Biodiversity Data Journal : Data Paper (Biosciences)
Data Paper (Biosciences)
Distribution of birds in Colombia
expand article infoDanny Vélez, Edwin Tamayo§, Fernando Ayerbe-Quiñones|, Julián Torres§, Juan Rey§, Carolina Castro-Moreno§, Bryan Ramírez§, Jose Manuel Ochoa-Quintero§
‡ Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Museu Nacional (MN), Departamento de Entomologia, Laboratório de Hymenoptera, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
§ Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt, Bogotá, Colombia
| Wildlife Conservation Society, Colombian Program, Popayán, Colombia
Open Access



1. Colombia with 1941 known recorded bird species is one of the most species rich countries in the world. Efforts are necessary to conserve, study and promote sustainable use of this important taxonomic group throughout Colombia’s vast territory.

2. In an ideal world, informed decisions that are based on sound scientific information should be likelier to have successful outcomes. Nevertheless, there are barriers that make it difficult to access and use information in a timely fashion. Those same barriers impede the study, conservation and sustainable use of bird species in Colombia. On the other hand, given that there is good documentation about the ecology of a large number of species, information about the distribution of birds can be easily incorporated into decision-making processes, once this information becomes readily available in a consumable format using Geographic Information Sciences tools.

3. In this context, the main objective of this paper is to present the first compilation of the current distribution of 1889 (97%) species of birds in Colombia, using expert criteria. The shapefiles were used to show the distribution and diversity of bird species in Colombia under both geopolitical and conservation geographic units.

4. The information provided in this paper can be used as a baseline for a huge number of initiatives that aim to strengthen conservation efforts and improve knowledge about one the most unique taxonomic groups in the country. These range from land use planning strategies at the municipal or department scale to sustainable use of bird species - such as those initiatives related to bird watching - in Colombia.

New information

This study has considered three key aspects: 1) the importance of birds for Colombia’s ecosystems, 2) the privileged place of Colombia in bird species richness and 3) the importance of data mobilisation in formats easily consumable by Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to facilitate the processes of informed decision-making. We present the first compilation - in shapefile format - for 1889 of the 1941 bird species recorded from Colombia. Using this novel collection, we showed the species richness of birds in Colombia’s 33 Departments plus its Captial District (DPs), 1122 Municipalities (MNs), 58 protected areas (PAs), 39 Regional Autonomous Corporations (the authorities responsible within their respective jurisdictions for regulating the environment and renewable natural resources in Colombia; CARs) and 916 Collectively Titled Territories (including both indigenous reservations and afro-descendant communities; CTTs). In addition, we provide a list of known bird species richness for the above geographic units found in the available literature. The information provided here can be used as a baseline for a huge number of initiatives concerning the study, conservation and sustainable use of bird species present in Colombia, providing access to key features of bird distribution that should facilitate decision-making.


Aves, biodiversity, conservation, data mobilisation, decision-making, GIS, sustainable use


Birds inhabit almost every ecosystem on earth and are amongst the most diverse, active and important ecosystem service providing groups (Sekercioglu 2006). Given the large body of knowledge about birds, they are frequently used in initiatives related to conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity around the world (Hausmann et al. 2019). Colombia, with 1941 known bird species (Ayerbe-Quiñones 2019), is amongst the countries with the highest species richness of this biological group worldwide. Given the above, special effort is required to make information about Colombian birds freely available for research, conservation and sustainable use management and planning.

In an ideal world, decisions that are informed by sound data should have better odds of producing successful outcomes. Actions related to the study, protection and sustainable use of birds must be supported by information about the species and their relationships with both biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems. Activities that require data on bird distributions include: national planning and budgets for resource management in sectors such as agriculture, mining, infrastructure, protected areas, compliance with multilateral environmental agreements; development of environmental resource legislation; measurement and mitigation of human impact on the environment; mitigation of anthropogenic drivers and conflicts; and projects on sustainable use of biodiversity (Stephenson et al. 2017). Nevertheless, there are barriers that make it difficult for consumers to access and use information in a timely fashion.

Stephenson et al. (2017) pointed out several barriers that make it difficult to access and use information for biodiversity management. The four groups of barriers identified in the aforementioned paper are: 1) data availability, 2) data quality and usability, 3) willingness to collect and use data and 4) technical and financial capacity. However, with both constant technological advances and increasing necessity for information, an important ecosystem of tools, institutions and initiatives has grown with the aim of increasing technical capacity in biodiversity data mobilisation, use and reuse. Nevertheless, there are key issues remaining to be addressed that concern both data and domain integration of biodiversity information (König et al. 2019).

