Darién highlands

Country/Territory Colombia,Panama
Area 3,000 km2
Altitude 700 - 2300m
Priority urgent
Habitat loss limited
Knowledge incomplete

General characteristics

Embracing the highlands that rise from the Darién lowlands (EBA 023), this EBA includes the serranías of central and eastern Panama (east of the Panama Canal, and including Cerro Jefe-Cerro Azul, Cerro Brewster, Cerro Bruja, Serranía de Majé, Serranía de Jungurudó, Serranía del Sapo and Serranía del Darién) and those that form the border between Panama and Colombia (e.g. Serranía de Pirre, Alturas de Nique, Altos de Quía, Serranía de Tacarcuna). The EBA extends from 700 m to c.2,300 m, between which altitudes the principal vegetation types range from subtropical to cloud and elfin forest. The continuation of these mountains west of the Panama Canal forms the Costa Rica and Panama highlands (EBA 020).

Restricted-range species

All the restricted-range species are confined to forest habitats, primarily above 700-800 m. Bangsia arcaei is found primarily above 700 m in this part of its range, but occurs at lower altitudes further west (W. J. Adsett in litt. 1993). At the lower elevations these birds overlap with species endemic to the Darién lowlands (EBA 023), some of which occur up to 800-900 m, but are nevertheless principally low-altitude in their distributions.

Although a number of the species are widespread within the EBA, and four occur in other nearby EBAs, the mountains along the Colombian border (Cerros Tacarcuna and Malí, Cerro Pirre, Alturas de Nique and Altos de Quía) support six species (Odontophorus dialeucos, Margarornis bellulus, Scytalopus panamensis, Myadestes coloratus, Tangara fucosa and Basileuterus ignotus) which are totally confined to various combinations of these mountains. A further two species (Geothalsia bella and Chlorospingus inornatus) are found also on Cerro Sapo. The predominance of species endemic to the mountains at the eastern end of this EBA highlights the importance of this area for conservation.

A bird, previously reported as Scytalopus vicinior , recorded from Cerro Pirre and thus disjunct from that species' main range in the Chocó (EBA 041), appears not to be referable to vicinior (based on vocalization and morphology: Wetmore 1972, Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990), and may thus represent a new, Vulnerable, single-mountain endemic (see below).

Species IUCN Category
Tacarcuna Wood-quail (Odontophorus dialeucos) LC
Russet-crowned Quail-dove (Zentrygon goldmani) NT
Pirre Hummingbird (Goethalsia bella) NT
Violet-capped Hummingbird (Goldmania violiceps) NT
Bare-shanked Screech-owl (Megascops clarkii) LC
Tacarcuna Tapaculo (Scytalopus panamensis) NT
Choco Tapaculo (Scytalopus chocoensis) LC
Narino Tapaculo (Scytalopus vicinior) LC
Beautiful Treerunner (Margarornis bellulus) NT
Varied Solitaire (Myadestes coloratus) NT
Yellow-collared Chlorophonia (Chlorophonia flavirostris) LC
Tacarcuna Bush-tanager (Chlorospingus tacarcunae) LC
Pirre Bush-tanager (Chlorospingus inornatus) LC
Sooty-faced Finch (Arremon crassirostris) LC
Pirre Warbler (Basileuterus ignotus) VU
Blue-and-gold Tanager (Bangsia arcaei) NT
Green-naped Tanager (Tangara fucosa) LC

Important Bird Areas (IBAs)
IBA Code Site Name Country
CO018 Capurganá Colombia
PA030 Portobelo National Park Panama
PA040 Chagres National Park Panama
PA043 Serranía de Majé Panama
PA047 Narganá Wildlands Area Panama
PA051 Punta Garachiné-Cerro Sapo Panama
PA053 Darién National Park Panama

Threat and conservation

None of the restricted-range species is currently considered threatened, due in part to the relatively pristine state of the highland forests (especially those in Darién) which in turn is a result of their inaccessibility and formal protection (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989). However, close examination of the distributions of species endemic to the mountains on the Panama-Colombia border suggests that those confined to higher elevations should be considered Vulnerable on range-size alone (estimated at less than 100 km2); such species include Odontophorus dialeucos, Margarornis bellulus, Scytalopus panamensis and Basileuterus ignotus (Wege 1996). These species are inherently at risk from any habitat loss or degradation within their small ranges, as is happening locally from mining operations (especially for gold). More specifically, some of the western sections of the area (e.g. around Cerros Jefe and Bruja) have been partially deforested despite being in national parks, and the proposed Pan-American Highway link through Darién could have further highly detrimental effects on the forest (W. J. Adsett in litt. 1993, Dinerstein et al. 1995).

In Panama, the extensive Darién National Park (a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site) protects most of the important highlands in Darién province, with Los Katíos National Park in Colombia protecting the adjacent and contiguous part of Cerro Tacarcuna ridge (IUCN 1992a). Alto de Darién Forest Reserve covers the Serranía del Darién, and further west the Chagres National Park embraces the Cerro Azul-Cerro Jefe highland ridge, although habitat loss on the lower slopes of the ridge has opened up the montane forest to the damaging effects of wind (W. J. Adsett verbally 1994).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Endemic Bird Areas factsheet: Darién highlands. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 16/08/2022.