Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus)

The Western Wood-Pewee is part of the Contopus family, a very difficult family to identify to species level in the field. It is very similar to the Tropical Pewee and the Eastern Wood-Pewee. The best field mark is the bill, were only the base of the lower mandible is orange. This species, unlike the Tropical Pewee, is a passage migrant and will only stay in the country from mid-August to November, and from mid-March to May. In similar fashion to the Eastern Wood-Pewee (and further differentiating from the Tropical), this bird will return to the same perch after a sally, so observing the behavior can help with identification.

Brown-crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus tyrannulus)

The Brown-crested Flycatcher is a resident species, member of the Myiarchus family, which is notably difficult to identify at a species level. The Brown-crested is found only in the northern Pacific area, up to about the Tarcoles river. It shares distribution with the Nutting’s Flycatcher, and are difficult to differentiate given its essentially equal coloration except for the rump; their song is an important trait to identify them. The Brown-crested is found in mangrove forest edge, whereas the Nutting’s is not. It was interesting to see this individual raising its crest, most probably a display to let us know we were in his/her territory.

Tropical Pewee (Contopus cinereus)

The Tropical Pewee is very similar to the Wood-Pewees (Eastern and Western), however the Wood-Pewees are migratory birds, found in Costa Rica only during two periods, August to November when they pass through in their journey to South America, and March to May when they return to the Northern hemisphere. They are difficult to differentiate, as their appeareance is very similar, however the Tropical is slighly smaller and has a yellowish belly, while the Wood-Pewees have a gray to white belly. Both Eastern Wood-Pewee and Tropical Pewee have a yellow lower mandible with dark tip, while the Western Wood-Pewee only has a small portion of the lower mandible being yellow. The Tropical Pewee has a darker crest than the Wood-Pewees as well.

Torrent Tyrannulet (Serpophaga cinerea)

The Torrent Tyrannulet is a very small flycatcher; few other flycatchers are smaller like the Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher. The Torrent Tyrannulet inhabits river and torrents in the highlands of Costa Rica, which commonly feature rocks in and alongside the stream. It is rather dull, with overall white to gray body but black wings, tail and face. They catch insects in the air using acrobatic motions. They usually perch on rocks instead of branches, which means they are found close to ground or water level. While spooked easily by an approaching person, standing or sitting motionless for a while allows them to become used to a person’s presence, resulting in natural and even curious behavior. One such time, a bird perched on branch at a distance where my lens would not even focus (less than 2.2 meters away), and would look at me, like it was trying to decipher what I was.

Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus)

The Vermilion Flycatcher is very small when compared with most Flycatchers found in Costa Rica, however it might easily be the most beautiful. Its deep red body is refreshing to see, since Costa Rican species are mostly yellow instead. The body plan is pretty similar to a Great Kiskadee or Social Flycatcher, just a lot smaller and plumper body. The back is dark grey and the red crest is sometimes raised. They are relatively shy but very active, particularly in the morning where they ca be seen catching insects and returning to the same perch in a typical flycatcher fasion. This species is found in Mexico and southamerica, but there have been reports in Costa Rica’s frontier with Panama, meaning we could be seeing it close by in the next years.

Cinnamon Flycatcher (Pyrrhomyias cinnamomeus)

Like many members of the Flycatcher family, this species can be identified by its behavior: It leaps into the air from any kind of perch (including utility wires), catches an insect in an acrobatic maneuver, and then returns to the same perch to eat it. The Cinnamon Flycatcher is small among their family and has a fairly uniform body color, only broken down by the black bill and eyes. The wings have an olive-like coloration in the shoulder, together with black and cinnamon on the longer feathers.

Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens)

The Eastern Wood-Pewee is part of the Contopus family, a very difficult family to identify to species level in the field. It is very similar to the Tropical Pewee and the Western Wood-Pewee. The best field mark is the bill, which has orange lower mandible with a black tip. This species, unlike the Tropical Pewee, is a passage migrant and will only stay in the country from mid-August to November, and from mid-March to May. In similar fashion to the Western Wood-Pewee (and further differentiating from the Tropical), this bird will return to the same perch after a sally, so observing the behavior can help with identification.

Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher (Ptilogonys caudatus)

The Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher is an elegant bird that can be found in the highlands in Costa Rica. It’s long black tail contrasts with the gray and yellow body, ending with a yellow crest that is normally seen protruding from the head. The male is more colorful than the female, but overall they look similar and might be indistinguishable on bad lighting. Along the Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher, this species is part of a four species family around the world, with only the Black-and-yellow and the Long-tailed being present in Costa Rica, endemic to our country and western Panama.

Gray-capped Flycatcher (Myiozetetes granadensis)

The Gray-capped Flycatcher is one of the birds with yellow chest that can easily be mistaken by one another. Size and a gray cap (as the name implies) are the main identification marks, tough it can be difficult to recognize the gray cap if the bird is perched above eye level. They look very similar to the Social Flycatcher, although it is more streamlined and the gray head is diagnostic, along the song more similar to the Great Kiskadee’s. It also resembles both the Great Kiskadee and Boat-billed Flycatcher, but both of those species are bigger and stockier, featuring different songs as well. The Tropical Kingbird is also similar, given its gray head, but it is bigger and has grayish upperparts, while the Gray-capped’s upperparts are brownish.

Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis)

The Social Flycatcher is part of the family of “Pecho Amarillo” birds, as are locally known in Costa Rica. It is pretty difficult to identify since the birds all look alike, but they can be identified relying on size, song and head markings. My parents say that this species should be called “Shakira”, an onomatopoeic interpretation of their sound. They are almost identical in size and shape to the Gray-capped Flycatcher, however their song is very different, and the Gray-capped not just has the different head color, it also shows erect feathers which the Social does not.