Data and information are valued in the degree in which they are findable, usable and in formats consumable by Geographic Information Sciences (GIScience), relevant to decision-making processes. Foody (2008) concluded that GIScience provides both data on environmental properties and techniques to explore, visualise, use and integrate geographic information with other data (e.g. biological data) for understanding biodiversity and conservation. For these reasons, we were inspired to create an invaluable information resource that would be useful as baseline to understand and conserve bird species based on their geographic distribution in Colombia.

General description


Given the importance of data mobilisation for democratising information about birds in Colombia, the main objective of this paper is to present a shapefile with the current distribution of 1890 species of birds recorded from Colombia and use the obtained distribution to show some key features of bird species richness in Colombia in both geopolitical and conservation geographic units to facilitate decision-making processes, scientific research and sustainable use of biodiversity in Colombia.

Sampling methods

Step description: 

We used 1889 expert-based bird distribution maps obtained from the Guide to Birds of Colombia (Ayerbe-Quiñones 2018). The bird distribution maps in PNG format were georeferenced and transformed into a raster format and posteriorly into a vector shapefile format using the Python Programming Language 2.7 and the software ArcGIS 10.7. Once we had the individual bird species maps in shapefile format, we used this information to obtain some key features and figures on bird species richness in Colombia. To perform this task, we evaluated distributions in three key management units in the country: geopolitical units, management and conservation units and collective territories.

To obtain the bird species number per geopolitical, natural, management and collectively titled territories, we made layer intersections between the shapefile of bird distribution and the layers for each one of the selected territories, using the EPSG 4686 system in the software ArcGIS v. 10.7 software. Layers used for intersection were: DPs and MNs (IGAC 2019), PAs (PNNC 2019), CARs (IDEAM 2018) and CTTs (Etnoterritorios 2020a, Etnoterritorios 2020b). Metadata for each one of the layers can be consulted in the respective data resource.

Finally, to make the compilation freely available, we uploaded it into the online data repository of the Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt ( In addition, the distribution map of each species was uploaded into the BioModelos platform where it can be consulted by species name (

Geographic coverage


To establish the geographic coverage, we used the EPSG 4686 coordinates system. All the Colombian territory is included in this work.


-4.204 and 13.390 Latitude; -81.763 and -66.829 Longitude.

Taxonomic coverage


In this paper, we follow the taxonomic system of Ayerbe-Quiñones (2019).

Taxa included:
Rank Scientific Name Common Name
class Aves Birds

Usage licence

Usage licence: 

Data resources

Data package title: 
Distribution of birds in Colombia. Year 2020
Number of data sets: 
Data set name: 
Data format: 

The .Zip file contains a shapefile with the distribution of bird species in Colombia. The shapefile has three attributes.

Column label Column description
Order Scientific name of the Order in which the species is classified
Family Scientific name of the Family in which the species is classified
Species Bird species
Data set name: 
Additional data
Data format: 
EXCEL file
Data format version: 

Within the same .Zip that contains the BIRD_Colombia shapefile, there is an Excel file with three sheets where the number of bird species per Municipalities, Indigenous Reservations and afro-descendant communities is shown. The Excel file has seven attributes.

Column label Column description
Code_Dane MN unique identifier assigned by the Colombian “Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística” (DANE)
Department Name of the Department
Municipality Name of the Municipality
Spp Number of species
Indigenous reservation name Name of the reservation
Etnia Name of indigenous ethnicity
Afro-descendant community Name of the community

Additional information

As pointed out by Chapman (2005) - referring to primary species-occurrence data - biodiversity information has endless uses in almost every aspect of human endeavour worldwide. These include aspects that are not so obvious, such as food security, education and recreation. The same author called attention to the fact that it is necessary to make maximum use of these data to better understand biodiversity, to mitigate and monitor changes to our environment and to improve, conserve and sustainably use our biodiversity. In this context, the Shapefile compilation presented here has the potential to facilitate and improve research, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in Colombia, with a special focus on the country’s charismatic and ecologically-important birdlife.

Expert-based range maps for species distribution - like those presented here - are useful tools that help in research and conservation of biodiversity. With some limitations, these kinds of distributional models, based on group expert criteria, become valuable in cases in which there is a lack of reliable information on the distribution of biological species (e.g. Fourcade 2016, Mainali et al. 2020) and as a complement to both species distribution and ecological niche modelling techniques (e.g. Fourcade et al. 2013, Merow et al. 2017). Such maps can help to establish an information baseline to understand biodiversity patterns in poorly-known species. We consider that the lack of information for several species of birds in Colombia can be remedied in the meantime by the models presented here, which can be used as a starting point for many research, conservation and decision-making processes. A dynamic process for improving information on species distributions in one the most biodiverse countries of the world will make it possible to generate a Living Atlas of Colombian Biodiversity that can be improved over time with the help of experts and the inclusion citizen science data.

