Northern Mountains

While not as high or diverse as the mountains of Honduras or Costa Rica, Nicaragua's north-central highlands boast an impressive diversity of birds, including many Northern Central American species at the southern end of their range, along with a variety of Pine-Oak and cloud forest specialists. The northern mountains are also home to Nicaragua's best eco-lodges specifically oriented towards bird watching, including El Jaguar, Selva Negra, and Finca Esperanza Verde. The Miraflor reserve in Esteli, comprised of numerous small holdings and a diversity of habitat, including cloud forest, is another bird-rich area frequented by visiting birders. Enigmatic species such as Highland Guan, Resplendent Quetzal and Three-Wattled Bellbird make their home in Nicaragua's northern mountains and can be more easily seen here than in many neighboring countries, making this scenic region of the country well worth a vist.

Listed below are the most common and widespread species found in the northern mountains, which the visiting birder can expect to find in appropriate habitat without much concerted effort. These species are generally not otherwise mentioned in the specific site accounts that follow:

Year-round Resident Species:
Cattle Egret
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Hook-billed Kite
Swallow-tailed Kite
Roadside Hawk
Crested Caracara
Barred Forest-Falcon
Red-billed Pigeon
White-tipped Dove
White-faced Quail-Dove
White-fronted Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Groove-billed Ani
Pheasant Cuckoo
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
Common Pauraque
White-collared Swift
Vaux's Swift
Long-billed Hermit
Stripe-throated Hermit
Green-breasted Mountain-gem
Violet Sabrewing
Violet-crowned Woodnymph
Stripe-tailed Hummingbird
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Azure-crowned Hummingbird
Blue-tailed Hummingbird
Blue-throated Goldentail
White-eared Hummingbird
Gartered Trogon
Collared Trogon
Blue-crowned Motmot
Green Kingfisher
Emerald Toucanet
Collared Aracari
Keel-billed Toucan
Smoky-brown Woodpecker
Golden-olive Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Pale-billed Woodpecker
Plain Xenops
Olivaceous Woodcreeper
Northern Barred-Woodcreeper
Spotted Woodcreeper
Streak-headed Woodcreeper
Barred Antshrike
Dusky Antbird
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Yellowish Flycatcher
Tropical Pewee
Black Phoebe
Social Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Three-wattled Bellbird
Masked Tityra
Lesser Greenlet
Rufous-browed Peppershrike
Brown Jay
Bushy-crested Jay
Band-backed Wren
Spot-breasted Wren
Rufous-and-white Wren
Plain Wren
House Wren
White-breasted Wood-Wren
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren
Nightingale Wren
Slate-colored Solitaire
Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush
Clay-colored Thrush
Tropical Parula
Grace's Warbler
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat
Golden-crowned Warbler
Rufous-capped Warbler
Crimson-collared Tanager
Passerini's Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Yellow-winged Tanager
Rufous-winged Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Buff-throated Saltator
Black-headed Saltator
Variable Seedeater
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch
White-naped Brush-Finch
Rusty Sparrow
Common Bush-Tanager
White-winged Tanager
Red-crowned Ant-Tanager
Red-throated Ant-Tanager
Melodious Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Chestnut-headed Oropendola
Montezuma Oropendola
Yellow-throated Euphonia
Elegant Euphonia
Olive-backed Euphonia
Blue-crowned Chlorophonia

Winter or Seasonal Visitors:
Ruby-throated Hummingbird*
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker*
Least Flycatcher*
Olive-sided Flycatcher*
Western Kingbird*
Blue-headed Vireo*
Swainson's Thrush*
Wood Thrush*
Gray Catbird*
Golden-winged Warbler*
Tennessee Warbler*
Yellow Warbler*
Chestnut-sided Warbler*
Black-throated Green Warbler*
Blackburnian Warbler*
Cerulean Warbler*
Black-and-white Warbler*
Worm-eating Warbler*
Northern Waterthrush*

