Birding the Francisco Marroquín Campus

It’s one of the commonest of commonplaces when you’re birding the American tropics: “This place looks like an exotic plant nursery!”

Universidad Francisco Marroquín, Guatemala City

Especially this place, because it is … an exotic plant nursery, a quiet corner of Guatemala City’s Universidad Francisco Marroquín where palms and bamboos and other tropical fancies are being raised in pots for use in campus landscaping.

Universidad Francisco Marroquín, Guatemala City

It’s a spectacularly beautiful site, nestled into a steep canyon just a few minutes by taxi from the city’s international airport. I’d meant to have a quick look this morning while I was waiting for the Popol Vul Museum to open, but that look turned into nearly four hours of slow walking and exciting birding.

acorn woodpecker, Universidad Francisco Marroquín, Guatemala City

I found about 40 species on my walk–and surely would have come up with more if I’d had my ear in better.

It’s a blast to see Lesson motmots, rufous-browed peppershrikes, and boat-billed flycatchers, but my favorite thing about visiting Guatemala this time of year has always been the combination of tropical novelties with so many wintering birds from the north. A motmot perched quietly above a path with a feeding wood thrush, a peppershrike hunting at eye level while a yellow-bellied sapsucker studies the tree trunk, a boat-bill striking righteous fear into a little flock of Townsend warblers and warbling vireos: that’s the Guatemala highlands in winter.

magnolia warbler

My favorite constellation this morning came late in my walk, when a couple of white-naped brush finches drew my attention to the weedy edge of a compost area. I love atlapetes, but there was no way I could ignore the magnolia and MacGillivray warblers and stunning yellow-throated vireo feeding alongside them, now was there? 

clay-colored thrush, Universidad Francisco Marroquín, Guatemala City

Eventually it was time for me to do some indoor stuff. The museum was well worth the visit, though it wasn’t always entirely clear which objects were real and which were replicas (I’m guessing that I didn’t luck into the one single day in the history of the world when most of the most famous and most often reproduced pieces of Maya art were on loan here together).


I was especially impressed by this curassow-headed whistling vessel. And I think I’ve found my new VENT leader portrait, too.

Popol Vuh museum

Like it?

Too late to join us in Guatemala this year, alas, but keep an eye on the new VENT website