Thursday, September 3, 2009

Top 25 Best Mexican Birds

Top 25 Best Mexican Birds.

When I was a freshman at Michigan State, I enjoyed perusing Don Roberson’s website (you can find it here ). Featuring pages on a many of the worlds bird families, this was one of the major factors in me developing an interest and passion for learning about and seeing birds outside of the ABA area (the others being access to true high speed internet for the first time, and the immense resources of the Michigan State library where I could check out many great books featuring different bird families, as well as foreign field guides). You see before college I was one of those birders who on the main, thought that the ABA area was the be all and end all for my birding.

Anyway another interesting feature of Don Roberson’s site was his list of his choicest for the 50 “best” birds of the world. He defined “best” as a mixture of impressiveness, uniqueness, rarity, difficulty to see, and unique factors like interesting ecology or other things. He ranked birds on each of these categories from a 1-5 scale (5 I think being the best) to come up with his “best” bird rankings. These rankings spurred me to learn a ton about these various species, as well as other “best “ type birds, many of which are severely endangered, have highly endemic and restricted ranges, or have super interesting plumage or behavior, etc.

As I have chosen Wildlife Biology as a career, I doubt I will ever have the time or money to really make an effort at seeing too big a variety of the birds chosen by Don Roberson or other similar species. I do however enjoy thinking about these “best” type birds for different areas and regions. You could make your own list using similar criteria for the ABA area of course.
Here however I have decided to create a similar ranking for the birds of Mexico. I first travelled to Mexico for a conference during my first year of grad school. I visited the amazing hawk watching site north of Veracruz in Cardel, Mexico and got to watch literally hundreds of thousands of raptors soar by over me at the two main hawk watching spots. I also visited unique coastal savannahs and thorn forests, picking up Mexican endemic species and common resident birds. To put it simply I fell in love with the amazing and interesting birdlife of our neighbor to the south, as well as the culture and geography. I have been back and visited many of the interesting habitats and areas of south Mexico since, and plan on continuing to explore the many wonders of Mexico.

So knowing I will probably never be a world traveler on the scale of Don Roberson or many other international birders, but hoping to have the time and money to explore Mexico, I have made a Don Roberson style list for the Top 25 Best Birds of Mexico (a list I could more realistically complete) based on the following criteria:

1) Impressiveness/Interesting – Being beautiful or huge or something is great, but being a tiny skulker that only inhabits some interesting niche is cool too.
2) Unique – Is it really similar to other species or is it the only member of its genus?
3) Rare – Let’s face it, birders and other wildlife watchers like to see things that are rare and difficult to observe over ubiquitous backyard species.
4) Hard to see – see above
5) Endemic/special circumstances – Since I am doing this for just a single country I am giving points to species that are endemic or very nearly endemic to Mexico. Also points will be considered if there are interesting historical or cultural significance based on a species.
The List – Keep in mind before ranking, I hand selected a much smaller pool than all the birds that inhabit Mexico to save time. Therefore there were some really interesting and cool species I didn’t even consider. Any sort of list like this no matter the ranking system still has a lot of subjectivity. The last 5 or so species were especially difficult because there were so many great birds to consider that didn’t make it on the list. How do I not have any owls, nightjars, seabirds or island endemics? Oh well that’s for other people to debate and come up with their lists! Also I did not include extinct species, or species likely extirpated from Mexico, thus no Imperial Woodpecker or Harpy Eagle.

1. Horned Guan - 25 – The “best” bird of Mexico, this amazing and bizarre Cracid is endemic to cloud forests on the border of Mexico and Guatemala. There are only a few places it can be seen and even here they can be hard to find. The seemingly best place (El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas State in Mexico requires a long hike in and overnight camping). – Have I seen it – NO

2. Sumichrast’s/Nava’s Wren – 24 – This pair of allopatric wrens have extremely small ranges encompassing only a few spots in a couple of Mexican states. They are drab and cryptic (and thus would not have been a major consideration on Don Roberson’s main list) but I think their really long bills, (for their size) makes them stand out and makes them two of the most distinctive wrens. They are also really hard to see, quite endangered, and inhabit a really cool (and disappearing) habitat type, evergreen rainforests with karst understory, meaning the forest floor is covered in large sharp rocks and caves. The wrens forage amongst these rocks on the forest floor. – Have I seen them – YES, they were a primary focus of my 2008 trip to Oaxaca and Veracruz.
3. Bearded Wood Partridge – 23 – This beautifully patterned wood partridge is a highly endangered and disappearing species. Inhabiting only a few locations in Veracruz and adjacent central Mexican states. It is now very hard to see, especially without locale guides. – Have I seen it – NO.

4. Resplendent Quetzal – 22 – One of the most beautiful and unique birds in the world. This species only inhabits a small portion of Mexico, mostly in the very southern cloud forests of Chiapas. Super famous as being one of the “Best” birds in the world but lost a couple points on my list because it is not endemic. - Have I seen them - NO

5. Thick-billed/Maroon-fronted Parrots – 22 – Gorgeous “proto-Macaws” inhabiting temperate pine forests in the northern Sierra Madres, this allopatric pair (Thick-billed in the Sierra Madre Occidental and Maroon-fronted in the Sierra Madre Oriental) are both highly endangered. The Thick-billed formerly spilled across the border into southeast Arizona but no longer regularly occurs there. Both can be considered endemic. – Have I seen them – NO

6. Dwarf Jay – 21 – This tiny and beautiful jay occurs only in a small area of east-central Mexican mountains, where it can be seen in mixed species flocks in humid Pine-oak forests at high elevations. It is an endangered species and there is only one or two reliable places to see it. - Have I seen them – Yes, thought we were going to dip out on this species on a trip to Oaxaca after not seeing them for several hours, but on our way back to the car a small group flew over us calling!

