BIRDING • MARCH 2011
Could Frank M. Chapman have foreseen back in 1900 that his Christmas Bird
Count (CBC) would catalyze the development of birding as one of the most im-
portant outdoor hobbies in North America? I believe he hoped for it. In the U.S.
and Canada, birders are the main players in such projects as breeding bird atlases and
waterbird counts. But what about countries with few birders, such as Guatemala? Re-
cently established CBCs there help not only to collect data on bird distribution but also
to grow the local birding community.
The exploration of avian diversity in Guatemala was under way in the 19th century.
European and North American scientists collected birds with the help of local hunters—
in a certain sense, an early citizen-science initiative. More than 22,000 bird specimens
from Guatemala are curated in more than 90 international museums (Eisermann and
Avendaño 2006) and are a baseline for some of the field guides in use today.
Despite its long history in the country, however, ornithology has developed slowly
in Guatemala. Local universities have offered biology as a career just since the 1970s,
and the first ornithological studies by Guatemalan scientists were not published until
the 1990s. Not surprisingly, birding is not yet a widespread hobby. However, recently
established CBCs are promoting birding in Guatemala.
Geographic Expansion of a North American Citizen-Science Program
The National Audubon Society’s CBC is the longest-running citizen-science initiative
in North America. The first CBC was held in 1900, initiated by Frank M. Chapman,
an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and one of
the leaders of the Audubon Society. This first count was carried out at 27 sites from On-
tario to California and was a response of the developing nature conservation move-
ment to the traditional “side hunt,” which accoladed the most successful Christmas
Day hunter (Francis et al. 2004).
The first CBCs south of the U.S. were held in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Panama,
and the West Indies in 1973 (Heilbrun et al. 1974); these marked the beginning of the
Guatemala City, Guatemala
expansion of this program over the entire western hemi-
sphere. The number of CBCs in Latin America is growing
constantly. In 2008, data from 83 counts in ten Middle and
South American countries and eight islands in the West In-
dies were submitted to Audubon’s online database. The total
data from that year were collected by almost 60,000 ob-
servers in more than 2,100 CBCs (LeBaron 2009).
Christmas Bird Counts in Guatemala
Guatemala currently has three active CBCs: Tikal National
Park, since 2006; Atitlán Volcano, since 2007; and Antigua
Guatemala, since 2009. The location of each circle was cho-
sen to monitor important bird areas (IBAs) and according to
certain logistical criteria.
Of the three Guatemalan counts, the CBC at Atitlán Volcano is
the richest in number of recorded species because of a wide
altitudinal range (1,640–11,480 feet) and, consequently, a high
diversity of habitats. The circle includes humid broadleaf and
This article examines the role of the
Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in the
emergence of a “citizen-science” ethic
in Guatemala. Guatemala’s CBCs
were begun just a few years
ago, but interesting and
important findings are
already emerging. And
CBC participants have
been rewarded with
some great birding!
For example, the
restricted to the
highlands of southern
Mexico and northern
Central America, has
been recorded on the
Atitlán Volcano and
CBCs. Chelemhá Reserve,
Alta Verapaz, Guatemala;
June 2009– April 2010.
Photos by ©Knut Eisermann.
G U A T E M A L A
mixed forests, scrub, coffee plantations and other agricultural
land, lava fields, and the southern part of Lake Atitlán.
A maximum of 233 bird species has been recorded on this
CBC, including many of the range-restricted species of the
northern Central American highlands: Horned Guan
(Oreophasis derbianus), Highland Guan (Penelopina nigra), Ru-
fous Sabrewing (Campylopterus rufus), Green-throated Moun-
tain-gem (Lampornis viridipallens), Blue-throated Motmot
(Aspatha gularis), Bushy-crested Jay (Cyanocorax melanocya-
neus), Black-capped Swallow (Notiochelidon pileata), Rufous-
browed Wren (Troglodytes rufociliatus), and Azure-rumped
Tanager (Tangara cabanisi), as well as Glaucidium gnoma coba-
nense, a range-restricted subspecies of the Northern Pygmy-
Owl. Atitlán Volcano lies in the south of the Atitlán IBA (IBA
GT015). The forest on the southern volcano slope is protected
through a network of several private reserves. Some of these,
such as Los Tarrales <tinyurl.com/4vvnazb> and Los Andes
<tinyurl.com/4vln7wa>, have emerged recently as must-see
spots for visiting birders.