Key figures on bird species richness in Colombia per different geographic units are presented in Tables 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Information provided in these Tables can be used for a quick comparison between the number of species in different geographic units. Here, we present diverse examples of the information and comparisons that can be made in different territories. Additionally, we provide a comparison to available information - including both eBird (2020) database and literature - of the number of species recorded per DPs and PAs (Tables 1, 4). The differences amongst the number of species presented by sources are due to differences in the methods and sampling effort used to obtain the information. Expert maps use a coarser resolution than other methods; this can explain the tendency to obtain the highest number of species per geographic unit with this method. As noted above, expert maps are used as a baseline and complement knowledge that can be used for education, decision-making processes and research.

Table 1.

Number of bird species per DPs in Colombia obtained in this paper and compared with available references, including eBird (2020).

DP Number of bird species this work Number of bird species eBird July 2020 Number of bird species in other sources References of other sources
Cauca 1409 1164 1102 Ayerbe-Quiñones et al. 2008
Nariño 1384 964 1048 Calderón-Leytón et al. 2011
Antioquia 1125 1047
Boyacá 1107 913
Meta 1063 1048
Cundinamarca 1062 919 941 Chaparro-Herrera et al. 2018
Chocó 1059 941
Putumayo 1050 1000
Caquetá 1046 850
Valle del cauca 982 1024 989 Cárdenas et al. 2020
Norte de Santander 940 654
Córdoba 929 632 504 Ballesteros et al. 2015
Cesar 882 613
Santander 874 844
Caldas 861 883 923 Corporación Autónoma Regional de Caldas and Asociación Calidris 2010
Casanare 858 688 507 Zamudio et al. 2011
Tolima 822 794
Arauca 798 554 512 Izquierdo et al. 2019
La guajira 770 581
Huila 748 765
Bolívar 728 598
Risaralda 719 894
Magdalena 697 647
Amazonas 690 639
Guaviare 678 579
Vichada 639 559
Quindío 633 687
Guainía 614 546
Sucre 584 405
Vaupés 572 610 558 Carrillo et al. 2018
Atlántico 510 403 363 Castro-Vásquez 2016
Bogotá, D.C. 489 535
Archipiélago de san Andrés, Providencia y Santa Catalina 198 180
Table 2.

Ten Colombian MNs with highest number of bird species recorded in this paper.

DP MN Number of bird species


Santa Rosa


















San francisco



San Vicente del Caguán






El paujil

Table 3.

Number of bird species per CAR in Colombia obtained in this paper.

CAR Number of bird species this work
Corporación Autónoma Regional del Cauca 1409
Corporación Autónoma Regional de Nariño 1384
Corporación para el Desarrollo Sostenible del Sur de la Amazonia 1199
Corporación Autónoma Regional de la Orinoquía 1106
Corporación para el Desarrollo Sostenible del Área de Manejo Especial La Macarena 1065
Corporación Autónoma Regional para el Desarrollo Sostenible del Chocó 1059
Corporación para el Desarrollo Sostenible de Urabá 1041
Corporación Autónoma Regional del Valle del Cauca 983
Corporación Autónoma Regional del Centro de Antioquia 963
Corporación Autónoma Regional de la Frontera Nororiental 940
Corporación Autónoma Regional de los Valles del Sinú y San Jorge 928
Corporación Autónoma Regional del Guavio 924
Corporación Autónoma Regional de Chivor 896
Corporación Autónoma Regional de Boyacá 893
Corporación Autónoma Regional del Cesar 882
Corporación Autónoma Regional de las cuencas de los ríos Rionegro y Nare 862
Corporación Autónoma Regional de Caldas 861
Corporación Autónoma Regional de Santander 861
Corporación Autónoma Regional de Cundinamarca 835
Corporación Autónoma Regional para la Defensa de la Meseta de Bucaramanga 824
Corporación Autónoma Regional del Tolima 821
Corporación Autónoma Regional de la Guajira 770
Corporación Autónoma Regional del Alto Magdalena 748
Corporación para el Desarrollo Sostenible del Norte y Oriente de la Amazonia 725
Corporación Autónoma Regional de Risaralda 719
Corporación Autónoma Regional del Magdalena 697
Corporación Autónoma Regional del Sur de Bolívar 636
Corporación Autónoma Regional del Quindío 633
Área Metropolitana del Valle de Aburrá 510
Corporación Autónoma Regional del Atlántico 510
Corporación Autónoma Regional del Canal del Dique 506
Corporación Autónoma Regional de Sucre 500
Departamento Administrativo Distrital del Medio Ambiente de Santa Marta 488
Establecimiento Público Ambiental 486
Departamento Técnico Administrativo del Medio Ambiente Barranquilla 482
Corporación para el Desarrollo Sostenible de la Mojana y del San Jorge 479
Secretaria Distrital de Ambiente de Bogotá D.C. 378
Departamento Administrativo de Gestión del Medio Ambiente de Santiago de Cali. 308
Corporación para el Desarrollo Sostenible del Archipiélago de San Andrés Providencia y Santa Catalina 198
Table 4.

