?

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