In Tikal, the highest count was 193 species, recorded in semi-
deciduous broadleaf forests, swamps, scrub, ponds, ravines,
and open habitat on the grounds of the Mayan ruins. One of
the highlights of the CBC in Tikal has been the Orange-
breasted Falcon (Falco deiroleucus), found each year thus far.
The national park is located in the east of the Maya-Lacan-
dón IBA (GT001) and ranges in altitude from 820 to 1,480
BIRDING • MARCH 2011
G U A T E M A L A
Table 1. Number of Participants in CBCs in Guatemala (2006–2009)
Classified by Socioeconomic and Interest Groups.
27 (19.4%) Tourist guides
23 (16.5%) Farmers
22 (15.8%) Professional conservationists
17 (12.2%) International tourists
13 (9.4%) Young birders <18 years
9 (6.5%) Landowners of private protected areas within CBC circles
8 (5.8%) Biologists
7 (5.0%) Students (biology, tourism)
5 (3.6%) Bird counters employed in local monitoring programs
4 (2.9%) Guatemalan hobby birders without professional birding background
4 (2.9%) International volunteers from developing aid projects
The CBC at Atitlán Volcano covers an altitudinal range from 1,640
to 11,480 feet. The forest on the steep volcano slopes is habitat for
several globally threatened bird species. Blooming Inga trees in
shade coffee plantations offer a rich food source for wintering Ruby-
throated Hummingbirds, Tennessee Warblers, and Baltimore Orioles.
Atitlán Volcano, Guatemala; August 2009. Photo by ©Knut Eisermann.
The Bushy-crested Jay (Cyanocorax melanocyaneus) is endemic
to the northern Central American highlands, and it is regularly
recorded during the CBCs at Atitlán Volcano and Antigua
Guatemala. Chelemhá Reserve, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala;
September 2009. Photo by ©Knut Eisermann.
The Unspotted Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius ridgwayi) was reported on the
2010 CBCs at Atitlán Volcano and Antigua Guatemala. Agua Volcano,
Sacatepéquez, Guatemala; December 2010. Photo by ©Knut Eisermann.
Everilda Buchán, Aaron de León Lux, and Josué de León
Lux (left to right) are bird guides in the private nature
reserve at Los Tarrales. They learned bird identification
and population monitoring with the PROEVAL RAXMU Bird
Monitoring Program <tinyurl.com/6ym5tav> and have
been group leaders during CBCs. Los Tarrales Reserve,
Suchitepéquez, Guatemala. Photo by © Knut Eisermann.
The Azure-rumped Tanager (Tangara cabanisi) is an endangered
species restricted to middle elevations of the Pacific slope of western
Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. It has been recorded during all
CBCs at Atitlán Volcano. Los Tarrales Reserve, Suchitepéquez,
Guatemala; August 2008. Photo by ©Knut Eisermann.
feet. This IBA and forests in Belize and the Mexican states of
Tabasco and Quintana Roo form the largest continuous
neotropical forest north of the Amazon.
Although Tikal is the oldest Guatemalan national park and
one of the country’s main tourist destinations, no long-term
continuous monitoring of bird populations has been carried
out there. The Peregrine Fund studied the ecology of raptors
and owls in Tikal in the 1980s and 1990s, and researchers
with that organization taught local people
from the northern Petén region to collect data
by radio tracking, nest monitoring, and other
methods. Most of the trained observers are ac-
tive today as tour guides or as field workers in
conservation research—for instance, with the
Wildlife Conservation Society.
Tikal therefore has a relatively high concen-
tration of people who are familiar with the local
birdlife, which is crucial for the organization of
the count. An extensive network of trails,
which were established more than 40 years ago
for the archaeological research at Tikal and
which are maintained regularly, offer excellent
conditions for bird counts within the forest.
