Birding: A Window into the Amazon

Serra do Divisor National Park - Photo: Priscila Steffen / USFS
Birdwatching and environmental interpretation strengthen conservation and communities in Acre’s Serra do Divisor National Park

May/June, 2024 – The Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), the Acre State Environment Secretariat, and the United States Forest Service shared practices related to birdwatching tourism (also known as avitourism) and the concept of environmental interpretation. From May 30 to June 3, twenty-seven traditional and Indigenous community members attended a Birdwatching and Environmental Interpretation Workshop in the Serra do Divisor National Park, in the state of Acre, in the westernmost region of Brazil. 

Environmental interpretation is defined as a set of communication strategies aimed at revealing the meanings of environmental, historical, and cultural resources, helping to establish personal connections between the public and protected heritage.

"Environmental interpretation may help people to learn how to read the environment and understand their surroundings. Rather than just transferring what is tangible, they can delve deeper into the message sent by the environment. That is a major responsibility—indeed, we see it as our mission to get this message across. From now on I will try to apply it every day in my life; and I want to delve deeper, so that I may be ready to guide not only birdwatchers, but also all other visitors coming here," says Izaías Gomes da Silva, one of the participants, born in the Pé da Serra community. 

Ana Júlia Lima Cavalcante, another participant, says that the workshop helped her look differently at her surroundings and her day-to-day life.

"Before this workshop, we only heard the birds singing, but now we have developed a deeper interest. We are more curious and interested not only in listening to their singing, but also observing them. A window has opened: a window of knowledge and positive results for us in the community. We have always looked after our environment, but now we are going to take more care of it. Every one of our visitors will know that the members of this community share knowledge about the forest, the birds and all forest creatures."

Cradle of Biodiversity – Serra do Divisor National Park is considered a global biodiversity hotspot and a cradle for Amazon birds, due to its local characteristics and geological formation. The diversity of landscapes and altitudes is unique in the state of Acre, making it an ideal area for birdwatching.  Serra do Divisor is also home to several endemic bird species.

According to the Brazilian Ornithological Records Committee, there are over 1,900 species of birds in Brazil – but experts believe there may be more, since many species are not recorded. Of these, more than 1,300 live in the Amazon, and more than half of them are in the state of Acre. The majority (over 520 species) can be found in the 843,000 hectares of the Serra do Divisor National Park. In other words, the extreme west of Brazil is home to almost half the birds in the entire Amazon. 

New Records – Instructors guided the participants in their birdwatching activities, they were able to newly record two new species of hummingbirds in the park. They were the black-bellied thorntail (Discosura langsdorffi), recognizable for a white stripe on its tail; and the butterfly coquette (Lophornis verreauxii). Both are recently added to the list of bird species found in the national park. 

The bird that has become a symbol – and which attracts most visitors and birdwatchers—is the Acre antshrike (Thamnophilus divisorius). It is a tiny species found only in high altitudes, near the park's viewpoint, in a specific part of the trail. Miro, a resident of the Pé da Serra community and one of the pioneers in local community tourism, finds it easy to identify the bird. In the past, he would hear its singing, but did not know the name of the species. The Acre antshrike attracts visitors from all over Brazil and around the world. "It is a species that we discovered together with Ricardo Plácido. It is very rare, and people come from far away to see it," he says. 

Ricardo Plácido is a biologist at the Acre State Environment Secretariat, author of the Bird Guide, and one of the workshop instructors. “They expanded their knowledge and can see the world differently, understanding that it is possible to include more people, in an attempt to expand the activity, and open doors to other communities. We are recording the presence of many birds and attracting more people to visit the park, thus promoting our self-sufficiency," explains Plácido. 

For Greg Butcher, from the United States Forest Service, the connection between communities and forests is a key factor for birdwatchers around the world. "You see the birds and also hear them singing, which really helps build those bonds. I think many birdwatchers would want to visit this place. That only works if the people living in this community can help them find the birds they want to see." 

In the future participants will meet once a month to go birdwatching, and they are scheduled to represent Acre in a global birdwatching event—the Global Big Day. They expect the event will bring more visibility, visitors, and protection to the Serra do Divisor National Park in October.


Background – The event is in partnership between the Chico Mendes Institute, the Acre Environment Secretariat, the Acre Tourism Secretariat, the Ecological Research Institute (IPÊ), and the Pé da Serra Tour Leaders Association. The initiative sponsored by the United States Forest Service (USFS) and supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), completes a series of activities that are taking place in the park, such as biodiversity monitoring. 

Since 2016, the Serra do Divisor National Park has welcomed visitors interested in birdwatching. It is important that community tour leaders are trained to interact with the visitors. In 2018, local communities attended an Ecotourism Tour Leaders Course delivered by the Federal Institute of Acre (IFAC) in partnership with ICMBio. The training provided by the state government improves other tourism-related aspects. These partnerships are expected to continue delivering training, workshops, and capacity building to further improve service,  park visits and provide guests with an enhanced experience. 

Serra do Divisor National Park was founded 35 years ago, the workshop marked the park’s anniversary. “These training opportunities enhance the value of the place, and provide tour leaders with more security and confidence about their work. They benefit all those engaged in tourism at the local level, including boatmen, cooks, and guesthouse staff. More visitors lead to an increase in revenue and work. As a result, more people are engaged as tour leaders, or in other important areas, helping us provide better services to our visitors," reinforces Tiago Juruá, environmental analyst at the Chico Mendes Institute.

Bird Guide – The Serra do Divisor National Park Bird Guide, launched in 2022, is one of the course materials produced under the same partnership. Meant to be used by tour leaders and visitors, it turns park visits into a more interpretative experience, thanks to the location, compelling stories and bird characteristics. 

Download the guide for free here.