email a friend
printable version
Highland Guan Penelopina nigra
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This species's once relatively large population has undergone a rapid decline (owing to habitat loss and degradation, and hunting) which is projected to continue into the future. For this reason it is listed as Vulnerable.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

59-65 cm. Marked sexual dimorphism. Adult males are relatively small, all black and have bright red legs, bill and dewlap. Females are larger, brown, profusely barred and lack the dewlap. Similar spp. Can be confused with Penelope purpurascens, which also has red dewlap and occurs in some cloud forests. From Crypturellus tinamous and Dendrortyx wood-partridges, which also have red legs, by long tail.

Distribution and population
Penelopina nigra inhabits wet premontane and montane broad-leaved forests of subtropical and temperate zones on Pacific and Caribbean slopes of south Mexico (uncommon and local [Eisermann et al. 2006], but moderate numbers in El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve [Gómez de Silva et al. 1999]), Guatemala (still locally common), Honduras, north-central Nicaragua (uncommon and rather local in both) and El Salvador (local [Howell and Webb 1995a, del Hoyo 1994, Vannini and Rockstroh 1997, K. Eisermann in litt. 2007]) . It can occur at densities of 30 birds/km2 and is probably more common than sightings suggest (del Hoyo 1994, Vannini and Rockstroh 1997). Suitable habitat in Guatemala, the apparent global stronghold, has been reduced to under c.10,000 km2, which is less than half its original extent (Vannini and Rockstroh 1997). Since 1990, it has been confirmed from 53 sites throughout its range (Eisermann et al. 2006).

Population justification
A recent extrapolation estimates that all remaining habitat could support a total population of c. 91,000 individuals, although this figure is declining rapidly and this trend is likely to continue (Eisermann et al. 2006).

Trend justification
The area of remaining habitat is declining rapidly and this trend is likely to continue (Eisermann et al. 2006). Habitat alteration and hunting pressure are the principal threats, both of which are increasing owing to an expanding human population. The species is therefore suspected to be declining rapidly.

It inhabits the most humid and densely forested slopes of Chiapas Montane Forest, Chimalapas Montane Forest, Central America Montane Forest and Central America Pine-Oak Forest (Eisermann et al. 2006). Although it is mainly restricted to cloud forest and pine-oak forests, it has also been recorded in mature cypress plantations and low canopy secondary forest (Eisermann et al. 2006). It forages singly, in pairs or small groups, often at twilight, on berries and other fruits from the upper forest canopy to the forest floor (K. Eisermann in litt. 2012).

Habitat alteration and hunting pressure are the principal threats. The human population is growing rapidly within the species's range (Eisermann et al. 2006). Forest is cleared for agriculture, particularly coffee plantations and maize fields, but also for plantations of leather leaf ferns (Rumohra adiantiformis) and ponytail (Beaucarnea spp.) (K. Eisermann in litt. 2007), and to a lesser extent for mining (O. Komar in litt. 2007). However, in Guatemala about 50% of the species range are used or planned for exploration and opencast mining (K. Eisermann in litt. 2012). Climate change may threaten the species in the future (O. Komar in litt. 2007), probably through altitudinal shifts in habitat.

Conservation Actions Underway
At several private reserves in Guatemala, the species's stronghold, habitat is protected and hunting is prevented (Eisermann et al. 2006). In Alta Verapaz, fire-protection zones adjacent to primary cloud forest were established by planting fruit trees, reducing the risk of forest fires from corn plots (K. Eisermann in litt. 2007). Short-term habitat protection is achieved by providing incentives for forest conservation and reforestation (K. Eisermann in litt. 2007). Hunting of the guan is prohibited by law in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador (Eisermann et al. 2006, O. Komar in litt. 2007, K. Eisermann in litt. 2012). Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor the rates of habitat loss and degradation. Model population trends using data from habitat trends. Carry out research into whether the species is, in part, an altitudinal migrant (Eisermann 2005). Protect remaining forest habitat in existing reserves and by establishing new ones. Encourage local people to exploit sustainable alternative food sources. Promote habitat restoration both within and outside reserves across the species's range (K. Eisermann in litt. 2007). Improve the management of protected areas (K. Eisermann in litt. 2007).

del Hoyo, J. 1994. Cracidae (Chachalacas, Guans and Curassows). In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (ed.), Handbook of the birds of the world, pp. 310-363. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Eisermann, K. 2005. Noteworthy bird observations in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 125: 3-11.

Eisermann, K.; Herrera, N.; Komar, O. 2006. Highland Guan (Penelopina nigra). In: Brooks, D. M. (ed.), Conserving cracids: the most threatened family of birds of the Americas, pp. 86-91. Houstom Museum of Natural Science, Houston, TX, U.S.A.

Gómez de Silva Garza, H.; González-García, F.; Casillas-Trejo, M. P. 1999. Birds of the upper cloud forest of El Triunfo, Chiapas, Mexio. Ornitologia Neotropical 10: 1-26.

Howell, S. N. G.; Webb, S. 1995. A guide to the birds of Mexico and northern Central America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Vannini, J. P.; Rockstroh, P. M. 1997. The status of cracids in Guatemala. In: Strahl, S.D.; Beaujon, S.; Brooks, D.M.; Begazo, A.J.; Sedaghatkish, G.; Olmos, F. (ed.), The cracidae: their biology and conservation, pp. 326-334. Hancock House Publishers, Surrey, Canada and Blaine, USA.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Capper, D., Sharpe, C J, Taylor, J.

Clay, R., Eisermann, K., Komar, O., Tanimoto, P., Hubbell, P., Lubbers, S.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Penelopina nigra. Downloaded from on 23/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 23/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Highland guan (Penelopina nigra) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Cracidae (Guans, Chachalacas, Curassows)
Species name author (Fraser, 1852)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 103,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species