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Republic of El Salvador

Pacific Parakeet Aratinga strenua ©Gábor Orbán Website

With an area of only 21,000 km2, El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America. However, its population density of around 300 persons per km2 is the highest in all of the Americas. This has led to the loss of more than 95% of the original forest. Nonetheless, there are still some excellent areas remaining, most of which are now protected and well managed. To the south of the country lies the Pacific Ocean. From the hot lowlands near the coast the country generally rises to higher altitudes along the border with Honduras in the North. Some of the very highest areas still have a covering of cloud forest, and magnificent birds such as the Resplendent Quetzal can still be found fairly easily at a few places such as Montecristo National Park, along with many regional specialties such as Fulvous Owl and Blue-throated Motmot.

Much of the land bordering Honduras is pine forest, where regional endemics such as the White-breasted Hawk can be found in good numbers. The predominant habitat of the country was originally tropical dry forest. This habitat has suffered most from deforestation, but a few areas still exist, giving birders the chance to look for some of the dry forest specialists, such as the Fan-tailed Warbler and Orange-fronted Parakeet. The original forest has mostly been replaced by coffee farms, which can be surprisingly good for birding, with species such as Buffy-crowned Wood-partridge, Bar-winged Oriole and White-bellied Chachalaca.

Another major feature of the country is its many volcanoes; some of these span several habitat zones and are capped with isolated pockets of cloud forest. This isolation has led to the evolution of some unique forms, including the Rufous Sabrewing, which has only a tiny world distribution. This combination of habitats, along with some excellent, mangrove, wetland and island locations, have given the country a species total of 530, which is very high for a country of this size with so few birders.

There have been several major studies over the past 80 years or so that have helped to chronicle the change in birdlife as the country's environment has changed. This makes it an interesting case study for future ornithologists as the nation enters a relatively new era of conservation awareness. There is a growing number of local ornithologists starting to study the nation's birds and there is still a great deal left for them to discover. The National Parks are well equipped, safe, and open to foreign researchers. El Salvador would be a great location for a birder wanting to conduct some original research into a little known species. The most important publication to get hold of is Lista de Aves de El Salvador by Oliver Komar and Juan Pablo Domínguez, which gives a full list and the status of every species seen in the country [details below]. There is also information on 27 birding sites. It is all in Spanish, but the list is easily used without any knowledge of the language. Information on buying a copy can be obtained from Oliver's website, [see other links] which is in English and has a lot of other useful information as well. Another useful website is mayanbirding.com which is also in English and gives detailed information on 16 birding sites.

El Salvador is not on the main tourist routes, with good reason. It is quite a bit more expensive than its neighbours, there are none of the major Mayan historical sites in the country, there is little tourist infrastructure and there is, unfortunately, a fair amount of crime. Visitors should be on their guard, as in any underdeveloped country, and not take unnecessary risks. However, the national parks are well protected and very safe. For a general birding vacation, El Salvador is probably not the best choice, considering what the neighbouring countries have to offer, but there is still some great birding to be had.

Top Sites

Bahia de Jiquilisco

Satellite View

This is a large area of coastal mangroves that has still not been studied in any great detail. It is a great place to see mangrove specialists such as Mangrove Black Hawk, Mangrove Yellow Warbler, Mangrove Swallow and Mangrove Vireo, but there are many other water birds besides and the river mouths are great places to look for waders. Access is by boat, which can be rented at Puerto El Triunfo for about $60 for 6 hours.

El Imposible National Park

Satellite View

This is El Salvador's largest protected area. There are several habitats, but the main one is tropical dry forest. A recent book edited by Oliver Komar and Juan Marco Alvarez, has sections on birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, butterflies, and flora found in the park, each written by the expert in the field. The bird section by Oliver Komar includes a list of 282 species and photos of 60 of them. Good birds to look out for include: King Vulture, Black Hawk-Eagle, Long-tailed Manakin and Blue Seedeater. Recently, a lodge opened up just outside the park entrance offering good quality accommodation at a reasonable price (Hostal El Imposible, managed by SalvaNATURA). To enter the park, you need to obtain permission in advance from Salva Natura [See organisations below] Tel 279 1515, fax 279 0220), but if you are staying at the lodge they can arrange this for you when you arrive. There are also three camping areas within the park.

