Dr Stephen Moss, Global Consultant, NETVUE Birdfy

Earlier this month I enjoyed a guided trip with WINGS Birding Tours to the Central American birding hotpot of Guatemala, seeing well over 300 different species of birds including migrants from North America, as well as the local residents. Here are my top 5…

1. Goldman’s Warbler

Found only in Guatemala and the very south of Mexico, and mostly confined to highland habitats from 3500 metres (11,500 feet) above sea level, this stunning little bird was until recently considered to be a subspecies of the common and familiar Yellow-rumped Warbler of North America. However scientific studies of the bird’s habitat, behaviour, song, and especially its striking black, white and yellow plumage, have now elevated this to a full species – one of the rarest and most sought-after of this varied and colourful family.

Goldman’s Warbler

2. Pink-headed Warbler

Another very rare species of American wood-warbler, the Pink-headed Warbler is also only found in Guatemala and a few sites in Mexico. Of all the 30 species of warbler I managed to see on my visit – including migrants such as Myrtle, Kentucky and Black-and-white Warblers, and residents such as Golden-browed – this is undoubtedly the most striking and beautiful, with its deep blood-red plumage and pale pink head. We were lucky to get close-up views these frequently in the highlands. This photograph shows a mural featuring this species, painted by a local artist in the highland village of Union Reforma.

Pink-headed Warbler

Image source Adobe Stock

3. Resplendent Quetzal

The bird that everyone wants to see: the most magnificent member of the trogon family, and the symbol, state bird and even the currency of Guatemala. At El Regio del Quetzal we watched a male return to its nest and then take over incubation duties from his mate – leaving his long plumes (extended tail-covers rather than his actual tail) sticking out of the nest-hole! My photograph is a little blurred, as this was early morning in the cloud forest! The quetzal’s colours are quite extraordinary: with its crimson chest and green-and-blue plumage that shimmers in the varying light.

Resplendent Quetzal

4. Northern Barred-Woodcreeper

This was just one of many secretive woodland birds I managed to see, and one of the very few I photographed. Woodcreepers look rather like woodpeckers, even though they are in a totally different family. Like woodpeckers, they cling on to the sides of trees, but unlike woodpeckers they often stay put for some time, allowing me to take some photos.

Northern Barred-Woodcreeper

5. Ocellated Turkey

The smaller and more brightly coloured cousin of the familiar Wild (and domesticated) Turkey, this species is confined to the Yucatan region of southern Mexico, Guatemala and neighbouring Belize, where it was worshipped by the Mayan people who still live in this region. The best place to see them is the ruins at Tikal, where we came across our first in the busy car park. Later on we managed to get very close to a male turkey, and witnessed his incredible courtship display (see video) and also his amazing feathers, which glow like a layer of oil on the surface of water.

Ocellated Turkey

And one magnificent insect…

Monarch Butterfly

This stunning butterfly, which migrates to and from North America to breed, was photographed feeding on a flower in the gardens of a lodge.

Monarch Butterfly




May 10, 2024 — Stephen Moss

Leave a comment