May 15, 2010
From 1996 to 1998, Audubon Panama identified 88 sites as Important Bird Areas (IBAs), priority site for the conservation of globally threatened, range restricted and/or congregatory birds. Of Panama’s 88 IBAs, 49 are of global importance, while 39 are of national importance only. Criteria for IBAs at the global level (as developed by BirdLife International) include the presence of globally threatened species, restricted-range species, biome-restricted assemblages, and congregatory species in globally important concentrations. Criteria for IBAs at the national level for Panama (as established during national IBA workshops) include the presence of nationally threatened species and subspecies, congregatory species in nationally important concentrations, and rare, threatened, or unique habitats with characteristic bird communities.
Panama’s IBAs are distributed all over the country. Unsurprisingly enough, they tend to coincide with forested areas, so they are concentrated on the Caribbean Slope; IBAs on the more populated Pacific Slope tend to be on the coast or in remote areas. The biggest IBAs of Western Panama, all globally important, are contiguous: La Amistad International Park (which extends into Costa Rica), Palo Seco Protection Forest, Volcán Barú National Park, Fortuna Forest Reserve, and Santa Clara (the only one lacking protection) cover over 400,000 ha. La Amistad International Park is one of the most important strongholds for the globally Vulnerable Bare-necked Umbrellabird and Three-wattled Bellbird. The park contains nearly all of the endemics of the Costa Rica and Panama Highlands EBA, as well as many of those of the Central American Caribbean Slope EBA and, with 59 endemic species present, may have one of the highest totals of any IBA in the world.
Further east on the continental divide is the unprotected Cerro Santiago, which includes the core of the presumed range of two globally Vulnerable endemics with extremely limited distributions—Glow-throated Hummingbird and Yellow-green Finch—and 20 other bird species of national concern. This region is also a center of subspecific endemism: 12 subspecies are apparently restricted to it, five of which are known from the Cerro Santiago IBA.
About 20 km offshore on the Caribbean Sea is Escudo de Veraguas Island, whose 400 ha surface is mostly covered with forest. It is home to the endemic Escudo Hummingbird and a number of endemic mammals and amphibians. Also forested, for the most part, is the 50,000-hectare Coiba National Park, the largest island on the Pacific coast of Central America. Coiba Island holds Panama’s only significant population of the nationally Endangered Scarlet Macaw o, is the only site for the globally Near Threatened endemic Coiba Spinetail and is one of the very few sites for the globally Vulnerable Brown-backed Dove. Nineteen of its approximately 100 species of landbirds are represented by endemic subspecies, and genetic analyses could reveal some to be distinct at the species level. Also on the Pacific is Cerro Hoya National Park, on the southwestern tip of the Azuero Peninsula. This is the only site for the nationally Threatened endemic Azuero Parakeet, which has a global range estimated at only 700 km2.
Central Panama has maintained a large percentage of its forest cover thanks to the fact that the Panama Canal runs on rainwater. This is the main reason why our country has some of the most accessible forests of the Americas, some within 15 minutes of Panama City. Four National Parks protect the watershed, and a number of smaller protected areas, together with off-limits canal operation lands, have kept urban development at bay. On the banks of the Panama Canal, the unprotected Panama Canal West Bank, and the protected Metropolitan Nature Park, Camino de Cruces, Soberanía and San Lorenzo National Parks, and Barro Colorado Nature Monument form a corridor that runs from the Pacific to the Caribbean and protects valuable stopover sites for migratory raptors, as well as habitat for several nationally threatened species.
Further east are Chagres and Portobelo National Parks, which are contiguous with the Narganá Wildlands Area. These hold breeding populations of the globally Near Threatened Harpy Eagle, plus many nationally threatened species, as well as many endemics of the Darién Lowlands and Darién Highlands EBAs such as the globally Vulnerable endemic Speckled (or Spiny-faced) Antshrike.
80 km east of Panama City is Serranía de Majé, an isolated mountain range 15 km inland from the Pacific that holds a number of globally Near Threatened species—such as Great Curassow and Russet-crowned Quail-Dove—and many Darién endemics, notably Beautiful Treerunner and Varied Solitaire. The western part of the range is protected by Majé Hydrological Reserve, but most of it still lacks any kind of formal protection.
Further east is the country’s largest IBA and one of the largest wilderness areas remaining in Central America: the 579,000 ha Darién National Park, which extends along most of the Colombian border and includes several isolated mountain ranges. Darién National Park is the country’s third-richest IBA in terms of threatened and endemic species, after La Amistad and Palo Seco, and it contains all of the endemics of the Darién Highlands and Darién Lowlands EBAs that occur in Panama. These include Choco Tinamou, Tacarcuna Wood-Quail, Pirre Warbler (all Vulnerable), and Green-naped Tanager (Near Threatened). The area is also high in endemism at the subspecific level, with 27 endemic subspecies present.