Written, illustrated & photography by George Cruz

As this field guide rightly points out on it first pages, Ecuador has one of the world’s richest ecosystems and its bird population is incredibly rich and diverse. With the help of a guide, binoculars, a telescope and a certain amount of patience, it is possible to spot dozens and dozens of Ecuador’s birds within a fairly short range of the country’s busy capital, Quito. The cover page - a coloured drawing of a sword-billed hummingbird strikingly depicted against a blank white background - elegantly sets the scene for the amazing ornithological paradise located only a short minibus ride from the urban sprawl that is Quito.

Dr. Cruz, the book’s enthusiastic author, was a vet in New York before returning to his native Ecuador and dedicating his life to ecotourism. He and his family run a series of rural lodges known at The Magic Birding & PhotographyCircuit, dotted around the luxuriant cloud forest that blankets the Andean range to the northwest of Quito. The company also own an ecolodge in the country’s Amazonian heartland, where the flora and fauna are equally rewarding. Cheryl Korowotny organizes the Birding tours, including to the Galapagos archipelago, where the abundant wildlife inspired Darwin’s theory of natural evolution.

Not only is George an expert birder, he also captures the beauty and detail of each species in his photography and artwork, both of which admirably illustrate the guide book and bring it to life. Luckily George has passed on his talents, knowledge and enthusiasm to his son, Jorge Cruz Jr., who has contributed photos, paintings and useful maps to the publication. At the beginning of the book you can see a photo of George himself, garlanded with all the birdwatching paraphernalia, standing at the ready in a typical lush setting of San Jorge de Milpe Orchid & Bird Reserve in the Tropical Rainforest. On the following pages useful colour-coded maps and charts explain the geography of birding in Ecuador. One of the interesting facts you soon glean is that so many species are endemic to the country or even to small areas of it.

There are two indices: one for the book’s structure, the other listing birds by the Latin family name. The main body of the book itself is divided into six chapters, each covering broad families of birds: hummingbirds, birds of prey, tanagers/parrots/woodpeckers, aquatic birds, antbirds/cuckoos/wrens and kingfishers/sparrows/swallows. Most of the species - and there are 542 in the metropolitan district alone, out of a total of 1659 nationwide - are illustrated with a small photo, a colour code telling you where to find them and a number referring to how rare they are.

Some species are entitled to a larger photo or a hand-painted illustration - these include the supremely rare banded ground-cuckoo, which has been sighted at San Jorge de Milpe but is regarded as one of the hardest birds to observe in the world. On the opposite page is a splendid illustration of a black-breasted puffleg, one of the 130 (and counting) species of hummers that delight all-comers to Ecuador. A glimmering jewel of emerald and sapphire, this is a local icon, a symbol of Quito - and its pristine fluffy booties are definitely part of its charm.

Each chapter kicks off with a useful page of background information, covering details such as habitat and habit. Every bird species is named in English, Spanish and Latin - naturally pride of place is given to one of the wish-list species, the Andean cock-of-the-rock, gallo de peña or Rupicola peruvianus sanguinolenta. The male, whose black and grey lower half is in vivid contrast with its cardinal-red upper half, shows off to drab females in leks, or mating parade grounds, one of which is conveniently close to one of George’s lodges at San Jorge de Tandayapa Hummingbird Sanctuary in the Cloud Forest.

Another great advantage of this guide is its size and weight, compared with another highly academic tome containing all 1600 plus bird species found in Ecuador. This comprehensive and highly informative field guide to the birds of metropolitan Quito should definitely be in your luggage along with all your gear. While birding at The Magic Birding Circuit, this lovingly researched and professionally produced book should prove invaluable. As the book itself states: Ecuador offers a diverse array of flora, fauna, landscapes and beautiful bird species all awaiting your visit.

This book may be purchased at San Jorge Eco-Lodge/Quito  reception office.  Cost: $20.00 USD