With over 600 species of birds, many of them rarely seen elsewhere, Chiapas is a veritable bird-watcher’s paradise. Birds are most easily spotted in Chiapas’s nature reserves, like El Triunfo and La Encrucijada, though there is excellent bird-watching at Chiapas’s archaeological zones too, when the trees that surround the ancient structures come alive with birdsong at dawn and dusk.
Measuring up to one meter (3 feet) in length, the scarlet macaw is the largest of the parrot family. A stunning bird, it boasts bright colors and long tail feathers. In Mexico, it is found exclusively in the eastern part of Chiapas, although it once could be found in Veracruz, Tabasco, and Oaxaca—habitat destruction and poachers reduced their numbers considerably. They feed mostly on fruit and seeds, migrating along with ripening fruit. Scarlet macaws are monogamous and pair up for life; together, a couple cares for its nestlings until they are four months old. The birds can live up to 80 years.
Two species of toucans live in Chiapas: the collared aracari and emerald toucanet. They typically travel in flocks of 3–12, staying at the upper reaches of the trees. Their distinctive bills and bright colors make them visible when they fly from tree to tree, often searching for fruit. They are important inhabitants of tropical forests, as they disperse tree seedlings that they pass or regurgitate. Toucans also are notable for being monogamous; both genders incubate and feed their nestlings.
Though the ancient Maya made abundant use of the dazzling quetzal feathers for ceremonial costumes and headdresses—male quetzal’s tail feathers grow at least 18 inches long—they hunted other fowl for food; nevertheless, the quetzal is the only known bird from the pre-Columbian era and is now almost extinct. Today, they are still found (though rarely) in the high cloud forests of Chiapas and Central America, where they thrive on the constant moisture.
The Sierra Madre de Chiapas is the only area that the elusive horned guan inhabits in Mexico. Living above 3,350 meters (10,990 feet), it is a large turkey-like bird with black glossy feathers, red legs, and a red horn on top of its head. It eats mostly fruits, leaves, and small invertebrates and lays just two eggs during its January–June breeding season. The horned guan is an endangered species; poaching as well as the continued destruction of its habitat make it at risk of extinction.
Chiapas’s coastal wetlands, mangroves, and lagoons play host to hundreds of bird species; a boat ride through one of these areas will give you an opportunity to see the amazing variety of species from wintering osprey and peregrine falcons to neotropic cormorants, giant wrens, limpkins, and mangrove black-hawks. You’re also sure to see dozens of wading birds feeding in the shallow waters, including roseate spoonbills and flocks of egrets.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition