Highland Guan Penelopina nigra

  • Order: Galliformes
  • Family: Cracidae
  • Monotypic
  • Authors: Knut Eisermann



Locomotion: Highland Guans move mainly walking, along branches in all forest strata and on ground. Wing beats support climbs into the canopy. Flights between trees or over small clearings, ravines, roads or other habitat-cutting structures, start by some strong wing beats after which the birds glide with wings and tail spread.

Foraging: Highland Guans pluck fruit, but also pick them up from the ground.

Self-maintenance: At day Highland Guans rest motionless in the upper canopy for prolonged times (>30 min), where they have also been observed sun-bathing (K. Eisermann, personal observations). González-Garcia et al. (2001) mentioned dust-bathing on ground. At night Highland Guan roost in the upper canopy (K. Eisermann, personal observations).

Agonistic behavior: None described.


Population density has been estimated from 1-25 birds/km2 (see Populations and Demography). Presumably the male’s whistles and wing-drumming are a territorial advertisement (Pullen 1983, del Hoyo and Motis 2004). Home range sizes during breeding and non-breeding season remain unknown, as well as intraspecific relations such as territory defense.

Sexual Behavior

The male’s courtship behavior consists of nervous jumps between branches (Dickey and van Rossem 1038, González-García et al. 2001). Dickey and van Rossem described it as “... whirling round and round, for all the world like a dog chasing his tail.” González-García et al. (2001) observed a male moving the tail up and down, with a wing beat once in a while, while the female was near by. Copulation apparently has not been described.

Social and interspecific behavior

Highland Guans move as single birds, pairs, or small groups of up to 5 birds (Andrle 1967, Parker et al. 1976, Pullen 1983; K. Eisermann, personal observations). Family bonds between the female and her offspring can continue into the second year (Thurber et al. 1987). Roosting birds in small groups of 2-3 birds have been seen together in the same tree (K. Eisermann, personal observations). Social behavior with other species has not been described.


Several large raptors and mammals could be potential predators of Highland Guans, but reports on predation are scarce. Wagner (1953) observed a Tyra (Eira barbara) stalking unsuccessfully toward an adult. An Ornate Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus ornatus) has been observed catching a Highland Guan at Atitlán volcano (G. López, personal communication). At the same site feathers of an adult male were found predated by a raptor (K. Eisermann and G. López, personal observations). Other potential predators of adults include large raptors hunting inside the forest such as Black Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus tyrannus) and Fulvous Owl (Strix fulvescens), and mammals such as Margay (Leopardus wiedii), Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), Jaguar (Panthera onca), and Puma (Puma concolor). Potential predators of eggs include Emerald Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus prasinus), Central American Coati (Nasua narica), Kinkajou (Potos flavus), Cacomistle (Bassariscus sumichrasti), Common and Virginia Oppossum (Didelphis marsupialis and D. virginiana) and nests close to the ground may be predated by Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), Collared Peccary (Pecari tajacu), and by straying dogs.

Recommended Citation

Eisermann, K. (2012). Highland Guan (Penelopina nigra), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.higgua1.01