The “cuvivíes”, rain or floating birds (Bartrania Longicauda), migrate to Ecuador during the months of August to October to offer an amazing bird-watching experience. Read more about this “sacred tribute”.
If you travel to Alausí, in the province of Chimborazo, and 90 km away from Riobamba and inside the Sangay National Park, you can find a group of 45 separate lakes! The famous lakes and lagoons of Ozogoche, cover about 7 kilometers length, located at 3,700 meters. Ozogoche offers magic destinations that offer peace, fresh air, silence and contact with nature.
The lagoons are deep, cold and have a nice dark blue color. Due to their location, the National Park and the Lagoons are one of the most interesting destinations to visit in the area, where you can also enjoy a variety of activities!
Even though this place will draw your attention for its great flora and fauna, which include Quishuar trees, pumamaquis, polylepis or paper trees, and animals such as the spectacled bear, the Andean condor and pumas; the main attraction is this natural act that birds perform at the lakes.
The Arrival of the Cuvivies
The lake complex is beautiful all year round, but it’s between mid September to mid October when thousands of migrating Plover birds leave their habitat in the arctic and coastal areas of Alaska and Canada, to make this great journey to the south.
Indigenous people of the region named the birds after the sound they produce. When “cuvivíes”, reach the Ozogoche Lakes, thousands of them “commit suicide” by diving into the freezing water in a mysterious way. People from the area go to the shore and collect the dead birds, which they use as food for the community. (It is said that its flavor is similar to chicken!) Indigenous traditions also pay a tribute to this amazing natural phenomenon by celebrating a festival with music, dance and typical food.
So, WHY do the birds commit suicide?
Even though there have been several scientific studies about this event, there’s no clear explanation yet.
The arrival of the “cuvivíes” has been studied since 1993, when Tite de Vries, Director of the Biology Department in Universidad Católica de Quito, determined that these birds also migrated from the North of the US, especially from Denver and New Jersey.
He backed the scientific theories that said the birds that “commit suicide” by diving into the lake, are weaker or maybe older Plovers that are tired from their migratory journey. When they get low to drink water, they fall to their death in the lake, as a result of changing air pressure, then hitting the freezing water.
The Quichua Myth: A sacred tribute
The Quichua myth, which is much more interesting, says that many years ago when the birds reached the “Sacred Tribute” or the Ozogoche Lakes, they were accompanied by fog and rain as well as thunder and lightning. The cold wind coming from the mountains was so strong that it howled, scaring the indigenous. Then suddenly, thousands of Plover began falling from the sky, crying a distinctive song of pain until they hit the freezing waters of the Ozogoche lakes in a mysterious, ancient, and cosmic tribute, which they continue to perform till this day.
Due to the construction of the Guamote-Macas road and the arrival of strangers to the moorlands, the presence of these birds is not as massive as it used to be. However, you can still observe “cuvivíes” at the Atillo-Ozogoche lagoon complex. Last year, the Ozogoche lagoon festival was held on September 21st. Handicrafts and paintings exhibits, music, dances and traditional food were prepared for the celebration. 1,200 people assisted to the festival (97% were indigenous people). The colorful display of their clothing was a spectacle worth admiring!
Want to experience this odd but fantastic experience?
When to go:
From September to October.
What to do:
Alausí locals offer horseback surrounding the lagoon, typical dishes of the area made with Andean products, trouts fished in the lagoon, lodging, native guides for tours, among other services.
How to get there:
Ozogoche is located two hours south of the city of Riobamba, in the Chimborazo province. From the city of Riobamba travel 65 km (41 miles) south through the Panamerican highway. Once you reach Charicando, turn east. On the way to Totoras and Zula, take a left and travel 5 km (3 miles). Then you will be able to see the lagoons.
The best way to get there are 4 x 4 jeeps. You can rent one in Quito or Riobamba. For the more adventurous tourists, hire a pickup ride from Riobamba for 3 dollars.