A red-breasted mouse of a bird!

He’s not large and flashy. He doesn’t soar on out-stretched wings. He doesn’t perform a Mozart concerto. But this little forest bird is fast becoming one of my favourite animals in the whole world!

The Chucao.

His voice is enormous, like a gun-shot. “Chu-cao!”, it echoes through the temperate rainforests of Chile. A feature that proves useful in this noisy land of thundering waterfalls and rivers.

When we stalk into the forests to do our morning’s bird survey, or wash in the forest-green rivers or when we collect water from a stream, there is a rustling. A little shape scuttles into the vegetation.

But he can’t contain himself. He won’t hide for long. A face bobs up, an eye, the flick of a tail. He’s watching you. He wants to know more.

Then the explosion! He pulls back his head. His neck elongates and his name sake rattles around the mighty crowns of the forest, “CHUC-AO!!!!”


  1. Oh how I miss those little guys. Spent half an hour playing with one at the lookout in Quelat whilst waiting for the cloud to part and reveal the glacier. My wife and I did pretty much the same journey as you guys last year but in a pick-up. We bought the vehicle in Chile which took some time so we had plenty of time to explore the lakes and Chiloe before heading down to Ushuaia to start up the length of the Andes. I read your piece on the paving of the Carretera Austral in the Independent online. It struck us approaching Coyhaique that the road had been totally wild till then but as soon as it was paved it was surrounded in farmland. They hadn’t even cleared the stumps of the trees yet that had been felled to create it. I fear much of the drive to pave the road lies in the Baker dam projects. It presents something of a dilemma for environmentalists. What price renewable energy? Pylons would be needed the full length of Chile to Santiago and the devastation wreaked by heavy vehicles in building the dam would be untold. Under the circumstances I’m inclined to agree with James Lovelock…a new nuclear power station next to Santiago would do far less damage. Look forward to hearing more of your adventure later. Would seriously recommend following in footsteps of Darwin and crossing from Santiago to Mendoza. We returned to Chile to sell the vehicle via Atacama and it’s not running friendly. Even the eastern side is pretty dry. All the best Glyn and Cara Griffiths

    • Hi Glyn and Carra, really lovely to hear from you and about your amazing
      experiences in South America- sounded superb! Oh I adore the chucao, never
      fails to entrance you. Yesterday we were doing a bird census and one hopped
      into our count area with about six little fat grubs laid neatly in its beak!
      Reminded me of Atlantic puffins with their rows of little sand eels skewered
      in their beaks buzzing home to their nest side cliffs. The chucao was
      clearly feeding some very hungry chicks!

      Ahh yes, the dams. Just about everyone we have met in Patagonia is against
      the mega project and what it represents; the taming of Patagonia. With the
      pylons will come so much destruction both along their course and with the
      future industry potential. There is a massive campaign to resist the project
      and it lists the myriad of alternative energy approaches including solar,
      micro hydro, geothermal etc. Actually, I wrote a blog a while back about it, if you’re interested: http://www.5000mileproject.org/2012/04/sinrepresas/ it includes links to some useful sites. One of the biggest problems we notice is the
      complete lack of insulation in houses and also lack of energy saving
      awareness. People burn wood burning stoves all day and all year long with
      the door open because it too hot! So much energy consumption could be

      Huh, Dartmoor?! Another of my favourite places in the world. Sheeting with rain here too- think that’s part of the best places!!

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