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Blue-black Grassquit (Volatina jacarina)

This is a very small and nervous bird. Taking a close up picture of this bird proved to be difficult, even during sunny days with great light available. The male in low light it looks black, but in sunlight it glows in a metallic blue color. The female is rather drab, sporting a brown look. The male perches in fence wire and posts, then suddenly starts jumping while making its call, doing acrobatic maneuvers in mid air, all to attract nearby females.

Scarlet-rumped Tanager (Ramphocelus passerinii)

The Scarlet-rumped Tanager is known locally as “Sargento” (Seargent) and “Sangre de Toro” (Bull’s blood), among other names. Previously it was known as the Passerini´s Tanager, being virtually identical to the Cherries Tanager, but only inhabiting the Caribbean, whereas the Cherries was only found in the pacific. In sunlight, the red rump of the male glows strongly, contrasting with the deep black in the eyes and the rest of the body. The female is brownish in coloration, and differs from the Cherries by not having the orange throat. The Juvenile male has the same coloration as the female, however as it morphs into adult plumage, patches of black start to show in the body, giving it kind of a Calico look.

Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani)

This is medium sized woodpecker that can be found in the Caribbean and northern part of the country. The male has red back and top of the head, with a yellow patch in the front, while the female has whitish top of the head (nape). Both have black cheeks, which give this species its name. Other notable features are its black wings with white dots, black back with white barring, yellowish flanks with black barring and red belly, which gives the bird a very contrasty look. It’s call is a piercing chirrr, chirrr, chirrr that can be heard from afar and make identification of the species easier.

Like most woodpeckers, they make holes in trees for nesting, which are then reused by other species, hence their success can indirectly impact population sizes for other species. Many times the nests that they empty are reused by similarly sized birds to construct theirs, with Emerald Toucanets as one such example, but even some owls will make use of them. It’s not uncommon to see either the male or female inside the hole, with just the head out, watching out for potential predators as they keep their eggs or chicks safe inside. Something more peculiar is seeing these birds pecking at public lampposts made out of concrete, I have not yet deciphered why would they do that. On feeders, they like to eat papaya, but they will also catch small insects for food.

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum)

There are three species of Tiger-Heron occurring in Costa Rica, and they resemble each other, which means identification is difficult. All three birds are very big in size and not probable to be confused with other wetland birds. The first time I saw this species as on August 20th, 2017 in Rio Frío, Sarapiquí. At first my parents told me that they had seen a very big, barred bird walk past their home a few days before that, but they could not describe the bird detailed enough to identify it. The sighting was a great treat for the day. I have been able to see many individuals since that time, wandering across small streams and even approaching the garden at my parent’s home.

Tiger-Herons are found on swamps and rivers, where they stalk fish from the edge or shallows. They move very slowly and silently to ensure prey don’t even notice their presence. They also stay motionless for quite some time, waiting for the prey to be in short range, before sending their long beaks in lightning fast action as a spear. The long neck provides plenty of muscle power, as well as the possibility to grab prey from a distance. This species can also forage outside the water environment, something I have witnessed a lot of times at my parent’s home, where they walk looking for prey through the farmlands.

Silver-throated Tanager (Tangara icterocephala)

The Silver-throated Tanager is a bright yellow bird with a white throat (despite being called silver), and wings that are black with green linings. The back of the bird is barred in yellow and black. They like to eat fruit and will come to the feeders without hesitation. In Colombia, it sometimes can be confused with the Golden Tanager, however the latter is a paller shade of yellow and does not have a white throat. In Costa Rica, this species is more commonly seen in mid and high elevations.

Red-legged Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes Cyaneus)

The moment I saw this bird for the first time, I knew it would become my favorite. It is fairly small, yet the blue body and red legs of the male just pop out in their normal habitat, which is fairly green. The female is more difficult to spot, since most of the body is dark green, and the legs are dull red, even brownish. And there is more, because the juvenile male starts with the same green color as the female, however as it matures it gets the blue body and bright red legs. After the breeding season, the male again turns green, but keeps the red legs. This means that males can also be seen in various molting stages, with patches of green, blue and black all over the body.

Note that while the Red-legged Honeycreeper is in the Tanager family, its body shape is slimmer and is in general smaller than the Tanagers. The closest one in size is the Plain-colored Tanager, however the body shape is entirely different, with shorter bill and fluffier plumage. In Costa Rica, there are two other Honeycreeper species, the Shining Honeycreeper (which belongs to the same Cyanerpes genus) with its yellow legs, and the Green Honeycreeper (which belongs to the Chlorosphanes genus), with a green body.

Clay-colored Thrush (Turdus grayi)

The national bird of Costa Rica, known locally as “Yigüirro”, has a beautiful song and can be found almost anywhere in the territory. It is said that their song marks the start of the rainy season, so in past century, farmers would schedule their crops accordingly. It is now known that males sing to attract females for mating, and that the start of the rainy season just coincides with the start of the breeding season for this bird. They like to eat insects, but also eat fruit like papaya and banana. They are most fond of the ground, where they move along by hopping instead of walking.

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

The Great Egret is a huge bird, measuring 1 meter from bill to feet. Its body is covered mostly on white plumage, with a bright yellow eye and bill, which is large and pointed, which helps to catch fish from rivers and ponds. Its long neck is most of the time coiled in an S-pattern. Its legs are black and very long, which helps to wade the shallow waters. Like most egrets, they inhabit the wetlands of Costa Rica, particularly at low altitude, and can be seen in rivers, ponds and small creeks. They stalk prey from the edge of shallow waters, standing still for minutes at a time while they observe their prey moving below the surface, and then launch their attack at the precise time to grab their prey.

Green Heron (Butorides Virescens)

From what I have observed, the Green Heron shares some traits with the bigger Bare-throated Tiger Heron. Both maintain their necks coiled most of the time, and elongate them up to twice the size of their body when they are ready to attack. Both walk in a stealthy manner, not making a single sound, as they approach to unsuspecting prey. Both are startled easily and fly far away when you are too close. The differences are that the Green Heron is more likely to be found perching high up in the trees, and the obvious size difference; the Green Heron is pretty small, the size of a duck, while the Tiger Heron is bigger than a turkey. They stalk prey while wading in shallow waters using their long feet and toes or from the water edge, sometimes standing motionless for minutes until they launch their attach and grab their prey.

Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus)

The Great Kiskadee is a very common bird in most of Costa Rica’s territory; many people can identify it based on its plumage or song, and indeed they can be very noisy. In particular, groups of up to five individuals may perch in branches while rapidly agitating their wings and calling each other with a high-pitched “Kiskadee” song, from where the English name is taken. My grandfather used to say that he would knew when I was coming, because this bird would start to call “Christopher, Christopher”. Of course I believed him, until I was old enough 🙂

Locally it is known as “Pecho Amarillo”, though some people call that name to the also common Tropical Kingbird. There are a few species that are very similar to the Great Kiskadee, like the Social Flycatcher and the Boat-billed Flycatcher, but they can be differentiated by size, song or range; also the rufous on the wings is diagnostic. It is a very common and noisy species under the rain. These bold birds will fight with hawks and toucans in flight, defending their eggs or chicks from predators.