Highland Guan Penelopina nigra

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


Conservation Status

Highland Guan is restricted to the highlands of southern Mexico and northern Central America, which makes the species especially vulnerable to habitat loss and other threats. Based on a status evaluation (Eisermann et al. 2006), the guan has been classified as Vulnerable in the BirdLife/IUCN Red List of globally threatened birds since 2007 (BirdLife International 2012). Although locally still common, Highland Guan faces severe threats from habitat loss. The pressure on the population will increase due to a rapidly growing human population throughout the species’ range, demanding more land for agriculture (Eisermann et al 2006).

Prime habitat of Highland Guan decreases because of an advancing agricultural border. Slash-and-burn is a common agricultural method in northern Central America, which often causes forest fires destroying primary cloud forest. In addition to family-sustaining agriculture (mainly corn and beans), large areas of habitat have been destroyed by industrial plantations of coffee (Coffea arabica) at 800-1600 m and ornamentals (leather leaf fern Rumohra adiantiformis, ponytail Beaucarnea sp.) above 1600 m (Eisermann et al. 2006). In Guatemala, about 50% of the guan’s range are used or planned for exploration and opencast mining (BirdLife International 2012). Hunting of Highland Guan is prohibited by law in Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador, but illegal hunting has been reported recently (Eisermann et al. 2006).

The long-term conservation of Highland Guan requires the protection of natural habitat and habitat restoration in and outside of protected areas, and conservation efforts in the human-used landscape need to be improved (Eisermann and Avendaño 2007b, 2009a,b, Harvey et al. 2008, Chazdon et al. 2009, Gardner et al. 2009). Following conservation measures were recommended (Komar and Herrera 2003, Eisermann et al. 2006): expand the system of private and public protected areas, enforce management and control in national protected areas, create public awareness of the species’ vulnerability, extend sustainable land use outreach (e.g. use of permanent crops adjacent to primary forest to avoid forest fires), promote conservation of indigenous traditions such as sustainable use of communal reserves (Secaira 2000), and restore habitat through reforestation.

Effects of human activity on populations

Agriculture has reduced the habitat of Highland Guan in the last two centuries considerably, and is still one of the main threats because the distribution range is partially located in a zone especially favorable for agriculture. The establishment of private protected areas and the promotion of birdwatching tourism has raised awareness of the Highland Guan and encouraged small-scale habitat protection (Brooks and Strahl 2000, Eisermann et al. 2006).

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.