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Habitats of the
Andes Mountains

General Information

Extending from Venezuela to southern Chile, the Andes Mountains stretch for more than 6,000 miles along the western edge of the South American continent.

 

This rugged chain of volcanoes, grasslands, deserts, high altitude lakes and lush forests are home to some of the most diverse habitats on earth.

South America
Figure 1 - South America

 

Cotapaxi Volcano
Figure 2 - Cotapaxi Volcano

More than 30 spectacular volcanoes occur in the Andes Mountain range. At 19,347 feet, Cotapaxi Volcano is the highest active volcano in the world. Some of the other volcanic peaks include Cayambe (18,991 feet), Imbabura (15,117 feet), Pichincha (15,724 feet), Chimborazo (20,697 feet) and Sangay (17,154), also one of the most active in the Andes.

 

Perhaps the most famous bird of the Andes Mountains is the Andean Condor. These immense birds make their home on the steep cliffs found along the Andean chain where they gracefully soar while they look for a carrion meal.

Andean Condor
Figure 3 - Andean Condor

 

Andean Condor
Figure 4 - Andean Condor

 

Like their Condor relatives in North America, now teetering on the edge of extinction, populations of Andean condors are declining in the face of increasing human pressure.

Above the treeline, windswept grasslands are home to many species of birds. In the northern Andes, these grasslands are called Páramo, but further south they are the Puna.

The Páramo
Figure 5 -  The Páramo

 

Stout-billed Cincloides
Figure 6 - Stout-billed Cincloides

 

Shown here in the Páramo, at an altitude of about 13,000 feet, is a Stout-billed Cincloides.

Other birds of the Páramo include the Noble Snipe, Many-striped Canastero, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, and Rufous-naped Brush Finch. Even some hummingbirds, such as the Chimborazo Hillstar, are at home in the thin air of the Andes.

 

Rufous-naped Brush Finch
Figure 7 - Rufous-naped Brush Finch

 

High Altitude Lakes
Figure 8 - High Altitude Lakes

 

Above the treeline, acidic lakes thaw long enough to provide a breeding home to some interesting aquatic birds.

Birds such as the Andean Lapwing and Slate-colored Coot nest and rear their young in these high altitude lakes.

Andean Lapwing
Figure 9 - Andean Lapwing

 

Andean Gull
Figure 10 - Andean Gull

 

The Andean Gull is also very much at home in these high altitude lakes.

The flowers of Alpine plants provide nectar to hummingbirds such as the Chimborazo Hillstar.

Blossoms
Figure 11 - Blossoms

 

Primary Rainforest, Pacific Slope
Figure 12 - Primary Rainforest, Pacific Slope

 

The Pacific slopes of the Andes are blanketed with some of the wettest rainforests on earth. These forests are home to hundreds of species of birds, including the spectacular Andean Cock-of-the-Rock.

The forests surrounding the village of Mindo in northwestern Ecuador, with more than 430 species of birds, is one of the best birding locations in South America. Notice, however, the clear cutting of the forests on the mountain sides.

Mindo, Ecuador
Figure 13 - Mindo, Ecuador

 

Río Mindo
Figure 14 - Río Mindo

 

Turbulent rivers that cascade down the slopes of the Andes to the Pacific Ocean are home to Torrent Ducks, Water Ouzels and other water birds.

Unfortunately, encroaching human civilization continues to put pressure on remaining natural areas.

Life in the Rainforest
Figure 15 - Life in the Rainforest

 

Deforestation
Figure 16 - Deforestation

 

In many regions, large tracts of rainforest have already given way to ranching, farming and other human activities.

Conservation of Neotropical Habitats

Many people in the Neotropical Zone recognize the need to conserve natural areas, and are working hard through a number of organizations to preserve remaining areas. Despite these efforts, populations of many species of birds and other wildlife are dwindling as civilization continues to encroach into natural regions.

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