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Observation of birds at the Volta Velha Reserve
Getting to know the Volta Velha Reserve and its importance for birds

Well-known among birders around the world, the Volta Velha Reserve has become one of the most popular birding spots in southern Brazil. Located in Itapoã on the northern coast of Santa Catarina state, the reserve encompasses 1100 hectares (about 2300 acres) within one of the largest areas of undisturbed Atlantic Forest (lowland rainforest on the coastal plain of Brazil), without doubt among the most endangered biomes on the planet.

From an ornithological perspective, this particular region of the Atlantic Forest has been a micro-center of speciation, giving rise to several very local endemics. This has been a key consideration in the establishment of both public and private reserves in the remaining forested areas, and the scientific community has given high priority to such initiatives.

Rio Saí-Mirim (Foto: Iumaã Bacca)

Studies in the Volta Velha region have resulted in the identification of of approximately 300 species of birds, the majority of which are dependent on forest habitats. The presence of migratory and vagrant (non-resident) species enriches the total, these being present mainly in the spring and fall. The vegetational community, officially classified as Lowland Atlantic Forest, also represents an impressive diversity of micro-habitats, from coastal restingas (stunted woodlands of thin-trunked trees of uniform height growing on sandy soils) to high-canopy humid forest to riparian woodlands and marshes.

Displaying an incredible variety of individual plant species, the forests in this region further stand out for their abundance of epiphytic growth in the form of mosses, epiphytic cacti, and bromeliads, the latter especially providing a home for numerous other life forms.

Birding Trails
Volta Velha features three main trails for nature hikes and bird-watching, all of which are wide and easy to follow:

Glass House Trail – a walk through level terrain in the interior of undisturbed forest, with numerous ancient canopy trees along the way. Birding is best in the very early morning (pre-dawn to about 08:00) as the trail passes through closed forest and crosses a a couple of small streams (mostly under bridges) with swampy forest off to the sides. Large mixed-species flocks are active in this area during the morning hours.

Sambaqui Trail – Perhaps the best overall birding trail in the reserve as it continues for several kilometers through level forest, roughly paralleling the course Saí-Mirim River for much of the way, and actually giving access to the river margin at a point about 3 km from the start. The trail passes through areas of both low-stature and taller restingas interspersed with tall forest and some poorly drained stretches. It’s productive at any time of day, worth exploring thoroughly for the many species that are known to occur.

Apecatu Trail – This interesting loop trail (about 1.5 km total) comes off the Sambaqui near where that trail hits the Saí-Mirim River, passing through taller forests as one moves away from the river. It’s also very good for birding early in the morning.

Saí-Mirim River – Best birded by canoe, the river provides a venue for relaxed birding in a beautiful setting of blackwater (the result of a high tannin concentration in these sand-filtered waters, with low particulate matter ) restingas and taller, riparian forest. Especially good for seeing aquatic birds and species that favor the forest edge along watercourses.

Birds of Volta Velha – Key Species
Following is a short list of the most special birds of the reserve, including local endemics of this region of the Atlantic Forest as well as rarities and poorly known species that always form the major “want-lists” of visiting birders. These are designated C (critically endangered); T (threatened); V (vulnerable); or R (rare), following the the designations of Sick (1977).

Solitary Tinamou (Macuco - Tinamus solitarius) -- R Under pressure mainly from illegal hunting (and has been extirpated in many areas of the Atlantic Forest). With luck and patience, it is sometimes seen with the best chance being along the Sambaqui Trail.

Yellow-legged Tinamou (Jaó-do-sul – Crypturellus noctivagus) – R Also threatened mainly by illegal hunting; most frequent along the Sambaqui and Apecatu and heard most days, especially early and late when several widely spaced individuals may sing repeatedly. Volta Velha is certainly one of the very best places anywhere to see this species!

White-necked Hawk (Gavião-pombo – Leucopternis lacernulata) – V One of the most celebrated endemic raptors of the Atlantic Forest which may be seen soaring over the forest canopy during the hottest hours of the day. There is a place near Volta Velha where a probable pair has been seen frequently.

Speckled Chachalaca (Aracuã-escamoso – Ortalis squamata) – A species that has suffered drastic reduction of numbers owing to illegal hunting, to the point where it may soon be classified as T. It is most frequently observed foraging within a few meters of the ground at forest and restinga edge.

Plain Parakeet (Perequito-rico – Brotogeris tirica) – Probably the most common parakeet in the reserve. It may be encountered in noisy groups in open areas or inside the forest.

