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Why Guatemala Is a Great Bird Watching Destination

Imagine waking to a Royal Flycatcher outside your window, the beautiful crested bird whom the Mayans modeled their elaborate head dresses from. Imagine seeing multiple species of luminous hummingbirds all on one birding excursion. The Mayan World – which includes Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula – offers birdwatchers the opportunity to see hundreds of species in a relatively compact geographical region.


The royal flycatcher is a name used for the birds in the genus Onychorhynchus within the family Tityridae. While there are roughly four separate species in the commonly named group “royal flycatcher”, the name is most commonly used in reference to the species Onychorhynchus coronatus (the Amazonian). The part of the name “royal” refers to the fantastic feather display on the crown of the animal's head, which is a brilliant array of red, yellow, white, blue and/or black. They are found in Mexico, Central American and as far South as Venezuela and Columbia.
Credit: twentytwoworlds.com


The Pink-headed Warbler is restricted to the highlands of Guatemala and the neighboring Mexican state of Chiapas. It occurs as a resident mainly above 2000 m. Pink-headed Warbler is classified as Vulnerable, because of an ongoing loss of habitat caused by a rapidly growing human population. (Cornell Lab of Ornitholgy) Photo: Benedicto Grijalva, Birding Expeditions. www.birdingexpeditions.com/

North American bird watchers are familiar with most birds found in Central America – the migratory Neotropicals include Northern Flicker, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Hairy Woodpecker, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Yellow Grosbeak and the Pine Siskin. These Neotropicals summer in the US and Canada but migrate to Mexico, Central American, South American or the Caribbean to winter.

Goldman’s Warbler in Guatemala was once considered a sub-species of the Yellow-rumped Warbler, one of the most common warblers in North America. With a broad breeding range, stretching from Alaska south to Guatemala and east to the northeastern United States, it is often abundant in winter in the southern United States, Mexico, and the western Caribbean. (Cornell Lab of Ornitholgy) Photo: Benedicto Grijalva, Birding Expeditions.

These species have a counterpart in states such as Guatemala, where they can’t breed with their groups separated by long distances. A second group found here can’t breed with other birds while wintering. They include Goldman’s Warbler and the White-breasted Hawk.
DNA evidence concluded that Goldman’s Warbler was not a subspecies of the Yellow-rumped Warbler, it will be considered an endemic Guatemalan bird in the future.

Guatemalan Species and Sub-species


Guatemala offers some of the best regional diversity for birding
Guatemala is bordered by Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the North, Belize, the Caribbean Sea, Honduras and El Salvador to the East, Chiapas to the West and the Pacific Ocean to the South.


The Belted Flycatcher is a small flycatcher restricted to a small geographic area on the Pacific slope of Central America, from southern Mexico to extreme northwestern El Salvador. Though not as grand as the Royal-flycatcher, they sport a spiky crest on the crown, and a broad cinnamon band ("belt") across the breast, contrasting with a white throat and a pale, yellow belly. This flycatcher also has a conspicuous pale eyering and pale cinnamon wingbars. . (Cornell Lab of Ornitholgy) Photo: Benedicto Grijalva, Birding Expeditions.

There are 740 recorded bird species, at least 35 of them have a geographic restriction from southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and part of El Salvador. These species are related to very important regions that are been declared Endemic Bird Areas: The North Central American Pacific Slope and the North Central American Highlands.

Guatemalan birds are represented by five species considered near endemic of the country, which means that are only found in Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas. In the North Central American Pacific Slope, the representative bird is Azure-

rumped Tanager. Birds related to the North Central American Highlands are Horned Guan, Belted Flycatcher, Pink-headed Warbler and Black-capped Siskin.


The Horned Guan is a unique member of the Cracid family, living in isolated populations in cloudforests on the highest mountain peaks and volcanoes in Guatemala and the neighboring Mexican state of Chiapas. The total area of occupation has a size of less than 7000 km2 (Cornell Lab of Ornitholgy) Photo: Benedicto Grijalva, Birding Expeditions.

A great birding value
Guatemala offers four distinct birding regions in a relatively compact area of 42,000 square miles, allowing your birding dollar to go farther. There are five species considered near endemic in the country, which means that are only found in Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas. In the North Central American Pacific Slope, the representative bird is Azure-rumped Tanager. Birds related to the North Central American Highlands are Horned Guan, Belted Flycatcher, Pink-headed Warbler and Black-capped Siskin.

If this is not enough to entice you to venture to Guatemala, there are 39 reported species of hummingbirds in Guatemala – a favorite of backyard birdwatchers. They include the Purple-crowned Fairy, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Black-crested coquette and Canivet’s Emerald, among others.



The Azure-rumped Tanager is restricted to a small area of about 2500 km2 on the Pacific slope of Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico, where it occurs in the altitudinal belt between 800-1900 m. The Azure-rumped Tanager is an omnivore and feeds on fruit and arthropods. (Cornell Lab of Ornitholgy) Photo: Benedicto Grijalva, Birding Expeditions.