Los Volcanes National Park (Cerro Verde, Izalco and Santa Ana volcanoes)

Satellite View

Cerro Verde is one of the best known birding sites in the country. It is mostly cloud forest, with such regional specialties as Green-throated Mountain-gem, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, Rufous-browed Wren, Bushy-crested Jay and White-faced Quail-Dove. You can drive all the way to the top of Cerro Verde, where the views over the crater lake on one side and the newly dormant, volcano on the other, are quite breathtaking. Tourist police will escort visitors up the neighbouring volcanoes, which should not be climbed without a guard. Foreigners can enter without prior permission, as long as they have a passport with them, though locals need to get permission in advance from ISTU (Tel 222 8000, fax 222 8455). More information is also available at SalvaNATURA's website. [see Organisations below] This organization is working on conservation of the national park.

Montecristo National Park

Satellite View

El Trifinio, the highest point in the park, marks the meeting point of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. All three countries have declared their respective sides of the frontier a national park, but the best access is from the Salvadorean side, which has cabins and camping areas just outside the main cloud forest zone. The highest area is good quality cloud forest, below which lies pine and pine-oak forest. The lower slopes also have some tropical dry forest. There are many regional specialties here, such as Black-capped Swallow, Green-throated Mountain-gem, Highland Guan, Rufous-browed Wren and Rufous-collared Thrush. To enter the park, permission needs to be obtained from the Ministry of the Environment about a week in advance. Information in Spanish is on their website, http://www.marn.gob.sv

Perquín area

Satellite View

The area around Perquín is mostly pine forest, though there is an interesting area of tropical dry forest at the Rio Sapo nearby. The very locally distributed Bushy-crested Jay is common in the area, but also keep an eye out for the White-breasted Hawk, Greater Swallow-tailed Swift, Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge and Solitary Eagle that are also found here. If you visit in spring or late autumn, keep an eye out for some spectacular raptor migration. A particularly good spot to watch them from is Cerro El Pericón, which is a high point overlooking the town from the south. The Perkin Lenca Hotel [see places to stay] can organise a birding guide and their eco-friendly gardens have some great birds of their own.

Contributor

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 530

National Bird: Turquoise-browed Motmot Eumomota superciliosa (aka Torogoz)

Checklist

iGoTerra Checklist

iGoTerra Checklist

Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web

Useful Reading

A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Adjacent Areas : Belize, Guatemala, and El Salvador

Ernest Preston Edwards, Edward Murrell Butler (Illustrator) Hardcover - 288 pages (July 1998) University of Texas Press

ISBN: 0292720920

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Useful Information

BirdLife

SalvaNatura is the BirdLife Affiliate: SalvaNATURA, 77, Av. Norte #304, Col. Escalon, San Salvador, El Salvador Phone: 503-263-1111 Fax: 503-263-3516 http://www.salvanatura.org

Guides & Tour Operators

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Birding Pal

Information

Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…

ecoTOURS

Tour Operator

Green Trips El Salvador

Tour Operator

Sustainable Tourism - Trips To National Parks and Protected Areas - smo en Parque Nacionales y Areas Naturales Protegidas en El Salvador

Mayan Birding Advice for Trip Planning

Tour Operator

I’m a British birder who moved to El Salvador in 1999. This is a non-commercial website based on information that I have built up about the birds of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala…

Mesoamerican Ecotourism Alliance

Tour Operator

Birding Coast to Coast with Robert Ridgely…

Trip Reports

CloudBirders

Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

Places to Stay

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Perkin Lenca

Accommodation

Fresh air, clean rivers, orchids, singing birds, forests, coffee farms, butterflies, waterfalls, caves, history, peace and quiet…. the largest natural area in El Salvador, and PERKIN LENCA, Hotel de Montaña right in the middle of it.

