Costa Rica has been a lot of things to us – a place to draw away from many entanglements back in the states while we grew quiet and learned to relax and listen, a great opportunity to hike a lot of big hills and explore for waterfalls, a chance to see many varieties of plants, a chance to get a lot of dental work done very cheaply – the list goes on. Costa Rica has been a very precious time and place for us, in so many ways.
Reading guidebooks and cruising around on the internet brings several of these purposes into focus, and more. Another which jumps out at me, as I Google for Costa Rica, involves some phenomenal opportunities for bird-watching!
That prospect didn’t provoke me to come here, yet I have greatly enjoyed the birdsongs which awaken me daily around 5am – what an orchestra I have right outside my window! Over the course of this past year, we’ve pointed our cameras into the trees time and again, with the following collection of precious images.
Where possible, I have tried to find out what type each of these birds is, using a combination of birding guides and internet searches. I guess it is a testimony to the number of uncommon species found here, that – even using guidebooks which speak specifically about bird species in Costa Rica, I still don’t know the names of many birds I’ve encountered. Oh well, that doesn’t make them any less beautiful!
This fellow should have been easy to match to some picture somewhere; his coloration is very distinctive. With the blue beak, his jet-black body with that solid patch of red on the tips of the wings, I really expected to be able to tell you what kind of bird this is – but alas.
This is one of my favorite birds here; we have a pair resident on our farm. I get to see them every day, even though they are quite shy and run away (they usually don’t fly). I had no idea how rare they are, until one day I had a Costa Rican guy out doing some electrical work for me. He saw the birds and got all excited; I was like – yeah, I see them. To be sure, he straightened me out on my understanding!
They were shown in none of the books or internet searches I did, so I don’t know the official name for these birds. They are a form of duck, even though their feet are not webbed. Their legs are jointed, like those of a stork, and they come out of their hiding places looking for the rain puddles.
Their coloring is very subtle, except for the color of their legs. When the body is in direct sunlight, it positively shimmers and the range of colors is breath-taking. But that’s rare even for here, where we see them frequently – they seldom step out of the shadows and into the sunshine.
With the massive quantity of rain we receive here, things grow quickly. At the same time, there is a whole part of the ecosystem which is necessary to help things decay so that there is not a tremendous pile of dead stuff laying around. The crazy variety of bugs which labor in these processes translates into food for the Lineated Woodpecker. Their efforts also result in holes which become homes for other species. All things work together for good, to borrow a phrase.
On our farm, right as the driveway takes a right turn towards the guest cottage, stands a large mango tree with a hole where a branch used to be. Many times every day we are able to see either Mr or Mrs Keel-billed Toucan emerging from their hole, where they take turns sitting on the nest. In late-April or early-May there will be little baby toucans to evoke squeals of delight from onlookers – all beak and a spot of tail-feathers just to balance them out for flight.
Oddly enough, with this seemingly-brilliant coloration, they are able to disappear right before your eyes with just the barest movement. As you look from the ground, when they “assume the position”, they look just like every other branch on the tree. Something in how they straighten out their beak makes this so, for the instant he turns his head you can again see his beak and all the rest of those brilliant colors!
If you’ve never studied a toucan’s beak before, I suggest you click on this picture and zoom in on the beak. Such disjointed use of color there, and yet it somehow manages to come together into a cohesive thing of beauty! (To zoom in, using Windows, hold down the Ctrl key and hit the + key. You can do that repeatedly, zooming in further with each keystroke. You zoom back out with Ctrl and the minus key.) Do it now…see what I mean?
This fellow is, I think, a Boat-billed Flycatcher, getting his name from the distinctive stripe around his head. Flycatchers, in general, eat bugs they snag while in mid-flight….but this fellow stopped in to eat some fruit. Maybe he was confused; the watermelon sure did look good!
That’s one of the bird-attracting tricks used by, for example, the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Another means of attraction is the planting of flowering bushes. The combination makes for great afternoons taking pictures of all this wildlife!
Judging mostly from the split tail on this hummingbird, I think it is one of the Woodnymph varieties. There are several, including the violet-crowned and the emerald-bellied. This is neither, yet still beautiful. There are over 60 species of hummingbirds here in Costa Rica, according to some article I read – I wonder, though, how you could ever begin to count?
They flit here and hover there, always moving too fast to fix your bead on them. To me this one looks like he has a sock scarf around his neck, and a waistcoat to go with those tails. But the club to which he would be going, dressed like that and in those colors, would have to be something frequented by the Joker, of Batman fame. Egads! Anyway, he is saddled with the pretentious name of Magnificent Hummingbird. No wonder he gets dressed up to go out!
On the other extreme of coloration is this next fellow. He is robed in elegance, has fine lines and uses color as a graceful ornament instead of trying to draw attention with brash highlights.
