The Common Ground-Dove is very similar to related species Ruddy and Plain-breasted Ground-Doves, however the Common is lighter in coloration, with a pink bill that is diagnostic; it also shows a scaled pattern in the throat and neck, which is missing from the other ground doves. Also similar to these species is the Inca Dove, which even behaves similarly as it forages most of the time on the ground, however the scaled appearance in the whole body should preclude any confusion. The male is ligher than the female, which looks grayish. All ground doves feature dark spots in the tips of primaries and secondaries, which look like a curved line when the wings are closed, although the Common’s should area spots are more numerous and do not form a line.
There are six species of Antshrikes that occur in Costa Rica, some more elusive than others, but all having a common theme: Their songs is heard more often than they are seen. All of them sing using a pattern of repeating notes that build more speed slowly, abruptly ending in a single note that usually is different from all others. The song of the Black-crowned Antshrike is very similar in pitch to the Barred Antshrike’s, so it is easy to confuse them. The Black-crowned is bigger and does not have the bold markings that the Barred has, only displaying small white dots and stripes on the wings, along a black crown which is difficult to see, given that they are usually perched higher than eye level inside the dark forest.
The Heliomaster genus contains four species, two of which occur in Costa Rica, including the Long-billed Starthroat that can be spotted in the Caribbean and northern lowlands, as well as in the south Pacific. It also includes the Plain-capped Starthroat, which is mostly seen in the north Pacific, central valley and some valleys in the south Pacific.
Both Starthroats have longer than average bills which are straight, although both species have similar bills. The main difference between the Long-billed and Plain-capped is that the former displays a colorful blue-green forecrown, while the latter lacks that crown. To aid in identification, it can be noted that the Long-billed has a postocular spot, while the Plain-capped has a postocular strip. Other than those two specific traits, the two species are very similar, with olive upperparts and gray to white underparts, and a magenta throat that is iridescent. The tips of the tail feathers are white, which can be seen the most dramatically during flight.
Purple Gallinules are some of the most brightly colored birds that you can see walking in Costa Rica. Indeed while they can also fly, they more commonly wade in shallow waters and in dense grass plains, looking for prey. I have seen them in Palo Verde in big numbers, and spotted individuals in Rio Frio, where they join chickens and forage in the backyards of houses; indeed I was able to see two adults rearing four young hatchlings, which were still covered in black fluffy hairs, getting along with the chickens just fine. The underside and head is entirely purple with a metallic look, showing a small light blue patch on the forehead. The beak is mostly bright red, with a yellow tip. The upperparts show blue to olive green hues, particularly on the wings. The yellow legs are long, letting them to wade in shallow edges of lagoons without having to swim.
The Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher is one of the four species in a unique family around the world, with the Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher being the only other species to be seen in Costa Rica. The male shows a combination of yellow rump, chest and undersides, with gray belly and vent; its throat and head it black, as well as it tail and wings. The Female has a gray throat with a black cap, olive chest, wings and tail. Their shape is similar to other Costa Rica thrushes, as they look rather plump when compared with the Long-tailed. Although Flycatchers by name, they prefer to eat fruits, specializing in berries that are abundant in the highlands; indeed their range is restricted to Guanacaste, Tilaran, Central and Talamanca Cordilleras. They are endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama, thanks to the fact that the Talamanca Cordillera stretches out into Panama.
The White Ibis is, well… entirely white in plumage. When spotted from a distance it can resemble a Great Egret, Cattle Egret or Snowy Egret, however the pink legs and face, along with the long, skinny downcurved bill is diagnostic. The tips of the wings are black, although that is only visible during flight. The juvenile has brown upperparts, and the neck is striped in brown and white, with gray legs and a darker bill. It is found in ponds and marshes in Guanacaste and the northern area of the country; also along the pacific coast of Costa Rica. Given its habitat, they usually wade in the shallow waters and mudflats, where pick small crustaceans and fish, just like Egrets do.
The Neotropic Cormorant is an aquatic bird, hence it is popularly known is Costa Rica as the “Pato de Agua” or water duck. It dives underwater in search of prey, which is mostly comprise of fish, but also includes amphibians. They can be found at the sea and in rivers, sometimes accompanied by Frigatebirds or any type of egret, like the Tricolored Heron seen in the picture below. They are mostly dark in colloration with a yellow bill, and their feet are webbed, just like a duck, which is a feature that help them propel themselves while underwater.
The Variable Seedeater is very common in Costa Rica, whenever there is grass either on lots or at the edge of roads. On the Caribbean side, the male is almost entirely black and looks pretty similar to the male Thick-billed Seed-Finch, but is smaller in size; on the pacific side, the male has white belly and rump. The female is drab brown, also very similar to the female Thick-billed Seed-Finch, but smaller and with duller colors. The juvenile has similar coloration to the female. In terms of behavior, it is common to see this species jumping into the air in an acrobatic fashion and then just fall in the same perch, which is part of the mating display of the male trying to attract nearby females.
The King Vulture is a really magnificent bird. The other three species are black in general, with different color of head and neck. The Black Vulture is commonly seen soaring around the country, but the King Vulture is not seen that often. However, when you see it, you are amazed. The juvenile is mostly black, with white underparts, while the adult is mostly white, with black wing secondaries and orange to red neck. Both have white irises, which contrasts nicely with the head colors.
Ever since I first see the Red-legged Honeycreeper, I inmediately knew I was seeing one of the most gorgeous species Costa Rica has. Then I met the Green Honeycreeper, and I stood delighted. The male has a striking combination of dark green body, deep black hood, bright yellow bill and dark red iris, which just looks amazing, even when wet. In fact, I would say a wet male screams Rain forest, that’s enough to love it. The female is not as exotic, however the green color of their feathers is so bright as to defy belief.