Organisations

Asociacion Audubon de El Salvador

Milagro Harrouch, PO Box 2166, Centro de Gobierno Planta, Local No. 2, Calle Poniente, Condominio Montemaria, Edificio A, San Salvador, El Salvador Telephone: (503)298-0811/ Fax: (503)274-9180 E-mail: harrouch@es.com.sv

SalvaNATURA

Website

EL SALVADOR - SalvaNATURA, a ten-year-old citizens group in El Salvador, is the vanguard of conservation in this Central American country. Its mission is to restore and conserve El Salvador`s environment and natural resources, using the precepts and lessons of sustainable development. The organization is responsible for the management of El Imposible National Park, a rare piece of Pacific Coast tropical forest. SalvaNATURA manages a World Bank funded project to make coffee farming more compatible with biodiversity conservation… Contact: Oliver Komar, Gerente, Programa Ciencias para la Conservación, SalvaNATURA, Colonia Flor Blanca, 33 Ave. Sur #640, San Salvador, El Salvador, (503) 279-1515, fax (503) 279-0220 okomar@salvanatura.org

Museums

Parque Zoologico Nacional El Salvador

Facebook Page

Zoo Nacional in San Salvador is almost due south of the city centre…

Reserves

Coffee Plantations (Finca La Giralda)

Webpage

Satellite View

A bird survey has logged 115 species of birds, and the list is still growing. Excellent observation opportunities for birds such as Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge, Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, Lesser and Greater Swallow-tailed Swifts, Rufous Sabrewing…

Complejo Los Volcanes (Cerro Verde etc)

Webpage

Satellite View

About 200 species recorded, although the best birds are in the least diverse habitat: cloud forest. The tourist park at Cerro Verde is the most easily accessed cloud forest in El Salvador, although it is just a small patch. It may be the easiest place to observe Eye-ringed Flatbill, and other specialties include Emerald-chinned Hummingbird, Magnificent Hummingbird, Emerald Toucanet…

El Imposible National Park

Information

Satellite View

El Imposible National ParkBecause of it size and biological diversity, El Imposible National Park is considered the most important natural area of El Salvador. The park is home to more than 400 species of trees and 500 species of birds. It is the only habitat in the country for some mammals, and furthermore, it has five rivers with the country's most crystalline water.

Montecristo National Park

Webpage

Satellite View

Twenty-six species of birds are known in El Salvador only from this park, and 21 occur in the cloud forest…

Perquín

Webpage

Satellite View

A fine birding area among extensive pine forests (some of the last remaining) along the Honduras border, with excellent lodging at the Hotel Perkin Lenca (the owners speak English). Although not officially protected, the natural area rivals El Imposible for being the most extensive natural area in El Salvador, except for the Jiquilisco Bay mangroves. The bird species list is probably around 200.

Walter Thilo Deininger National Park

Webpage

Satellite View

Birds include Gray-headed Kite, Gray Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Orange-fronted Parakeet, Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, Blue-throated Goldentail, Violaceous and Elegant Trogons, Collared Aracari, Black Phoebe, Rose-throated Becard, and Red-throated Ant-Tanager.

Other Links

El Salvador Birds & Conservation

Website

Lista de Aves de El Salvador by Oliver Komar and Juan Pablo Domínguez, 2001, 76 pages including the complete list of 522 bird species (scientific names and Spanish names, no English names in this edition) annotated with symbols for migratory and resident status, habitat specialization, and local threatened status, plus 4 color plates with photographs of 48 species, a fold-out map, and paragraphs about bird-finding at 27 birding locations. Available from SalvaNATURA`s office, various bookstores in El Salvador, some Shell gas stations, and Buteo Books in the US…

El Salvador's Biological Diversity

Website

Preliminary inventories of the country indicate there is an overwhelming biological diversity: over 500 species of birds, almost 1,000 species of butterflies, over 400 species of orchids, over 800 species of trees, and over 800 species of marine fish…

Mayan Birding

Website

Mesoamerica is a big destination for foreign birdwatchers. It forms the bridge between the largely temperate species of North America and the tropical species of South America. It is home to a large number of endemics, many of which are much sought after by the bird watching connoisseur, such as the Resplendent Quetzal and the Horned Guan. However, the majority of birders visiting Mesoamerica confine their birding to Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and Panama, leaving Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua as relative birding backwaters. This is a terrible shame as there is some fantastic birding to be had. Throughout the 1980s three of these countries suffered from civil wars which put off many visitors, but now the countries have stabilized it is time for birders to return and find out what they have been missing.