Brown-backed Parrotlet (Apuim-de-cauda-vermelha – Touit melanonotus) – T This parrotlet is an Atlantic Forest endemic that seems to prefer the forest of the Serra do Mar. It has been recorded occasionally in the reserve and neighboring areas, in small flocks. It is a notably rare bird, very difficult to observe. With great luck, it is possible to see small groups flying quickly across open places betweeen forested areas.

Red-tailed Parrot (Papagaio-de-cara-roxa – Amazona brasiliensis) – T Another endemic parrot of the Atlantic Forest, restricted to coastal forests from southern São Paulo through Paraná to northern Santa Catarina. Volta Velha marks the southern limit of its distribution, where few individuals occur. It is rare in the reserve and very difficult to observe.

Blue-bellied Parrot (Sabiá-cica – Triclaria malachitacea) – T A highly distinctive parrot, somewhat like an Amazona but with a relatively long and wide tail. It is threatened mainly by habitat loss. It prefers tall, closed forest where it camouflages perfectly with green leaves. Best chance to see it is along the Sambaqui.

Ramphodon naevius (Foto: Iumaã Bacca)

Saw-billed Hermit (Beija-flor-grande-do-mato – Ramphodon naevius) – The only lowland genus endemic to the Atlantic Forest.

Dusky-throated Hermit (Rabo-branco-miúdo – Phaetornis squalidus)

Sombre Hummingbird (Beija-flor cinza – Aphantochroa cirrhochloris)

Three species of hummingbirds (Trochilidae) endemic to Brazil, the first two exclusive to the southeastern Atlantic Forest. They may be seen on any of the trails in the reserve.

Crescent-chested Puffbird (João-barbudo – Malacoptila striata) – A puffbird most threatened by loss of habitat. Thanks to its cryptic plumage and habit of remaining motionless for extended periods, it often escapes detection even by the most experienced observers. Little chance of finding this one, but it is present along all the trails.

Helmeted Woodpecker (Pica-pau-de-cara-amarela – Dryocopus galeatus) – C The most endangered species of woodpecker (Picidae) in eastern Brazil. There are few recent records. It has been reported from the reserve by some birders, but there is no documented record (recording or photograph). At best very rare, with the slightest chance of observation; any sightings should be carefully documented.

Robust Woodpecker (Pica-pau-rei – Campephilus robustus) -- An uncommon species that was previously listed as threatened. The largest woodpecker in Brazil. Difficult to observe but present on all trails.

White-breasted Tapaculo (Macuquinho – Scytalopus indigoticus) – Endemic to the Atlantic Forest of southeast Brazil, threatened principally by habitat loss. It inhabits the forest interior near ravines and other very humid places. Volta Velha is an especially good place for seeing this secretive bird.

Unicolored Antwren (Choquinha-cinzenta – Myrmotherula unicolor) – Endemic to the Atlantic Forest of southeastern Brazil. Common in the reserve, all trails.

Scaled Antbird (Pintadinho – Drymophila squamata)

Ferruginous Antbird (Trovoada – Drymophila ferruginea)

Squamate Antbird (Papa-formigas-de-grota – Myrmeciza squamosa)

Three antbirds endemic to the Atlantic Forest that are highly sought by birders. All are fairly common along the reserve trails.

Stymphalornis acutirostris - male and female (Photo: Eduardo Patrial)

Marsh Antbird (Bicudinho-do-bréjo – Stymphalornis acutirostris) – T The most important endemic antbird of the region. Another species suffering from loss of its unique habitat: marshes with cattails, reeds, and some brushy vegetation of southern coastal Paraná and extreme northern Santa Catarina. Among the most sought-after of all species in the area. May be seen in appropriate habitat in one small area in the reserve. Marshes along the drive from Garuva to Itapoã are also good for it.

Black-cheeked Gnateater (Cuspidor-demáscara-preta – Conopophaga melanops) – Atlantic Forest endemic that inhabits closed forest near the ground. Uncommon in the reserve but present along all the trails.

Pale-browed Treehunter (Trepador-sombrancelha – Cichlocolaptes leucophrus holti) – Atlantic Forest endemic, generally rare in Santa Catarina. Stays high in trees, foraging for insects in bromeliads and dead leaves. Uncommon in the reserve, most frequently seen on Casa de vidro and Apecatu.