El Jaguar

El Jaguar, officially "Reserva Silvestre Privada El Jaguar," is a privately-owned coffee farm and cloud forest preserve in the department of Jinotega, about a three hours' drive north of Managua. El Jaguar comprises 120 hectares (nearly 300 acres), 20% of which is dedicated to shade-grown coffee (imported and sold in the U.S. by Allegro Coffee). Owners Georges and Lilian Duriaux also happen to be the most active birders in Nicaragua, and much of their time and energy is devoted to bird conservation, education, and monitoring of sensitive overwintering migrants such as Golden-winged Warbler.  Part of the reserve, in fact, is known as the "Reinita Alidorada" tract, in honor of the threatened warbler that has become the focus of Lili and Georges' passion over the past several years.  El Jaguar offers comfortable guest cabins, home-cooked meals, an extensive trail network, and a confirmed checklist of nearly 290 bird species.  Excursions to nearby sites such as the Lago Apanas reservoir and the pine-oak forests above San Rafael del Norte are easily arranged through Georges and Lili's son, Jean-Yves, who is the resident manager of the coffee farm and eco-tourism business.

Notable Species:
Little Tinamou
Slaty-breasted Tinamou
Thicket Tinamou
Highland Guan
Violaceous Quail-Dove
Black-and-white Owl
Emerald-chinned Hummingbird
White-eared Hummingbird
Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner
Slaty Antwren
Black-faced Antthrush
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Stub-tailed Spadebill
Gray-capped Flycatcher
Bright-rumped Attila
Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush
MacGillivray's Warbler*
Fan-tailed Warbler
Blue Bunting
Yellow-backed Oriole
Black-cowled Oriole

Directions:  From Jinotega, continue north on the paved highway in the direction of San Rafael Norte for approximately 15 kilometers (you will pass Lago Apanas, on your right, along the way).  Turn right at the "Empalme San Gabriel" where you will also see a sign for El Jaguar:

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Travel 5.6 km on this dirt road, then turn left at the "Empalme Sisle":

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After another 5.5 km, turn left at the "Empalme El Carril":

View El Jaguar in a larger map

After approximately one more kilometer, the entrance to El Jaguar will be on your right:

View El Jaguar in a larger map

Drive in about a kilometer until you reach the large grassy parking area in front of the dining hall and environmental education center.

Moisés Siles and Lili Chavarría of El Jaguar with Collared Forest Falcon

San Rafael del Norte
Just outside the historic town of San Rafael del Norte, about 30 minutes north of the departmental capital of Jinotega, lies some of Nicaragua's most accessible montane Pine-Oak forest, a habitat which reaches its southern limit in the mountains of northern Nicaragua. Many resident species, such as Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Flicker, and Eastern Bluebird, will be familiar to North American birders. This area also provides winter habitat for several rare Dendroica warblers, such as Golden-cheeked and Townsend's. The resident "White-breasted" form of Sharp-shinned Hawk, sometimes considered to be a separate species, can be found here, along with "Red-throated" Parakeet, a likely split from Green Parakeet.

Notable Species:
"White-breasted" (Sharp-shinned) Hawk
Cooper's Hawk*
Red-tailed Hawk
"Red-throated" (Green) Parakeet
Great Swallow-tailed Swift
Azure-crowned Hummingbird
White-eared Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Greater Pewee
Eastern Bluebird
Golden-cheeked Warbler*
Townsend's Warbler*
Hermit Warbler*
Yellow-throated Warbler*
Palm Warbler*
Painted Redstart
Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer
Hepatic Tanager
Flame-colored Tanager
Red Crossbill
Lesser Goldfinch
Black-headed Siskin

Directions:  From Jinotega, take the paved highway north to the town of San Rafael del Norte. Continue straight through town, staying to the left (west) until you reach the road toward Yali, which departs from the northwest corner of San Rafael del Norte:

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Follow this road approximately five kilometers, past the municipal dump (on your left) and a "canopy tour" center (on your right) until you reach a closed vehicle gate on the right side of the road:

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Open the gate and enter, taking care to close the gate behind you, then continue up the dirt road about 150m until you reach a fork. From here, take a sharp left up the hill and bird along the road for the next 2-3 km, taking care not to block the road, which provides access to several private farms:

View San Rafael del Norte Birding Route in a larger map

Coming Soon...
  • Lago Apanas
  • Somoto Canyon
  • Miraflor
  • Datanli-El Diablo
  • Selva Negra
  • Finca Esperanza Verde