Torres del Paine National Park easily tops the list of attractions for nature-lovers in Chilean Patagonia, and probably the whole of Chile. The other-worldly scenery of mountains, glaciers and forests is not only an incredibly beautiful natural spectacle, it also creates a variety of unique habitats for all manner of animals and birds. With raging rivers, boggy wetlands, marshes, ponds, lakes and lagoons, there are any number of ideal locations for waterbirds in particular. Fortunately, most of the waterbirds of Torres del Paine are plentiful and very distinctive so you won't need much help identifying them. But for those who want to know more about the magnificent birds they spot, we’ve put together a list of ten birds you can expect to see, along with some simple facts to help you squeeze the very most out of your vacation in Torres del Paine National Park.
Upland Goose (Chloephaga picta)
- Features: There are actually two kinds of male upland geese, one with a grey back and white tummy, whilst the other has a grey back and grey and white banded tummy. Females have a orange-brown head and yellow legs, but the males’ legs are grey.
- Diet: Their diet consists of leaves, seed-heads, stems and grass.
- Call: The male goose’s call is a repeated whistle while the female’s call is low and rasping.
- Where to look: Although this is a waterbird, it can also be found far from water on dry pastures. However, your best chance of seeing one in the national park is still by a large pool of water, such as Laguna Azul or Lake Sarmiento.
Chilean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis)
- Features: Large and pink, you’ll know it when you see it! The Chilean Flamingo has grey legs with pink knees and its bill is half pink and half black.
- Diet: It eats algae and plankton, which it filters out of the water with a comb-like structure in its bill.
- Call: A loud goose-like honking.
- Where to look: This flamingo tends to congregate in shallow lakes and estuaries in very large flocks. In Torres del Paine they are generally spotted gathering at Laguna Amarga throughout the Patagonian summer.
White Tufted Grebe (Rollandia rolland)
- Features: A small grebe that is black all over except for its white cheeks and, as the name suggests, a tuft of white feathers on its head.
- Diet: The White Tufted Grebe feeds on small fish by dipping into the water from the surface.
- Call: A high bell-like note.
- Where to look: This grebe likes to frequent freshwater lakes and marshes, so head to Laguna El Peral or the wetlands around Grey Lake.
Red Shoveler (Anas platalea)
- Features: This duck has a bright cinnamon-coloured body with black spots, and black flight feathers. The shoveler takes its name from its large bill shaped like a spatula.
- Diet: They feed from the surface rather than diving, eating aquatic plants and seeds as well as some very small worms and molluscs.
- Call: Outside of mating season the Red Shoveler tends to be silent, but during courtship displays it utters a low call.
- Where to look: The bird’s natural habitat is large expanses of brackish water such as estuaries, but they are also found in freshwater lakes. The wetlands around Grey Lake are a good place to start your search.
Magellanic Oystercatcher (Haematopus leucopodus)
- Features: This wader is black all over except for a white belly. It has a long, tapered orange beak and bright yellow eyes.
- Diet: In spite of their name, they aren’t actually known to eat oysters but they do like mussels and other molluscs. They also eat worms and insects.
- Call: Their call is so high-pitched that it can be difficult for some people to hear.
- Where to look: Waders are usually found on sandy shores, but the Magellanic Oystercatcher does range as far as the lakes inside the national park and they’ve even been spotted around the iconic Towers themselves.
Chiloé Wigeon (Anas sibilatrix)
- Features: A stocky duck with a metallic green head and a black and white barred chest with orange-brown sides.
- Diet: The Chiloé Wigeon has a diet of grass and aquatic plants and occasionally some algae.
- Call: This is an unusually vocal duck. The male has a loud whistling call while the female has a low honk.
- Where to look: Laguna Azul is a good place to spot this duck, but since they’re found near freshwater lakes, marshes, lagoons and slow moving rivers, there are plenty of other opportunities to see them in Torres del Paine.
Coscoroba Swan (Coscoroba coscoroba)
- Features: This is the world’s smallest swan but it is still large compared to most waterfowl. It is white all over except for a touch of black at the end of the wing feathers that is often hidden.
- Diet: The Coscoroba swan mostly eats small water plants and grass but it will also eat mussels.
- Call: Its call is quite like the honk of a goose.
- Where to look: This swan is listed as endangered so it can be hard to find. It prefers swamps and lagoons with plenty of vegetation, so Lake Sarmiento and Laguna Azul are good options.
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)
- Features: This stiff-tailed duck has a red-brown body with a black head and a pastel blue beak.
- Diet: The Ruddy Duck will dive underwater and swim for food, which varies from seeds and roots to crustaceans and insects.
- Call: This bird tends to stay silent except during the mating season. As part of the mating ritual it emits a muffled chuffing noise.
- Where to look: It is generally found in marshy lakes and ponds, and in Torres del Paine National Park you can spot them in the wetlands around Grey Lake.
Silvery Grebe (Podiceps occipitalis)
- Features: This grebe has a grey body and head with buff coloured cheeks, a white neck and distinctive bright red eyes.
- Diet: It feeds from the surface but sometimes also dives for short periods and eats insects, larvae and crustaceans.
- Call: Whilst it is usually silent outside of the mating season it does have a wide repertoire of calls including whistles, trills and wailing calls.
- Where to look: The Silvery Grebe is commonly found in shallow freshwater lakes, especially where there are reedbeds along the shorelines, and it has been sighted at Laguna Azul.
Black-Necked Swan (Cygnus melancoryphus)
- Features: This swan is white all over apart from the black neck from which it takes its name. It also has a red patch at the base of its bill.
- Diet: It feeds on algae and aquatic plants but in winter it might resort to eating insects and fish spawn too.
- Call: This is a relatively quiet bird, but it does have a soft, whistling call.
- Where to look: The Black-Necked Swan is more common that the Coscoroba Swan so you’ve got a better chance of seeing one. They’re regularly spotted at Laguna Amarga and Lake Pehoé throughout the summer, before they migrate further north.
For more information relating to bird watching in Torres del Paine National Park, why not read all about Bird Watching for Beginners in Torres del Paine. And if you’re interested in all things animal-related, look out for our upcoming Animal Tracker's Guide to Trekking in Patagonia and our Guide to Patagonian Fish and Sealife.