The colonial town of Antigua Guatemala, sur-
rounded by several volcanoes, is another of
Guatemala’s tourist centers. This CBC circle
covers an altitudinal range from 3,940 to
12,340 feet. During the first CBC in 2009,a
total of 120 species was recorded, including
range-restricted species such as Highland
Guan, Pink-headed Warbler (Ergaticus versi-
color), Black-throated Jay (Cyanolyca pumilo),
and Wine-throated Hummingbird (Atthis elli-
oti). The CBC circle is part of the Antigua
Guatemala IBA (GT016). Several private and
communal protected areas are located in the
surroundings of Antigua, and these places
recently opened their doors for tourists. These
include Finca El Pilar <tinyurl.com/4gwctkf>,
Finca Filadelfia <tinyurl.com/4tmuvyb>, and
Cerro Alux <tinyurl.com/6bgzh22>.
v v v
The number of participants on Guatemalan
CBCs has ranged from 22 to 48 birders. A
BIRDING • MARCH 2011
G U A T E M A L A
Table 2. Abundance of selected nearctic-neotropical migratory birds in Guatemalan CBCs, retrieved from
the Audubon CBC website <tinyurl.com/6l6o6re>. Abundance is given as the mean number of birds per
party hour ± one standard deviation. Sample sizes: Tikal, n=4 counts; Atitlán Volcano, n=3 counts;
Antigua, n=1 count. Abundant species are indicated in boldface.
Species Tikal Atitlán Antigua
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 0 0.72 ± 0.89 0.17
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 0.09 ±0.06 0.01 ±0.01 0
Willow Flycatcher 0 0.02 ±0.01 0
Least Flycatcher 0.09 ±0.03 0.10 ±0.05 0
Hammond’s Flycatcher 0 0.03 ±0.02 0.02
Western Kingbird 0 0.28 ±0.28 0.02
White-eyed Vireo 0.27 ±0.06 00
Yellow-throated Vireo 0.15 ±0.08 0.06 ±0.05 0
Blue-headed Vireo 0.01 ±0.01 0.06 ±0.04 0.26
Warbling Vireo 0.01 ±0.01 0.09 ±0.02 0
Swainson’s Thrush 0.04 ±0.04 0.14 ±0.11 0
Hermit Thrush 0 0.00 ±0.01 0
Wood Thrush 0.85 ± 0.08 0.07 ±0.06 0.04
Gray Catbird 0.49 ± 0.08 0.02 ±0.00 0
Blue-winged Warbler 0.04 ±0.03 0.01 ±0.01 0
Golden-winged Warbler 0.02 ±0.01 0.00 ±0.00 0
Tennessee Warbler 0.02 ±0.03 1.41 ± 0.75 0.32
Nashville Warbler 0 0.11 ±0.13 0.09
Yellow Warbler 0.04 ±0.01 0.04 ±0.01 0
Chestnut-sided Warbler 0.07 ±0.04 0.01 ±0.01 0
Magnolia Warbler 0.87 ± 0.08 0.12 ±0.07 0
Black-throated Green Warbler 0.12 ±0.07 0.11 ±0.05 0.36
Townsend’s Warbler 0 0.49 ± 0.23 0.84
Black-and-white Warbler 0.47 ± 0.08 0.24 ±0.06 0.36
American Redstart 0.47 ± 0.04 0.03 ±0.01 0
Worm-eating Warbler 0.14 ±0.03 0.01 ±0.01 0.02
Ovenbird 0.10 ±0.08 0.04 ±0.01 0
Kentucky Warbler 0.52 ± 0.13 0.01 ±0.01 0
MacGillivray’s Warbler 0 0.03 ±0.03 0.06
Hooded Warbler 0.29 ±0.19 00
Wilson’s Warbler 0.03 ±0.04 0.66 ± 0.21 0.79
Yellow-breasted Chat 0.05 ±0.04 0.03 ±0.01 0
Summer Tanager 0.21 ±0.03 0.27 ±0.04 0.07
Western Tanager 0 0.16 ±0.08 0.11
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 0 0.18 ±0.10 0.09
Indigo Bunting 0.02 ±0.02 0.08 ±0.07 0.06
Painted Bunting 0.00 ±0.01 0.01 ±0.02 0
Orchard Oriole 0.00 ±0.00 0.19 ±0.02 0.02
Baltimore Oriole 0.06 ±0.05 0.42 ± 0.10 0.24
The forest around the Mayan temples of Tikal is
part of the largest neotropical forest north of the
Amazon, and it provides an important wintering
habitat for Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, American
Redstart, and Magnolia, Kentucky, and Black-
and-white warblers. Tikal, Petén, Guatemala;
December 2009. Photo by ©Knut Eisermann.
