Skip to Navigation

Delta del Río Iscuandé

Site Facts

Country, State/Province/Region:

Colombia, Department of Nariño, Municipality of Santa Bárbara de Iscuandé

Relative Location:

Northwest portion of Colombia’s Pacific coast, 20 kilometers from the center of the Municipality of Guapi in the Department of Cauca.


02º 39’ 53’’N ; 78º 03’ 16’’ W



Basis for Designation:

Some 50,000 shorebirds migrate through this site annually, including 18% of the global population of Wilson’s Plover (Charadrius wilsonia) and more than 1% of the hemispheric population of Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia).


10,000 acres (4,000 hectares)


February 2009

Site Owner/Steward:

Municipality of Santa Bárbara de Iscuandé. According to Law 2324 (established in 1984), the site is a lowtide zone; the title is non-transferable but others can obtain concessions, permits, or licenses for uses within the zone that conform to the Law.  

Site Partners:

Esfuerzo Pescador Community Council; Municipality of Santa Bárbara de Iscuandé, Department of Nariño.

Human Population within 100 km:



Carmelo Castillo
Legal Representative
Esfuerzo Pescador Community Council

Jonatan Salazar 
Town Councillor
Santa Bárbara de Iscuandé Municipal Council
Telephone (cell): 313 65001675

Luis Fernando Castillo
Director, Asociación Calidris

About Us

The Delta of the Iscuandé River is located in the northwestern Pacific coast of Colombia, Nariño Department, on the border with the Cauca Department. Several islands that formed through the siltation process of the Iscuandé River constitute the area. Coastal environments such as sandy beaches, muddy plains, and mangroves are representative of the area. Most of these ecosystems are important for waterbirds, especially seabirds and shorebirds that use them as resting and breeding grounds. The Delta of the Iscuandé River is part of the Sanquianga National Park buffer zone, which has an extension of  89,000 hectares (219,750 acres), and is a protected area managed by the government of Colombia. The park maintains the best preserved mangroves in this area of the Pacific coast. The climate in the whole region is tropical humid and precipitation reaches 7,000 millimeters per year.

Shorebirds and other wildlife

The site holds18% of the continental population of Wilson's Plover (Charadrius wilsonia) and 1% of the hemispheric population of Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia). Delta del Río Iscuandé is also mentioned as a important site in the Whimbrel Species Conservation Plan. It is estimated that this site is used annually by about 50,000 shorebirds. In addition, during the second half of the year, an endangered sea turtle species, Lepydochelis olivacea, uses these beaches as nesting sites.

Local Community

Community members work together to identify the greatest threats to their natural resources. / Courtesy of Asociación Calidris

There are nine communities comprising approximately 1,000 people within the Iscuandé River delta. Fishing along the river and collecting mollusks from the mangroves are essential for their subsistence and to the local economy. In a capacity-building workshop coordinated in 2009 by the bird conservation organization Asociación Calidris, the community members identified a lack of basic sanitation as one of the gravest threat to their resources and, in turn, their way of life. The communities made it a priority in the short term to find sanitation solutions that would improve their quality of life and also benefit shorebirds and the delta’s biodiversity. With a grant from the Wetlands for the Future Fund (facilitated by the Ramsar Secretariat, U.S. State Department, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Asociación Calidris worked with fishermen, housewives, teachers, and community leaders to gather baseline diagnostic information on sanitation issues. They also developed educational outreach materials to raise awareness about what individuals could do to help resolve community-wide problems.

Project leaders and communities are now seeing the fruits of their hard work. Environmental conditions and residents’ quality of life within the WHSRN site are improving, and the connection between the two is more tangible than it was just two years ago. Their efforts continue, with goals for building local capacity to implement more technical water treatment solutions and solid waste management.

In an article about this project on its website, Asociación Calidris reflects on a few lessons learned that may be insightful to partners at other WHSRN sites.


Conservation and Ecology

The Delta has a strong influence of the Pacific Ocean tidal regime; the difference between high and low tide is 4.3 meters. The siltation process generated by the Iscuandé River has produced several sandy-muddy islands that have consolidated through time and are used by birds. The area hosts several coastal environments such as sandy beaches, muddy plains, and mangroves. Most of these ecosystems are important for waterbirds, especially seabirds and shorebirds that use them as resting and breeding grounds.

