El Salvador is a small country on the Pacific coast of northern Central America with the highest population density in the Americas. This high population has led to widespread destruction of many natural habitats, with only about 3% of the original forest estimated to still remain intact. Despite this, it still has some excellent birding and many important birding sites.
Although small, the country has great diversity. The country has largely a tropical monsoon climate, with a pronounced wet season between about mid-May and mid-November and a dry season the rest of the year. However, local climatic effects caused by prevailing winds coming off the Pacific and rising rapidly after they reach the coast has resulted in the formation of cloud forest on many of the volcanoes that are found in the country and in the highlands bordering Honduras and Guatemala in the north. A number of altidudinal zones are also evident.
Much of the coastline is lined with beaches, with some rocky coastline. Along the coast there are extensive areas of mangrove, that have had relatively little disturbance. Nearly all of the coastal lowlands have been deforested and are open farmland. A few areas of tropical dry forest (e.g. Walter Deininger) and riparian forest (e.g. Nancuchiname) still exist. Further inland lie hills and volcanoes that are largely used for coffee farming. The local method is primarily shade coffee, where trees are left to prevent too much sun from reaching the coffee plants. The shade coffee farms are habitats for some of the most important regional specialties (such as Buffy-crowned Wood Partridge, Bar-winged Oriole and Prevost's Ground Sparrow). Unfarmed areas in the highlands tend to have cloud forest, or, in dryer areas, pine forest (mainly the north and east of the country).
El Salvador is not often visited by foreign birders for several reasons: neighbouring Honduras and Guatemala have many more species, largely because they both extend onto the Caribbean slope as well as the Pacific slope; there is a high crime rate, which makes travel difficult and limits access to many potentially good birding sites and because of the limited availability of other tourist attractions such as important Mayan historical sites.
There are a number of species that are largely restricted to the two BirdLife endemic bird areas that are found in the country. (see Areas of Interest below)
There are also some important migrants that winter or pass through the country. Large numbers of Elegant Terns pass through the country in November and December, with smaller numbers passing through on their way north (it is thought that they migrate back far out at sea). Golden-cheeked Warblers winter in the northern highlands.
The country has not been well enough studied to fully establish the status of many of the species found. There have been a few unexpected records in the country, such as Magellanic Penguin, Aztec Thrush and Glaucous-winged Gull. Many North American migrants pass through and there are many expected species that have still not been reliably reported (e.g. Purple Martin).
Areas of Interest
Two of BirdLife International's Endemic Bird Areas are found in the country: The North Central American Highlands and the North Central American Pacific Slope.
The North Central American Highlands is an endemic bird area that extends from the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico to western Nicaragua. Many of the following species are confined to this area or just beyond and are found on the volcanoes or in the highlands of northern El Salvador.
Highland Guan Penelopina nigra
Buffy-crowned Wood Partridge Dendrortyx leucophrys
Ocellated Quail Cyrtonyx occelatus (no records for many decades)
White-faced Quail Dove Geotrygon albifacies
Red-throated Parakeet Aratinga rubritorques
Fulvous Owl Strix fulvescens
Unspotted Saw-whet Owl Aegolius ridgwayi (no records for many decades)
Emerald-chinned Hummingbird Abeillia abeillei
Green-throated Mountain Gem Lampornis viridipallens
Garnet-throated Hummingbird Lamprolaima rhami
Slender Sheartail Doricha enicura
Wine-throated Hummingbird Atthis ellioti
Blue-throated Motmot Aspatha gularis
Belted Flycatcher Xenotriccus callizonus
Bushy-crested Jay Cyanocorax melanocyaneus
Black-throated Jay Cyanolyca pumilo
Unicolored Jay Aphelocoma unicolor
Black-capped Swallow Notiochelidon pileata
Rufous-browed Wren Troglodytes rufociliatus
Slate-colored Solitaire Myadestes unicolor
Rufous-collared Thrush Turdus rufitorques
Blue and White Mockingbird Melanotis hypoleucus
Prevost's Ground Sparrow Melozone biarcuatum (mainly in coffee plantations)
White-eared Ground Sparrow Melozone leucotis (mainly in coffee plantations)
Bar-winged Oriole Icterus maculialatus (mainly in coffee plantations at mid elevations)
Blue-crowned Chlorophonia Chlorophonia occipitalis
White-bellied Chachalaca Ortalis leucogastra
Pacific Parakeet Aratinga strenua
Yellow-naped Parrot Amazona auropalliata
Pacific Screech Owl Megascops cooperi
Rufous Sabrewing Campylopterus rufus
Blue-tailed Hummingbird Amazilia cyanura (the southern form A. c. cyanura)
Alvarez, J. M. and Komar, O. (eds) (2003) El Parque Nacional El Imposible y su vida silvestre. or El Imposible National Park and its wildlife. Biodiversity Series No. 2, SalvaNATURA.
Dickey, D. R. and Van Rossem, A. J. (1938). The Birds of El Salvador. Zool. Series Field Museum of Natural History, 23.
Komar, O. and Domínguez, J. P. (2001). Lista de aves de El Salvador. Fundacion Ecologica de El Salvador – SalvaNATURA.
Thurber, W. A., Serrano, J. F., Sermeño, A. and Benitez, M. (1987). Status of uncommon or previously unreported birds of El Salvador. Proc. Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, 3, 109-293.
http://tomjenner.com/mayanbirding/index.html has information on the birds and birding sites in El Salvador.
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