Participants in the fourth Tikal CBC recorded a total of 172 species on a rainy day.
December 2009. Tikal, Petén, Guatemala; December 2009. Photo by ©Knut Eisermann.
The Orange-breasted Falcon (Falco deiroleucus)
is a resident breeding bird at Tikal and has been
recorded on each CBC. This female was perched
on the scaffold at Temple IV. Tikal, Petén,
Guatemala; May 2009. Photo by ©Knut Eisermann.
total of 139 persons has participated in the first four years
and eight counts. Looking at the participants’ socioeconomic
and interest groups, it is noteworthy that tour guides were
the largest group, representing 19% of all participants, fol-
lowed by local farmers (17%) who live in private nature re-
serves and on coffee farms. Also encouraging is the high
participation of people younger than 18 years of age, repre-
senting 9% of all participants (Table 1). This illustrates the
importance of the CBC for fostering the next generation of
birders and field ornithologists in Guatemala.
What is the Value of CBC Data in Guatemala?
The rather coarse field methodology of the CBC limits scientific
use of the data, but the CBC database encompasses the largest
geographic range of any quantitative avian research study in
the Americas (Dunn et al. 2005). The scientific value of the
Guatemalan CBC lies in the species records, which become ac-
cessible to the public with their entry into the CBC database.
Some rare birds have been recorded during the counts (Eiser-
mann and Avendaño 2007), such as Blue Seedeater (Amau-
rospiza concolor) at Atitlán Volcano, Unspotted Saw-whet Owl
(Aegolius ridgwayi) at Atitlán Volcano and Antigua Guatemala,
and Crested Eagle (Morphnus guianensis) at Tikal. Also, rare
winter observations of Swallow-tailed Kite, Olive-sided Fly-
catcher, and Yellow-green Vireo have been made.
The CBCs also reveal the importance of the areas as win-
tering sites for boreal migrants. Tikal is an important winter-
ing site for Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, Magnolia Warbler,
American Redstart, and Kentucky Warbler, with one individ-
ual per 1–2 observer group hour (Table 2). Atitlán Volcano is
important for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. In 2009, a re-
markable 168 individuals were recorded, mainly in shade cof-
fee plantations where they were feeding on profusely
flowering Inga trees. Many Tennessee Warblers and Baltimore
Orioles were also taking advantage of this food source. In An-
tigua the most abundant migratory birds were Townsend’s
and Wilson’s warblers (Table 2).
Observations of globally threatened species such as High-
land Guan, Horned Guan, Pink-headed Warbler, and Azure-
rumped Tanager during CBCs produce records that can be
searched online. Although some Guatemalan birders use
eBird Guatemala <tinyurl.com/4gvrlr2> to keep track of their
observations, many others keep no records. Therefore, ob-
servations by these folks outside CBC events remain inacces-
sible to science. For areas without standardized monitoring of
bird populations, such as Tikal National Park, the CBC data
are useful for providing continued updates of the species in-
ventory. On a larger scale, Guatemalan CBCs contribute valu-
able data for continental trend analysis in distribution patterns
and species richness.
BIRDING • MARCH 2011
G U A T E M A L A
Guatemala hosts high densities of wintering nearctic migrants, and CBCs provide valuable data about the occurrence of such birds.
Black-throated Green Warbler. Sanimtacá, Alta Verapaz,
Guatemala; February 2010. Photo by ©Knut Eisermann.
Townsend’s Warbler. Tecpán, Chimaltenango,
Guatemala; March 2009. Photo by ©Knut Eisermann.
At least as important as the scientific value is the socio-
logical impact of the CBCs in Guatemala as events to
raise environmental awareness among local people. Each
year some newcomers register for the CBC, and some of
them may discover a new passion for birding. The
Guatemalan press has reported several times on CBCs
in the country (Eisermann 2010).
The need to foster environmental awareness in
Guatemalan society is urgent. According to an evalu-
ation by the United Nations Economic Commission
for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL 2007),
The beautiful old city of Antigua Guatemala provides the base
of operations for the Antigua Guatemala CBC. Participants
cover territory ranging in elevation from just under 4,000 feet
to more than 12,000 feet. Antigua Guatemala, Sacatepéquez,
Guatemala; December 2009. Photo by ©Knut Eisermann.
The garish Wine-throated Hummingbird (Atthis ellioti)
has been recorded on the Antigua Guatemala and Atitlán
Volcano CBCs. Chelemhá Reserve, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala;
September 2008. Photo by ©Knut Eisermann.
Guatemala’s human population will double
in the next 30 years to a total of 27 million
people. The pressure on the natural areas
will increase. In addition to necessary im-
provements in the management of pro-
tected areas, conservation priorities outside
protected areas were established during the
identification of IBAs in Guatemala in order
to protect populations of globally threat-
ened and range-restricted species (Eiser-
mann and Avendaño 2009). Most of the
Guatemalan IBAs are legally protected in
less than 50% of their area (see map). Fos-
tering environmental awareness among
Guatemalans will be central to the success
of nature conservation in this biologically
BIRDING • MARCH 2011
G U A T E M A L A
Do you want to see Blue-and-white Mockingbird (Melanotis hypoleucus)? Then
what are you waiting for! Book a flight to Guatemala City (just a few hours from
Houston), and you're on your way. Chelemhá Reserve, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala;
April 2010. Photo by © Knut Eisermann.
This map shows the location of CBCs relative to Guatemalan Important Bird Areas. Each CBC circle has a diameter of 15 miles. Map by ©Kei Sochi.
Taking Part in Christmas Bird Counts in Guatemala
The Guatemalan CBCs are of clear interest to international
birders. Indeed, 12% of all participants are from outside
During the counts, one gets in touch with the small
Guatemalan birding community and has the opportunity to
study birds in areas which are otherwise inaccessible to the
public. The CBCs might be especially interesting to birders
traveling on a shoestring because entrance fees to protected
areas are waived for all registered participants. In addition to
the fun of seeing birds in a foreign country, one can be sure
that the data will be useful for conservation purposes. More-
over, birders who travel outside the CBC season in
Guatemala can make their data accessible for science by sub-
mitting them to the online database eBird Guatemala
Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe [CEPAL]. 2007. 2006 An-
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Dunn, E.H., C.M. Francis, P.J. Blancher, S.R. Drennan, M.A. Howe, D. Lepage,
C.S. Robbins, K.V. Rosenberg, J.R. Sauer, and K.G. Smith. 2005. Enhancing
the scientific value of the Christmas Bird Count. Auk 122:338–346.
Eisermann, K. 2010. Christmas Bird Counts in Guatemala <tinyurl.com/
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una lista bibliográfica, pp. 525–623 in: E. Cano, ed. Biodiversidad de
Guatemala, Vol. 1. Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, Guatemala Ciudad.
Eisermann, K., and C. Avendaño. 2007. List a Comentada de las Aves de
Guatemala / Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Guatemala. Lynx Edicions,
Eisermann, K., and C. Avendaño. 2009. Conservation priority-setting in
Guatemala through the identification of Important Bird Areas, pp. 315–
327 in: T.D. Rich, C. Arizmendi, D. Demarest, and C. Thompson, eds. Tundra
to Tropics: Connecting Birds, Habitats, and People. Proceedings of the 4th In-
ternational Partners in Flight Conference, 13–16 February 2008. Partners in
Francis, C.M., E.H. Dunn, P.J. Blancher, S.R. Drennan, M.A. Howe, D. Lepage, C.S.
Robbins, K.V. Rosenberg, J.R. Sauer, and K.G. Smith. 2004. Improving the
Christmas Bird Count: Report of a review panel. American Birds 58:34–43.
Heilbrun, L.H., R. Arbib, and the regional Christmas Bird Count editors of
American Birds. 1974. The seventy-fourth Christmas Bird Count. American
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