Restinga Tyrannulet (Maria-da-restinga – Phylloscartes kronei) – V A flycatcher endemic to the Atlantic Forest, restricted to lowland forest, especially restinga woodland, from southern São Paulo to northeastern Santa Catarina. Threatened by habitat loss. Another species always highly-sought by birders. It is quite common in the reserve and easily observed along most of the trails.

Hemitriccus kaempferi (Photo: Eduardo Patrial)

Kaempfer’s Tody-Tyrant (Maria-Catarinense – Hemitriccus kaempferi) – T This is the species most highly restricted to the region of the reserve, occurring only in coastal forests of northeastern Santa Catarina and extreme southeastern Paraná. Known from very few localities, most of which have been discovered in only the past ten years or so. It is fairly common at Volta Velha and surrounding forest habitat, and is the single most sought-after bird by birders; the reserve is becoming well-known as probably the best place to see the species anywhere. The best chances of finding it are along the early part of the Casa de vidro trail and in the stretch of restinga forest along the Sambaqui where it meets the Saí-mirim River.

Russet-winged Spadebill (Patinho-gigante – Paltyrinchus leucoryphus) – A rare bird endemic to the Atlantic Forest. Inhabits undergrowth of closed forest. Much sought-after by birders, it is most likely to be seen along the Casa de vidro trail.

Rufous-headed Tanager (Saíra-da-mata – Hemithraupis ruficapilla) – Endemic to the Atlantic Forest of southeastern Brazil. Frequently encountered in canopy mixed-species flocks; all trails.

Olive-green Tanager (Catirumbava – Orthogonys chloricterus) – A strange tanager endemic to the Serra do Mar and southern coastal forests of Brazil. Fairly common in sizeable groups (mostly about 4-8 individuals), often with mixed-species flocks, inside the forest or at edges. Likely to be seen along all trails.

Black-backed Tanager (Saíra-sapucaia – Tangara peruviana) – A rather poorly known tanager endemic to the coastal woodlands of southern Brazil, inhabiting dense, xerophytic vegetation, especially restingas. It is certainly among the most highly sought birds of the region. It is relatively common in the reserve, most readily observed in restinga along the Sambaqui trail.

Brazilian Tanager (Tié-sangue – Ramphocelus bresilius) – An Atlantic Forest endemic. Perhaps one of the most spectacular birds of the world. May be seen in the reserve in open areas, scrubby second-growth, forest edges, and in restingas. Best chances are along the Sambaqui.

Birding Guide

To provide the best service and satisfaction to visitors interested mostly in birding, Volta Velha Reserve now offers its own birding guide. With a thorough knowledge of the avifauna in the reserve and surrounding region, the guide is most helpful in knowing how to identify and just where to locate the most important species in their special habitats, and also has a sound library and recording equipment to facilitate getting good views of even the most inconspicuous birds.

* In order to make your stay as productive as possible, we recommend that visitors interested in birding request the service of a guide well in advance.

The Guide – Eduardo Patrial (06/02/1982)
A native of Londrina, Paraná, his interest blossomed as a young boy during vacations to the pantanal of Mato Grosso and in Amazonas. At the age of 19, he began a career as a biologist and as a means of applying his thoughts on conservation. In 2002 he dove into study of birds, when he began to get into the field with experienced ornithologists working on species inventories with observations and banding of birds in coastal Paraná. Also in 2002 and 2003, still as a research assistant, he curated the ornithological collection of the Capão da Imbuia Natural History Museum in Curitiba, under the direction of of the ornithologist Pedro Scherer Neto. Other research opportunities, mainly in the Atlantic Forest, soon became available, and in 2002 he he began his ongoing study of the birds of Itapoá, Santa Catarina .

He is currently actively leading groups of birders throughout southern Brazil as well as important localities in Minas Gerais, and São Paulo, as one of the few specialized birding guides available in southern Brazil.


Sick, H. Ornitologia Brasileira. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1997.

Rosário, L. A. do As Aves em Santa Catarina: distribuição e geográfica e meio ambiente. Florianópolis: FATMA, 1996.

Translation: Bret Whitney (ornitologo e guia profissional da Field Guides, Austin, Texas, que adorou conhecer Volta Velha em nov 2007)


Lista de Aves da RPPN Volta Velha - pelo ornitólogo Celso Seger e atualizada pelo ornitólogo Arthur Macarrão com ajuda de Edson Endrigo (2010)
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Lista de Aves da RPPN Volta Velha - Por Eduardo W. Patrial (2003 - 2006)
(49 KB)


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