Highland guan -- 山冠雉 (Penelopina nigra)

Captive male highland guan perching
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Highland guan fact file

Highland guan description

GenusPenelopina (1)

Belonging to the same family as the curassows, the highland guan is a sexually dimorphic bird. Adult males are black overall with a sheen of bluish-green on the upperparts and a browner, duller belly. The face is decorated with a red bill, eye-ring and throat wattle. The legs and feet are also red. Females are brown overall, barred rufous, with a grey bill and dusky red legs. Juveniles share the colouration of the females (3).

Also known as
black chachalaca, black guan, black pajuil, black penelope, little guan, penelopina.
Penelope niger.
Pava Pajuil.
Length: 59 – 65 cm (2)
0.86 – 0.92 kg (2)

Highland guan biology

Spending much of its time in the trees, the highland guan forages for berries and fruits, but it may descend to the ground where it has been noted eating animals, including lizards and mice. It is often seen in groups of three or four individuals, as well as singly and in pairs. Individuals call to each other with a high-pitched ascending whistle (2) (5).

Whilst pairs of highland guan are often seen together, this species is thought to be polygamous, with more females hatching successfully than males. Between February and May, a large and poorly constructed nest is built from sticks and leaves, and is lined with some of the female’s downy feathers. It is typically positioned within a tree, tree fern, or bush, sometimes near or on the ground. Two eggs are laid which hatch between March and June (2) (6) (7).


Highland guan range

This highland guan has a range running from southern Mexico to northern Nicaragua, through Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras (2).


Highland guan habitat

Found in evergreen, humid, broadleaf forest (cloud forest) and pine oak forest, at altitudes of between 1,000 and 3,300 metres above sea level, but it has also been recorded at low elevations from 300 to 900 meters. Although the highland guan prefers primary forest, it has also been observed in adjacent secondary forest and mature cypress plantations (4).


Highland guan status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix III of CITES in Guatemala (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Highland guan threats

Habitat alteration and hunting pose the greatest threat to the highland guan, and rising human populations means that the highland guan is expected to become increasingly threatened (4). Guatemala, in particular, where this species is most prevalent, has lost half of its suitable habitat (8), to coffee plantations and to slash-and-burn cultivation of corn fields (4), and in Nicaragua, the species is in danger of local extirpation due to deforestation (4). Even in protected areas, the highland guan faces the threat of clandestine hunting and deforestation (4).


Highland guan conservation

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) affords the highland guan some protection from trade in Guatemala (3). Several private reserves in Guatemala prohibit hunting and protect the habitat of the highland guan, hunting of this species is also prohibited in Mexico, and the highland guan is legally protected in El Salvador (4). Further measures have been recommended to conserve remaining populations of the highland guan, including expanding the system of protected areas and enforcing management within these reserves to limit illegal deforestation and hunting (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For further information on the highland guan see:

  • del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2001) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

For more information on this and other bird species please see:



Authenticated (16/10/07) by Knut Eisermann, PROEVAL RAXMU Bird Monitoring Program.



Mating with more than one partner in the same season.
Primary forest
Forest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
Secondary forest
Forest that has re-grown after a major disturbance, such as fire or timber harvest, but has not yet reached the mature state of primary forest.
Sexually dimorphic
When males and females of the same species differ in appearance.
Bare fleshy skin that hangs from the bill, throat or eye of birds.


  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2007)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2001) Handbook of the Birds of the World Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (May, 2006)
  4. Eisermann, K., Herrera, N. and Komar, O. (2006) Highland guan (Penelopina nigra). In: Brooks, D.M. (Ed) Conserving Cracids: the most Threatened Family of Birds in the Americas. Miscellaneous Publications of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston, Texas.
  5. Andrle, R.F. (1967) Notes on the black chachalaca, Penelopina nigra. The Auk, 84(2): 169 - 172.
  6. Eisermann, K. (2005) Noteworthy bird observations in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club, 125: 3 - 11.
  7. Delacour, J. and Amadon, D. (2004) Curassows and Related Birds. Second Edition. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  8. BirdLife International (May, 2006)

Image credit

Captive male highland guan perching  
Captive male highland guan perching

© Kurt Duchez

Kurt Duchez


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