Highland Guan Penelopina nigra


Justification of Red List category
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.

Population justification
The most recent estimate places the global population of mature individuals at <50,000 (Partners in Flight 2019) although this figure is declining rapidly, a trend that is likely to continue (Eisermann et al. 2006).

Trend justification
The area of remaining habitat is declining with a ~6% reduction in forest area recorded throughout its range throughout the past three generations (Tracewski et al. 2016); such trends are likely to continue (Eisermann et al. 2006). Further to habitat alteration, hunting pressures are also a principal threat with both threats increasing owing to an expanding human population. The species is therefore inferred to be declining rapidly, with Brooks (2006) estimating rates of decline of up to 30% every 10 years.

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 [del Hoyo 1994, Howell and Webb 1995, 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), although densities likely rarely exceed 25 birds/km2 (Brooks 2006). 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).


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 (Brooks 2006, 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); invertebrates and small vertebrates are also commonly eaten (Rowley 1984, Muñoz and Kattan 2007). Nests are fairly large, situated between ground level and 13 m above ground, with clutches typically consisting of two eggs (Rowley 1984, Vannini and Rockstroh 1997).


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

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).


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.


Text account compilers
Everest, J.

Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Capper, D., Clay, R.P., Eisermann, K., Hubbell, P., Komar, O., Lubbers, S., Sharpe, C.J., Tanimoto, P. & Taylor, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Species factsheet: Penelopina nigra. Downloaded from on 24/02/2024.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2024) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 24/02/2024.