7. Cabanis’s Tanager -21 – A beautiful and uniquely patterned Tangara tanager. This species has a tiny range in Chiapas and adjacent Guatamala. Another species that most people seem to find at or near El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve. - Have I seen them – NO

8. Tufted Jay-21 – A striking Jay with a tiny range, this species resembles forms found in South America hundreds of miles away, leading some to wonder if they are descendents brought to Mexico as part of an ancient meso-american human bird trade. Either way an awesome bird of beautiful forested canyons in west Mexico. - Have I seen them – NO

9. Tuxtla Quail-Dove-20 – Another species with similar relatives that occur far away in South America. This striking and hard to see species is restricted to the Los Tuxtlas Mountains in Veracruz, where most of its habitat has been destroyed. - Have I seen them – NO

10. Short-crested Coquette -20- A tiny hummingbird that is critically endangered. Is found only along one road in the Sierras of Guerrero state where it is rarely seen. A similar species is found from Panama into South America. Have I seen them – NO
11. Eared Quetzal -20- This unique and beautiful Trogon is endemic to the Sierra Madre Occidental of northwest Mexico. It is rarely seen but occasionally shows up in southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico. Have I seen them – NO

12. Belding’s/Altimira/Black-polled Yellowthroats – 20- This similar trio all have tiny ranges in different parts of Mexico. All inhabit severely degraded and declining marshes and are highly endangered. Very cool to the taxonomist but lose some uniqueness points for being closely related to the Common Yellowthroat. Have I seen them – NO

13. Chestnut-sided Shrike-vireo -19- A striking bird with a striking name, this species inhabits high elevation forests from central Mexico into Guatemala. They can be quite hard to spot as they forage slowly and quietly. Have I seen them – YES

14. Slaty Vireo-19- Another striking endemic vireo. Very unique colors and small range make this an interesting species. They are also quite skulky and difficult to see. Have I seen them – NO, probably my biggest dip on my trip to Oaxaca.

15. Red/Pink-headed Warbler -18- Both are very beautiful and uniquely plumaged warblers that are endemic to highlands in Mexico (Red) and Mexico and Guatemala (Pink-headed). Not particularly hard to see in the correct habitats but boy are they beautiful! - Have I seen them – YES

16. Rosita’s Bunting-18 – Another beautiful endemic. Rosita’s Bunting is endemic to a tiny area in the southern part of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. I just love the color pattern of this species. It is also named after the wife of pioneering Mexican ornithologist Francois Sumichrast. Have I seen them – YES

17. Aztec Thrush-18 – This uniquely plumaged thrush with a great name for Mexico is endemic to highlands in north and central Mexico. It can be a tricky species to pin down. Have I seen them – NO (another big dip)

18. Giant Wren-18 – This wren is huge! It is also endemic to the coastal part of the Mexican state of Chiapas. Have I seen them – NO

19. Ocellated Thrasher-17 – In my opinion the most beautiful species in an already classy looking group of birds. The Ocellated is also endemic to a relatively small area of south central Mexico. It can also be a bit of a challenge to see. Have I seen them – YES, a major highlight of any trip to Oaxaca.

20. Red-breasted/Grey-throated Chat-17 – Both of these beautiful and uniquely plumaged warblers are endemic or regional endemics. Red-breasted occurs only in thorn forests along the pacific coast of Mexico, while the Grey-throated is endemic to the Yucatan and adjacent lowland rainforests. Have I seen them – YES, Red-breasted was expected but we also picked up Grey-throated at Uxpanapa in Veracruz where they are not even on the site list in Howell.

21. Double-striped Thick-knee-17 – A truly amazing looking species! Stands out in the coastal savannahs of eastern Mexico. Not particularly rare seemingly across its large range, but range is apparently spotty. Have I seen them – YES

22. Mexican Ant-thrush – 17 – I had to have some sort of ant following species on the list and this one is endemic. Have I seen them – NO but I did hear some.

23. White Hawk – 16 – This beautiful hawk has to be one of the most striking and beautiful of all raptors. Occurring in lowland rainforests across a broad range of the Neotropics, the ones in Mexico have more white in their plumage and might be the most beautiful of all. Can be a bit tricky to see. Have I seen them – YES

24. Elegant Quail – 16 – Mexico has several beautiful species of endemic quail but I feel this is the most beautiful of them all. Have I seen them – NO

25. Sierra Madre Sparrow – 16 – I felt I needed to include one of Mexico’s endemic sparrows and this is rarest of them all. Have I seen them – NO


  1. Nice list. One thing -- Granatellus aren't considered warblers anymore, the 50th supplement moved them to Cardinalidae. I think I've heard that their genetics link them to Pheucticus.
    One of my personal favorites is missing, Orange-breasted Bunting!

  2. Nice post. Mexico is a 18 megadiverse countries in the world, most diverse fauna and flora species in the world. Oaxaca is a constituent state of Mexico.Oaxaca has the biggest bird reserve in Mexico. Birding tourism in Oaxaca is Oaxaca Valley, Cloud Forest, Sierra Sur, Pacific Costal Lowlands there are many Other birds spotted in Oaxaca. For more details refer Oaxaca Mexico