I have no idea what kind of hummingbird he is, however. The longer I looked for identification of these various hummingbirds, the more I became educated in their overly-complicated system of naming. In layman’s language it goes kind of like this: “Ummm, let’s see. This one has a blue-spot by the ear, and a green chest. Let’s call it a…violet-eared emerald-chested…..flyalot.” And that’s how you get these specie names!
So I’ll take my shot at it and call this an emerald-throated mottled-wing hummingbird. I can’t go wrong with that now, can I?
I love the coloration on this one; it reminds me of chalk art on a sidewalk. He is incredibly beautiful….and pretty rare. I’ve not seen this kind often, so this was a special treat!
Bird identification guides provide a name for this one – he’s a Three-striped Warbler. I’m glad for a moniker, but the fact that there’s a name does not make him any easier to identify. He was sitting quietly inside a bush; I only saw him because he turned his head around to straighten out some feathers. Fortunately, I was ready with my camera!
A special treat around here are the Montezuma’s Oropendola. I am confused what the plural of that name should be; rudimentary Latin class tells me that the singular should end in “um” and the plural in “a”, in which case this name is already pluralized. (Did I just get myself in more trouble – can you make a verb out of the word “plural”?)
Anyway, to stick with the safer subject of bird-watching, this fabulous, large bird has a most unusual nest and a very distinctive call. We do have some mockingbirds around here who make a decent effort at mocking the Oropendola, but they are missing a distinctive element in their call so it is easy to identify the fake from the real McCoy. Oro’s have a clarion-clear call which is sort of a trill, which the others adequately mock, but then the follow it with something that sounds like paper being crumpled, which the mockingbirds don’t even attempt to replicate. Very curious!
The Clay-colored Robin is the national bird of Costa Rica….and has a nest on the post of the cabina on our property. Every time I approach the building or step outside after a time indoors, Mrs Robin hurries away, startled. She had a nest there last year too, and then went away after baby time.
They are pretty common here, in this country, which makes it nice as the national bird. Many, many people have seen me taking pictures of one and stopped to let me know that this was THEIR national bird – I think it’s pretty sweet.
It’s also a little odd – with over 890 species of birds in this country, they picked such a monochromatic, ubiquitous specie to memorialize. That’s just a curious choice. By the way, if you glossed over that, just think for a moment about the number 890+. Every morning, I wake up to a lot of bird noises; it’s my favorite part of life here!
Pretty much this fellow is the Costa Rican equivalent of a wild turkey. Elusive, sleek and very large as birds go, the Gray-headed Chachalaca perches way, way up high. When he takes off, you almost want to duck because of the whomp-whomp of air from the flapping of his wings! He is a BIG bird, measuring almost 2 feet in length.
I wish I had a better picture of this one – the Blue-Crowned Motmot. One of the most notable features of Motmots is the tail, which is only somewhat discernible here. Their tails have long, thin extensions from their body before terminating in a little burst of tail-feather, much like the fan-leaf on the end of a pole.
A very beautiful bird; another delight to my eyes from this incredible display of sight and sound which is Costa Rica!
A male Green Honeycreeper stopped to breakfast on the fruit at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Below is (I’m pretty sure) a picture of the female of this same species, giving you a chance to compare the two and discern how our Creator cares for His creatures, both large and small.
Almost without exception, the male of any species is bolder in coloration and assumes the role of protector and defender of the family, while the female is much more muted in color and stays with the nest. Just as with the toucans nesting right outside my window, the male will attempt to draw intruders away from the nest by being visible, by feigning injury, or by pretending to be overly absorbed in some fairly accessible piece of fruit. Be not deceived; he is on high alert and is tantalizing this intruder with himself as bait – solely to draw attention away from wife and children.
The White-throated Magpie Jay is like jays everywhere – a bully. Lazy too, and a horrible parent. Maybe I should start at the beginning.
By their nature, jays are like the school-yard bully. They don’t do their homework but threaten smaller kids and take theirs, to turn in to the teacher as their own work. The bluejay lays her eggs in the nests of smaller birds, often pushing the other eggs out in order to make room for her huge egg.
It is pretty common to see both Mr and Mrs smaller bird harassing a blue jay. I’ve also seen multiple species of birds joining together in an effort to drive the jay away, attesting to the fact that they are despised by the whole forest-full of birds.
However, this does not seem to affect the Jay very much, nor my appreciation of them. They are everywhere, sing a variety of beautiful songs and pose readily for my camera. Since they are also a larger bird, they make for some beautiful pictures.
These are by no means the end of birds we’ve seen here, nor even all that we’ve caught with our cameras. But it is the end of a long period of time putting this blog posting together. I’m going to post this and get on to my next couple of articles, including a precious video of our toucan family – perhaps I’ll do another article soon with even more birds. I hope you enjoy them all!