National birds of Central America

Bird facts are always of interest to any birder, so cool facts about national birds are no exception! Most countries have officially (or at least unofficially) selected a national bird to best represent their local avifauna, and the Central American countries have done a great job of boasting some of the most beautiful and powerful birds that the region has to offer. So, without further ado, here we go!

Guatemala – Resplendent Quetzal

Guatemala has taken the prize for selecting one of the most iconic and most beautiful birds on Earth as its national bird – the Resplendent Quetzal. It is found throughout the highlands of Guatemala and is revered for its shimmery green plumage contrasting with its bright red belly, and its most outstanding feature, the long trailing upper tail coverts of the male. The Resplendent Quetzal has played an important role in Mesoamerican mythology – the name “quetzal” is an Ancient Mayan term for tail feather, and the Mayans were said to have used the long tail feathers for currency. The Resplendent Quetzal is found on the Guatemalan flag and coat of arms, and the country’s currency is also called, you guessed it, the Quetzal.

Resplendent Quetzal, Guatemala's national bird
Resplendent Quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird

Belize – Keel-billed Toucan

The Keel-billed Toucan, with its large, multicolored bill, is another emblematic bird of Central America. It was declared the national bird of Belize along with the country’s other national symbols when the country declared its independence from the United Kingdom in 1981. Widespread throughout Belize (and through most of Central America, for that matter), it is a welcome sight to anyone, and easily distinguishable with that huge colorful bill. Being easily recognizable, common and beautiful makes the Keel-billed Toucan a great choice for Belize’s national bird.

Keel-billed Toucan, national bird of Belize
Keel-billed Toucan, national bird of Belize

El Salvador and Nicaragua – Turquoise-browed Motmot

One of the most beautiful species of the motmot family, it’s no surprise that two Central American countries have chosen the Turquoise-browed Motmot as their national birds. Found throughout El Salvador and the Pacific slope of Nicaragua, this elegant bird of Mesoamerica sports rich olive-rufous plumage highlighted with bright turquoise blue, and a long racquet-tipped tail – it is a bird not to be missed in either of these countries. It is known locally as Torogoz in El Salvador and Guardabarranco in Nicaragua.

Turquoise-browed Motmot, national bird of El Salvador and Nicaragua
Turquoise-browed Motmot, national bird of El Salvador and Nicaragua

Honduras – Scarlet Macaw

Another brightly-colored and well-known bird associated with the Neotropics, the Scarlet Macaw was declared the national bird of Honduras in 1993. This threatened species, rare in the country, was chosen to raise awareness of Honduras’ bird life among its population and beyond. Like other Central American national birds, it is attractive and calls attention easily, in hopes of sparking conservation interest globally to assist the small population in Honduras and throughout its extensive yet fragmented range. The Scarlet Macaw is locally known as La Guara Roja in Honduras, and a small population thrives in the La Mosquitia reserve in the eastern part of the country, and can be seen along the northern Caribbean coast.

Scarlet Macaw, national bird of Honduras
Scarlet Macaw, national bird of Honduras

Costa Rica – Clay-colored Thrush

Instead of choosing a more recognizable, colorful, beautiful bird associated with the tropics like many Central American countries have, Costa Rica took a different approach to selecting their national bird. Instead, they decided to honor a bird that can be seen by everyone who lives in and visits this highly biodiverse country – the ubiquitous Clay-colored Thrush! Costa Rica reveres this bird for its abundance and ease of observation, its charismatic nature in suburban gardens and most of all, its melodic song. The dawn song of the Clay-colored Thrush during its breeding season is sweet music to everyone’s ears, definitely making up for its drab brown plumage. A close cousin of the American Robin, the Clay-colored Thrush ranges from extreme southern US (Texas) throughout all of Central America and into northern Colombia and northwestern Venezuela.

Clay-colored Thrush, national bird of Costa Rica
Clay-colored Thrush, national bird of Costa Rica

Panama – Harpy Eagle

In such a small country, Panama has the greatest biodiversity of all of Central America. With over 1000 species of birds to choose a national bird from, Panama made a great decision by making the largest and most powerful eagle, the Harpy Eagle, its official national bird. Panama’s easternmost province, Darién, supports the largest population of Harpy Eagles in Central America, and sightings of this elusive forest eagle are uncommon but more frequent here than in the rest of the region. The Harpy Eagle represents sovereignty and is an indicator of a healthy environment. The Harpy Eagle was designated as Panama’s national bird in 2002 and is on the top of the coat of arms of the Republic of Panama.

Harpy Eagle, national bird of Panama
Harpy Eagle, national bird of Panama

Well, there you have it, the full list of national birds from the beautiful Central American countries. We challenge you to join us to see all these birds on our tours!

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