Bird Species

The area is a resting and feeding site for seabirds such as Pelecanus occidentalis, Sula nebouxii, Sula leucogaster, Phalacrocorax brasilianus, Thalasseus maxima, Leucaphaeus atricilla,and Leucophaeus pipixcanA breeding colony of P. brasilianus is located in the Bocana Iscuandé area. The zone also provides breeding grounds for the shorebirds Charadrius wilsonia beldingi and Haematopus palliatus. The herons Nyctanassa violacea and Nycticorax nycticorax are present but there is not evidence of reproduction yet. High concentration of egrets and herons is very common: Egretta thula, Ardea alba, Ardea cocoi, Egretta tricolor, Egretta caerulea. Egretta rufescens and Ardea herodias are sporadically present in smaller numbers. Furthermore, approximately 150 pairs of Gelochelidon nilotica breed in the area, constituting the largest documented reproductive colony of this species in Colombia. There is also the presence of other migratory birds, such as Anas discors, Seiurus noveboracensis, Contopus sp. and Doliconix oriziborus. Land birds associated with the surrounded vegetation are Quiscalus mexicanus, Amazilia tzacatl, Tyrannus melancholicus, Dendroica petechia, Coccizus melacorryphus, Crotophaga ani, Hirundo rustica, Laterallus sp.


Other fauna that has not received research attention yet are the reptiles and amphibians Basiliscus galeritus, Bufo marinus, Boa constrictor, Iguana iguana, Bradypus sp.,and Noctilius sp. This site is also used by the endangered sea turtle “Caguama” (Lepydochelis olivaceos) as a nesting area.


There are two major threats to the site. One is related to solid waste disposal, which is carried to the area by the river and accumulates on the beaches. The human population growth “upstream" and the absence of a proper waste disposal system have lead to this pollution because all the wastes are thrown into the river and then carried to the sea. The other major threat is the increase of sediments being deposited during low tide as a result of upstream deforestation, caused by different extractive human activities.

Disturbance is mainly caused by urban expansion and changing consumption habits among populations living in the main city near the area. Increasing populations add to the problem of an inadequate waste collection and disposal system, causing increased accumulation of solid waste on the delta beaches. This problem also affects the breeding colonies of Ch. wilsonia, which are running out of available space for nesting. The increased presence of dogs and cats in La Cunita and Quiñónez areas are also a source of disturbance for birds using habitat near some settlements (Juanchillo y Ensenada).

Furthermore, land conversion along river banks for agricultural purposes has increased the quantity of sediments that are deposited in the low tide zone. Another aspect is the collection of bird eggs by local people to supplement their diet, in addition to capturing chicks as pets.

Towards solutions

The development of a waste management system and a sanitation plan is critical for the closest communities to the site (Juanchillo y Ensenada), which together have a population of 500 people approximately. Another important area of work is to influence the municipal planning so the Land-use Zoning Plan considers this area as a Conservation Area and regulates any urban development plan.

The Calidris Association has been working in the area since 2004, where it conducts regular seabird and shorebird censuses as well as shorebird banding. They have also carried out studies on the trophic ecology and reproductive monitoring of Gelochelidon nilotica and Charadrius wilsonia.


Asociación Calidris. 2003. Programa de monitoreo de aves acuáticas en Parques Nacionales del Pacífico Colombiano. Technical report. Fondo para la Acción Ambiental, UAESPNN Territorial Suroccidente, Cali.

Casas, P. A. 2005. Seleccion de habitat de anidación y formacion de colonias del Gaviotín Blanco Sterna nilotica (Aves: Laridae) en el Parque Nacional Natural Sanquianga, Pacifico colombiano.Undergraduate thesis. Universidad del Valle, Cali.

Casas, P & R. Johnston. Animación del Gaviotín Piquigrueso (Sterna nilotica) en el Parque Nacional Natural Sanquianga, Pacífico colombiano. Boletin SAO. (En prensa)

Galbraith, C.A. & Stroud, D.A. (eds). Waterbirds around the world. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Johnston-González, R., Ruiz-Guerra, C. J., Hernández, C. E., Castillo, L. F. & Cifuentes-Sarmiento, Y. 2006. Sturnella bellicosa sigue aumentando su distribución en Colombia. Orn. Colombiana 4: 64–65.

