Book review: Birds of Colombia – ProAves guide

Proaves - Birds of Colombia

by Gunnar on March 23, 2011 · 4 comments

in Birding Neotropics

Field guide to the birds of Colombia

Below follows a short review of  the newly published Birds of Colombia financed by the Colombian conservation NGO ProAves. It is in place to put forward some of ProAves virtues, in the aftermath of the rather long debate presented here on Birdingblogs regarding ProAves hasty description of  a new Antpitta in a ProAves to scoop a former employee who intended to describe the bird he had found and collected without proper permits.  I think it is clear also to ProAves that the results of the feud has hurt the organization – at least its relationship with professional ornithologists. All parties have now left this episode behind -and there is a desire to build a greater understanding and cooperation in the future. (See the last footnote of the link above).

ProAves – Birding tourism catalyst in Colombia

Meanwhile, I think a review of ProAves role for conservation and the upsurge of birding tourism in Colombia is in place.  Proaves has not only bought land to protect a number of key species, but also built infrastructure so the same places can be visited and the key species seen.  They operate birding tours and birding lodges under the commercial branch Ecoturs and provide the services to both independent birders as well as birding tour operators.  The massive promotion made by ProAves has also helped many Colombian birding tour operators  (a list of operators specializing in Colombia is provided below). There is now a boom of birding tours going to Colombia.  And, as is the case with my Peru, Colombia warrants several tours to justly cover its endemics and specialties. International birding tour operators have also discovered Colombia in recent years and are flocking to go to Colombia.

While, the most important factor is that most of the key areas for birding are now possible to visit without fear of getting kidnapped by FARC, the role of ProAves for building the brand “Birding Colombia” in its generic terms, can not be underestimated.

Colombia always had a good position to start receiving hoards of birders.  A good field guide in Hilty’s Birds of Colombia
– a major work for Neotropical Ornithology, a good modern road system, good hotels and a network national parks and reserves that are inviting to visitors with basic lodging and camping facilities. But usually it takes time for the public to understand that the country overall, or most of the best birding sites, are safe to visit.  And here ProAves positive propaganda machine with help of ABC and WLT,  has certainly played an important role to switch birders presupposition that Colombia now is safe to visit.

The new Birds of Colombia  field guide

Now the new Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia produced by ProAves workers Thomas Donegan, Miles MacMullan and Alonso Quevedo is out.  Although, it can not compare with the massive information provided by Hilty’s book (an update of Hilty´s book is in the make), it is still a remarkable achievement. It is a one of its kind. No other field guide contains so many species in such a handy format. It is truly a pocket guide that does fit in your pocket. The photo below is clickable to see its real size.

Birds of Colombia - ProAves Plate Tanagers


  • small size and very portable.
  • up to date
  • distribution maps and short description together with the image
  • depicts all migrants, including shorebirds and warblers
  • pointing out endemics and threatened species.
  • voice rendition included. Whether it is of much value can be debated, but it can certainly be used when studying up on the calls that you have downloaded from xeno-canto or if you bought the Cornell collection (see below).


  • too small size – I will struggle with the book in the field as the text is just a little bit too small for my 50 year old eyes. The could have made the book slightly wider and that way the size of pictures, range maps and text would have easier to read in the field.


Technology solves everything. I just got an iPad. I scanned all the plates of the ProAves guide. With the touch-screen magnified views of the photos and the text are literally at your finger-tips. What is more, the iPad will also have scans of Hilty’s book, birds of Ecuador and Birds of Peru – as well as all the call of the birds we will find on our way in Colombia on my next visit in two weeks. I just ordered the Cornell collection A Guide to the Bird Sounds of the Colombian Andes: Seven-CD Set.

I think it would be a good idea for ProAves to also to produce a version for the iPad/iPhone/iPod.  After all, I would certainly had bought a digital version of the book had it been offered. Countless hours of digitalizing, and changing filenames of  225 slides could have been better spent.

Bird Tour companies specializing on Colombia

I want to send some gratitude to those companies that have helped me set up Kolibri Expeditions first Colombia tour in 13 years.  Our first trip goes from Bogotá to Santa Marta via ProAves’ Blue-billed Curassow, Cerulean Warbler and Recurve-billed Bushbird reserves starting April 3 (any last minute takers?). A follow up trip is planned for a Cali to Medellin  in January 2012, visiting sites in the Cauca valley and the Choco region. If you can’t go with us, I strongly recommend these operators.

Colombia is definitely one of the worlds best birding destinations.

Disclaimer: All links in this post are affiliate links.

Subscribe Now

If you enjoyed this post, you will definitely enjoy our others. Subscribe to the feed to get instantly updated for those awesome posts soon to come. gives you top birding content every day!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Pat ODonnell March 31, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Thanks for reviewing that book Gunnar! Would love to see how tyrannulet species are depicted.


Miles McMullan April 30, 2011 at 8:51 pm


I think it’s misleading to say that the book “is in place to put forward some of ProAves virtues, in the aftermath of the rather long debate…etc.” I had completed more 90% of the book before I had ever met or spoken to anyone from ProAves. Before contacting them I had offered, without success, to publish with several groups in Colombia, notably ACO (May 2009).
I made the decision to publish with ProAves for the very simple reason that they were the only organization in Colombia that treated me seriously and attentively, and I was understandably tired of the haughty and dismissive attitude of other groups.
Upon publication, it was board members of ACO, among others (on and elsewhere) who made the claim that the book was produced clandestinely as competition to their own project (which they had told me was frozen) and that it was unethical that were not consulted, both of which claims they knew to be false.



Gunnar Engblom April 30, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Hi Miles. Thanks for popping in. First of all, I did certainly did not say “it was time to put forward the book in the aftermath” of course I realize that most of the book was completed long ago. Maybe that long sentence does not read as I intended, but what I meant was of course, that even if ProAves screwed up on the Antpitta, there are many positive things done for conservation and promoting birding tourism. The book is such a positive thing. Interesting the background you are giving. I totally agree with you that it is sounds rediculous to say your book is a threat to an update or another book in production. If another book is made t will still be bought of course if it adds something. Your book is very concise, but as such there are things that could be improved. Font size and some of the plates for instance, but the overall impression is very positive.
Good luck with the restaurant in Minca. We certainly found the food delicious.


Miles McMullan May 1, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Many thanks for you comments.
Indeed I am looking into the possibility of digitalizing field guides, but I am just hopeless with technology! We hope to make steady improvements with each edition of the book. In the Spanish language version, which is now ready for press, I have added some improvements, which I hope are helpful. All comments and suggestions are invaluable and received with gratitude.
If you are interested in more information about the background to the publication, I can furnish the relevant documentation.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: