Central America2021-01-06T15:56:24-05:00

Central America

John van Dort and Oliver Komar, Regional Report Compilers

With over 1,260 species reported, Central America’s bird list is the greatest of any North American Birds region. And although slightly smaller than Texas or Manitoba, this land bridge connecting the two American continents is nevertheless home to seven countries.

Indigenous cultures have long revered its spectacular birds, perhaps chief among them the Resplendent Quetzal. In the 19th century, the region drew the attention of early museum ornithologists such as Osbert Salvin and Frederick Godman, and later on, of figures such as Robert Ridgway, Ludlow Griscom, Adriaan van Rossem, and Burt Monroe. In the 20th century, Alexander Skutch carried out behavioral studies for decades.

The Central American land bridge had arisen by 2.8 million years ago, allowing several South American radiations (e.g., furnariids, antbirds) to reach North America, and some North American ones (e.g., New World warblers, New World sparrows) to reach South America. One group, the motmots, achieves its greatest diversity in Central America. From Guatemala to Panama, the biogeography is characterized by a multitude of biomes and ecoregions, allowing the evolution of 112 avian endemics.

Not all of the region is characterized by tropical rainforests. High mountains and volcanoes support temperate forests with resident species such as Red-tailed Hawk, Hairy Woodpecker, Brown Creeper, and Red Crossbill. Most of the Pacific Slope experiences lengthy dry seasons, causing marked differences between Pacific and Atlantic slope bird communities. The Pacific slope is also the area of densest human population; some severely fragmented dry forest patches persist amid agricultural and urban areas. Mangroves and sandy beaches line both coasts, and marshes and estuaries can be found at river mouths.

Because of its warmer winter temperatures, Central America provides wintering grounds for about 200 boreal–neotropical migratory bird species. Many migrants (e.g., ducks, flycatchers, warblers, some shorebirds) spend the bulk of their year in Central America, while others continue further south. Several raptor species (e.g., Swainson’s Hawk and Mississippi Kite) form spectacular concentrations, especially in fall as they migrate overland to South American wintering grounds.


The ABA gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Central America Regional Report Compilers John van Dort and Oliver Komar to promoting knowledge and understanding about the birdlife of the continent.

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