Bird species per PAs in Colombia. Classification of PAs used here is: Parque Nacional Natural (PNN), Santuario de Flora (SF), Santuario de Fauna (SFA), Reserva Nacional Natural (RNN), Vía Parque (VP), Santuario de Flora y Fauna (SFF) and Área Natural Única (ANU).

Category PA Number of bird species this work Number of bird species in other sources References of other sources
PNN Sumapaz


PNN Chingaza 911 531 Linares-Romero et al. 2020
PNN Serranía de los Churumbelos 909 421 Salaman et al. 1999
PNN Alto Fragua Indiwasi 893
PNN Cordillera de los Picachos 877
SF Plantas Medicinales Orito Ingi Ande 860
PNN Paramillo 846
PNN Los Farallones de Cali 840
PNN El Cocuy 787
PNN Serranía de los Yariguíes 775 583 Donegan et al. 2010
PNN Tama 737
PNN Las orquídeas 729
PNN Munchique 711
PNN Sierra de la Macarena 697 183 Rangel-Ch. et al. 1995a
PNN Serranía de Chiribiquete 465 355 Álvarez et al. 2003
PNN Tinigua 628 441 Cadena et al. 2000
PNN Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta 616
PNN Amacayacu 615 355 Rangel-Ch. 1995
PNN Los Katíos 609
PNN La Paya 596
PNN Cahuinarí 592
PNN Complejo volcánico Dona Juana Cascabel 586
PNN Rio Pure 570
PNN Yaigojé Apaporis 562
SFA Acandí Playón 541
RN Nukak 539
RN Puinawai 516
PNN Utría 504
VP Isla de Salamanca 498
PNN Nevado del Huila 493
PNN Los Nevados 489 162 Rangel-Ch. and Garzón-C. 1995
PNN Tayrona 485 200 Rangel-Ch. and Lowy-C. 1995
SFF El Corchal “El Mono Hernández” 484
PNN El Tuparro 482 320 Rangel-Ch. et al. 1995b
PNN Puracé 477
PNN Sanquianga 477
PNN Tatamá 467
SFF Los Flamencos 465
PNN Catatumbo Bari 457
PNN Los Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo 457 141 Duque-García and Franke-Ante 2011
PNN Uramba Bahía Málaga 456
SFF Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta 453
PNN Las Hermosas 440
PNN Pisba 429
SFF Los Colorados 420
PNN Selva de Florencia 419 357 Gómez et al. 2020
SFF Isla de la Corota 304
PNN Cueva de los Guacharos 393
SFF Galeras 349
ANU Los Estoraques 342
SFF Otún Quimbaya 340
SFF Guanentá Alto Rio Fonce 330
SFF Iguaque 322
PNN Bahía Portete-Kaurrele 277
PNN Macuira 250
PNN Old Providence Mc Bean Lagoon 194
PNN Gorgona 84
PNN Corales de Profundidad 39
Table 5.

Ten Colombian CTTs with highest number of bird species recorded in this paper. Territories included here are indigenous reservations and afro-descendant communities.

Category Collective Titling Territory Ethnic group or community Number of bird species
Indigenous reservation

Kamëntšá Biÿá de Sibundoy

Kamëntšá 993
Afro-descendant communities

La Nueva Esperanza

La Nueva Esperanza 961
Indigenous reservation

Nasa Uh

Nasa 946
Indigenous reservation


Inga 876
Indigenous reservation


Emberá Chamí 875
Indigenous reservation

La Florida

Paéz 869
Indigenous reservation

Alto Orito

Emberá Chamí 865
Indigenous reservation

Inga de Condagua

Inga 862
Indigenous reservation

San José

Inga 861
Indigenous reservation


Pasto 856


We are grateful to the Humboldt Institute for providing funding to make this publication possible. We thank the BioModelos team for uploading the species models in the BioModelos platform. We thank Laura Jaramillo Mejia for her work on the database of the Avifauna Colombiana project. We also thanks Lauren Raz and Christopher K. Starr for reviewing the early version of this paper. The Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES) provided financial support to DV.

Author contributions

DV conceived the idea, work coordination and wrote the manuscript; ET, JT and BR developed the shapefile compilation, GIS processing and wrote the manuscript; CC-M wrote the manuscript; JR eBird consultation and wrote the manuscript; FA-Q provided original species distribution models in digital format, taxonomic review and provided critical elements to develop the manuscript and shapefile compilation; JMO-Q provided critical elements to develop the manuscript and shapefile compilation and he critically reviewed the final manuscript.


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