Central America is made up of relatively small countries that are remarkably rich in native bird species. Katinka Domen, Operations Manager and Tour Leader for Beaks and Peaks Birding and Adventure Tours, gives her advice on the best places to choose on a birdwatching trip to Honduras.
Thinking about birdwatching in Central America? Great idea! Like the other Central American countries, Honduras is located on the narrow land bridge between North and South America that all migratory birds funnel through. So they are easier to see on a Honduras birding tour than anywhere else.
However, of all the Central American countries, Honduras is probably the least known. Unjustly so, I would say. Did you know, for example, that Honduras has more natural and protected areas than any other country in Central America? And those areas cover an incredible variety of habitats, from rainforest to pine-oak and coral beaches to cloud forest?
The country is home to nearly 800 different species of birds, in an area roughly the size of Tennessee or Portugal. And did you realise that in Honduras, you can stroll through the ‘Paris’ of the Mayan empire? Oh, and that delicious coffee you sip in the morning? It is very well might have been produced in Honduras—since that country grows some of the best coffee in the world!
So, let me introduce you to the 10 major regions for a birdwatching tour in Honduras in a bit more detail, as they all differ in climate, landscape, habitats and, of course, birds.
Lake Yojoa is Honduras’ only natural freshwater lake, with unique wetlands. It is surrounded by the mountains and cloud forests of Santa Bárbara and Cerro Azul Meámbar and is close to the dry forests of the Cajón reservoir. This variety in altitudes and habitats explains the incredible biodiversity of the area. This is the place for avid birders (60% of Honduras’ species find a home in this area), kayakers, hikers, sailors, etc. The area also produces some of the finest coffee, cacao and chocolate in the country.
One of the main reasons why this region is so unique is the interconnectivity of various ecosystems in one biological corridor. Over 500 bird species have been registered in this area, representing nearly 70% of the total number of species recorded in Honduras. From Resplendent Quetzal over Yellow-breasted Crake, White-faced Ground-Sparrow and Black-throated Trogon to the endemic Honduran Emerald, the variety seems endless.
The Caribbean Coast is one of Honduras’ main birding tour hotspots, blessed with a total of four National Parks or protected areas: Pico Bonito, Nombre de Dios, Cuero y Salado and Lancetilla. It is an area characterised by an interesting mix of sandy beaches, lowland rainforest, mangroves and fast-flowing crystalline rivers. The coast is a hotspot for birders and adventurers alike, with rafting, snorkelling, scuba, boating, kayaking and some delicious Caribbean-style gastronomy, too.
Birds here all seem like flying dashes of colour: the electric blue of the male Lovely Cotinga, the bright yellow bib of the Keel-billed Toucan, the red-black-and-yellow of the Red-capped Manakin – the Michael Jackson of birds – or the extravagant mix of purple, red, blue and white on the elusive Agami Heron.
Gracias Lempira is a picturesque Spanish colonial town in west Honduras, though with a proud indigenous Lenca heritage. It sits at the foot of Celaque NP, which boasts the tallest peak in the country. Culture and history lovers as well as adventurers and birders will find plenty to do in this impressive region.
Looking for the endemic Honduran Emerald, for example? It is the pride of every birder on a tour in Honduras. Or scouring the pine savannahs for the extremely well camouflaged Ocellated Quail? I believe it is easier to find a needle in a haystack. Patience, experience and technique are crucial here. Celaque is also an important stopover and wintering spot for species of interest such as Golden-winged and Golden-cheeked Warblers.
This centrally situated region boasts vast stretches of nature reserves interspersed with large pastures, crops and coffee plantations, which have earned it the name of ‘the granary of Honduras’. Thanks to the many unspoilt forests and other natural wonders such as the caves of Talgua, this is a top destination for nature lovers.
In the remote and undervisited La Muralla National Park, birds that are often hard to get seem incredibly tame: Mayan Antthrush, Spotted Wood-Quail, Pheasant Cuckoo, entire flocks of Resplendent Quetzals and the nondescript but unbelievably melodious Nightingale Wren, for example.
The Mayan site of Copán is also known as ‘the Paris of the Mayan empire’. It is renowned for its artistic splendour, primarily because of its elaborate sculptures and hieroglyphic writing. It also features the largest archaeological cut in the world, revealing several layers of Mayan architecture. Close to the site, the picturesque town of Copán is a bustling place to be, and the nearby hot springs are pure relaxation – Mayan style.
The town and site lie in a fertile valley traversed by the Copán river and bordered by hills covered in dry pine and mixed forests. It has proved to be an interesting area to to go on a birding tour in Honduras: Red-throated Parakeets, Elegant Euphonias, Elegant Trogons, Rufous-naped Wrens and the lovely White-throated Magpie-Jays all have their home here.
Slumbering Lenca villages are scattered throughout the area and in some of the caves you can admire ancient Lenca paintings. Thanks to the cool climate and high altitude, this area produces some of the finest coffee in the world. And the virgin pine and cloud forests offer great hiking and birding. Look especially for Blue-throated Motmot, Fulvous Owl, Olive Warbler and the raptor migration!
Bay Islands & Cayos Cochinos
The islands and keys are a paradise for snorkelers, divers, fishers, bon-vivants and, of course, birders. Tranquil turquoise blue waters, white sandy beaches, colourful corals with tropical fish, year-round whale sharks, mangroves and pine forests teeming with birds.
Resident species include Yellow-naped Parrot, Caribbean Dove, Smooth-billed Ani and Rufous-necked Woodrail. Out on the cays there are breeding colonies of Bridled, Least and Roseate Terns. But the islands are at their best in migratory season because you never know what might show up. We have had Swainson’s Warbler, Palm Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-whiskered Vireos and Black Catbird.
The region around Tegucigalpa offers stunning mountain landscapes, friendly traditional villages, the country’s first National Park and Honduras’ finest tobacco. On top of that, the gastronomy in the capital and the surrounding villages is excellent. It is an easy-to-reach destination with a bit of everything.
Resplendent Quetzals, Singing Quails, Northern Emerald Toucanets and White-faced Quail-Doves at less than an hour from the capital? Yes, it is perfectly possible in La Tigra National Park!
The saltpans, shrimp farms, lagoons and mangroves of the hot and arid lowlands on the Pacific coast are a major stopover site for migratory birds. So also a major draw for a birdwatching tour in Honduras. Thousands of shorebirds, pelicans, gulls and terns pass or winter here. Thousands of birds come in to roost when the sun sets over the shallow waters – the most exquisite ballet in nature.
This area is remote and almost completely unexplored, and trips there are, by default, adventurous expeditions. Hiking through the rainforest or savannah, crossing rivers and streams, rafting down rapids or floating in dugout canoes is rewarded with unique experiences and extraordinary birds such as Harpy Eagle, Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Bare-crowned Antbird, Snowy Cotinga or Great Green Macaw.
To me, this under-explored country of avian diversity, natural treasures, local culture, delicious coffee and wonderful people has everything to become Central America’s next birding and nature destination par excellence! And thanks to recent investment in tourism by both the private sector and the government, it also has good roads, pleasant lodges and hotels, skilled guides, comfortable transportation and well-equipped tour operators – all the infrastructure in place to give visitors a high quality yet authentic experience.
Katinka Domen lives and works in Honduras, enjoying its wild beauty and myriad tropical birds while leading birdwatching tours for Beaks and Peaks. If you want to know more about birding and wildlife tours in Honduras click here.