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Bird Bio: Horned Guan

Bird Bio: Horned GuanHorned Guan
Liz Williams, Education Specialist (AmeriCorps)

The Horned Guan, a member of the  Cracid family, can be found in the high elevation, subtropical cloud forests of the southern Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico, and through the highlands of Central Guatemala. Named for the “horn” of bare red skin atop its head, it is an unmistakable bird. Its body is black with a bluish sheen, except for its breast, foreneck and a broad band at the base of its tail, which are all white. The bird has red legs, a yellow bill and white irises. Males have several vocalizations, including a deep low booming “uhmm, uh’mmm uh’mmm, uh’mmm uh’mmm,” while females have around seven distinct vocalizations which include snorts, clicking and bill-clacking. The guan’s diet is composed mainly of fruit, flowers and leaves. Beyond its diet, very little is known about the natural history or breeding biology of this bird.

The Horned Guan’s subtropical cloud forest habitat in southern Mexico and Guatemala has been significantly reduced over the past several decades by extensive logging, firewood gathering, and forest clearing for agriculture. It is currently listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is estimated that between 1000 and 2500 Horned Guans currently exist in the wild. Several symposiums have been held in Mexico addressing Horned Guan conservation, and conservation organizations in Guatemala are attempting to promote eco-friendly tourism focused on this unique species. Despite these efforts, its numbers appear to be declining.

The protection of subtropical cloud forests in Mexico and Guatemala is of concern not only for the Horned Guan but for hundreds of other bird species. In fact, many species that we enjoy seeing in the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion in spring and summer, including the Hermit Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat will benefit from conservation of the subtropical cloud forest wintering habitats. All of us who celebrate the arrival of these migratory warblers in the spring should be concerned with the conservation of the Horned Guan and its habitat.

References: BirdLife International (2009) Species factsheet: Oreophasis derbianus. ( on 30/3/2010)

This article can be found in KBO’s Spring 2010 newsletter.