Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)

The Eastern Meadowlark is an inhabitant of grass plains in Central Valley and the Caribbean areas. I have seen this species at my home in San Rafael de Alajuela, at La Guacima, at the Santa Ana Windmills (that’s 1,600 meters above sea level!) and most recently in San Bernardino, near Guápiles. Sometimes they perch in fence posts, other times they just find a comfortable place in the grass where they forage. Their song is very high-pitched and far-carrying. Indeed, many times I have been able to spot them as I bike through by listening to their song. Their belly is bright yellow, while their back is streaked in cream and dark brown. A key characteristic is the plump body, more similar to the antpittas than to any yellow-bellied flycatcher. When startled, they fly away and land on another patch of grass where they feel safe, the continue foraging. The juvenile is somewhat duller and never strays too far from its parent.

Nicaraguan Seed-Finch (Sporophila nuttingi)

The Nicaraguan Seed-Finch is one of Costa Rica’s biggest finches species, only surpassed by the Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, which is even rarer and has a longer tail. It looks similar to the Thick-billed Seed-Finch, with the male being uniformly black and the female uniformly brown, albeit with a bigger size. Their bills are undoubtedly specialized for breaking down seeds and the male’s bill is particularly conspicuous, given its pink coloration. In Costa Rica, it can be found in lowland areas of the northern area, near the border with Nicaragua, and in a thin strip along the eastern coast of the Caribbean.

Yellow-bellied Seedeater (Sporophila nigricollis)

Yellow-bellied Seedeater seems to be a bad name for a species that has a white belly. In a true seedeater fashion, it is found eating seeds from the grass. Its upperside is gray, with a darker head. Its pale bill is short but very strong, enabling it to crack bigger seeds. It shows some dark patches on the flanks and on the separation of throat and chest.

Plain-breasted Ground-Dove (Columbina minuta)

Although very similar in coloration and shape to the Ruddy Ground-Dove, this species is the smallest of all ground doves. They lack the scaled appearance of the Common and the Inca Doves. Their body is mostly uniform brown, with the male having a light gray head, and the female being duller in coloration overall. They both have red legs and a short yellowish bill. They sport black markings on the upper side of the wings. The female is even slightly smaller than the male. They forage by walking fast through the ground, picking out seeds, insects and fruit remains as they go. When startled, they fly away a few meters and land onto the ground to continue feeding.

Bare-faced Ibis (Phimosus infuscatus)

Like most ibises, this bird has a long, downwardly curved bill, which gives its silhouette a very particular appearance. In poor light it can look very dark and black, and when perched on the trees they may resemble black vultures, until the bill is distinguished. Their plumage is green overall. Their defining feature is the lack of feathers in the face, which sets it apart from the Green Ibis. They can be very noisy at dawn and dusk, specially if traveling in large groups. They forage mostly in the ground, in grassy fields or swamps where they can catch small invertebrates.

Variable Seedeater (Sporophila corvina)

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.

Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa)

The Northern Jacana is a waterbird that inhabits swamps and marshes, where the water is not too deep. The bird walks in the shallows, looking for small fish and crustaceans. It can even walk over some water plants whose leafs are big enough to sustain this delicate bird, thanks to very long toes that help to distribute the weight across a greater extent of water surface. Another unique behavior is its polyandrous nature, meaning that females will mate with many males, and it is the males that prepare the nest and care for the eggs and chicks. It is brown overall with black throat and head, with a yellow shield on the front (Wattled Jacana’s and Common Gallinules have a red shield). The juvenile has white underparts and lacks the shield seen in the adult.

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.