Johnston-González, R., L. F. Castillo, C. Hernández, C. Ruiz. 2006. Whimbrels roosting in Colombian  mangroves. Wader Study Group Bulletin 110:63

Johnston-González, R., C. J. Ruiz-Guerra, C. E. Hernández, L. F. Castillo, Y. Cifuentes Sarmiento. 2006. Sturnella bellicosa continúa expandiéndose en Colombia. Ornitología Colombiana 4:54-55.

Johnston-González, R., C. J. Ruiz G., L. F. Castillo & C. E. Hernández. 2006. Colombia revisited, a regional important site for shorebirds on the Pacific coast of South America (Abstract). Wader Study Group bulletin (109):58.

Naranjo, L. G., L. F. Castillo, R. Johnston-González, C. E. Hernández, C. J. Ruiz G., F. Estela. 2006. Waterbird monitoring and conservation in Protected Areas of the Colombian Pacific. Pages: 177-180 Boere, G.C.

Ruiz, C. J. 2004. Distribución espacio-temporal y comportamiento de aves playeras en el Parque Nacional Natural Sanquianga (Nariño, Colombia). Undergraduate thesis. Universidad del Atlántico, Barranquilla.

Ruiz-Guerra, C., Y. Cifuentes-Sarmiento, C.E. Hernández-Corredor, R. Johnston-González & L. F. Castillo-Cortés. 2008. Breeding of two subspecies of Wilson’s Plover (Charadrius wilsonia) on the coasts of Colombia. Ornitología Colombiana No.6.

Ruiz-Guerra, C., Richard Johnston-González,Yanira Cifuentes-Sarmiento, Felipe A. Estela, L. Fernando Castillo, Carlos E. Hernández & Luis G. Naranjo. 2007. Noteworthy bird records from the southern Chocó of Colombia.Bulletin B.O.C. 127(4)

Ruiz-Guerra, C. J. & Johnston-González R. 2006. Habitat use, seasonal dynamics and behavior of shorebirds wintering in the southern Pacific coast of Colombia (Abstract). Wader Study Group bulletin (109):53

Special Information

Maurita the Playerita

Follow the adventures of a Western Sandpiper, Maurita, and learn about the amazing life of a shorebird and the challenges it faces. Brought to you by Asociacion Calidris.


Enjoy this brief new video about Delta de Iscuandé WHSRN Site on YouTubeIn Spanish with English subtitles.


In November 2011, Asociación Calidris and the “Esfuerzo Pescador” Community Council signed a Conservation Agreement. This initiative is designed to promote actions that improve environmental conditions on 12,000 hectares of the community's lands, 4,000 of which comprise the Delta de Iscuandé WHSRN Site of Regional Importance.  A short video about the Conservation Agreement from the community's perspective is available (in Spanish) on YouTube.


"Vivir mejor para conservar": A short article about how the WHSRN Site designation has helped support efforts to improve the quality of life for Delta de Iscuandé communities.


An overview video about Delta del Rio Iscuande is available on YouTube.


The Colombian Pacific area is mostly inhabited by communities of African descent, which through the Colombian Constitution of 1991 were recognized as an ethnic minority group. The Constitution also created an ethnic and territorial entity or Community Organization invested with local authority rights called Community Council. Among its main activities are land zoning and adequate use of natural resources. The Community Councils play a very important role in all actions and decisions taken in relation to the territory, therefore their participation is fundamental in conservation processes. The Delta of the Iscuandé River is regulated by the Esfuerzo Pescador Community Council. They have been participating since 2007 in different activities aimed at raising awareness about the importance of the site for shorebirds, which they fully support.


The first Colombian Pacific Coast Migratory Bird Festival took place in October 2008. This event is aimed at raising awareness about the importance of the Pacific coast for migratory bird species such as shorebirds, as well as for sea turtles. It is hoped that this festival will become a tradition for the local community.



Carmelo Castillo
Legal Representative
Esfuerzo Pescador Community Council
Telephone (cell): 310 4971 144

Jonatan Salazar 
Town Councillor
Santa Bárbara de Iscuandé Municipal Council
Telephone (cell): 313 6500 1675

Luis Fernando Castillo
Director, Asociación Calidris
Carrera 24 Nº 4 – 20 Piso 2
Cali -  Colombia
Telephone (+ 57) 2 5560455