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 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 Lesser Yellowlegs is a coastal bird, very similar to the Greater Yellowlegs, albeit smaller as one would expect. Telling one apart from the other is difficult, as the size difference may not be apparent if both species are not close by. Both have long, bright yellow legs, with white underparts and mottled gray upperparts, which turn brownish during the non-breeding season. The bill is long and slender, mostly black, although non-breeding adults may show a very small basal portion that’s colored in yellow.
The Whimbrel is a mid-sized coastal bird with a relatively down curved, long bill. Its body is grayish brown with a mottled appearance, where some of the subspecies having a white back and rump. Its call is a high-pitched whistle. They appear very similar to the Curlews, however those species are much larger in comparison. They forage in the shallow waters along the coast, grabbing small invertebrates and crabs from the surface.
The Semipalmated Plover is a small migratory bird that can be spotted in early September at the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. The upperparts are gray-brown, with a white collar around the neck, white forehead, black mask on the face and small bill with orange basal half and black tip. The underparts are mostly white, except for a black breast band. The delicate legs are orange. It looks very similar to the bigger Killdeer. They wade in beaches and shallow mud flats where they can grab crabs and small insects.
The American Oystercatcher is the only species that reaches Costa Rica, out of 12 species that compose the family Oystercatcher family. They are all very similar, mainly varying in terms of their plumage color. The American species has a brown-gray back, white underparts, pink legs and black head. The eye is yellow with surrounding orange orbital skin, and the bill is large and slim, orange in coloration, which is used to grab and eat shellfish. The inner plumage of the wing is also white, and is shown during flight, or also during displays when wading in the shallow water.
Due to their peculiar look, they are easy to identify among flocks of migratory birds, which normally are composed of gulls, terns, plovers and sandpipers, but are not as abundant during migration and any of those families. They are among the largest of such migratory bird groups. They prefer mud and salt flats that are exposed and shallow, where they can wade to grab prey. They feed by either severing the muscles that enable the mollusks to close tight, hereby getting the meaty interior out, or by grabbing the entire body with the shell, and hitting it against rocks to slam it open.
The Black-necked Stilt is a wader bird, meaning it walks in shallow waters, looking for small prey to snatch. It does not dive and is not usually seen swimming. The stilt has a streamlined body and extremely long pink legs, allowing it to wade in deeper waters than other, smaller waders found in Costa Rica like the Plovers and Sandpipers. It has a contrasting black and white body. When startled, they usually fly away in a wide circle and return to a similar place they were before.
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.
The Great Blue Heron is one of the largest birds that occur naturally in Costa Rica. They can be found in watery environments like rivers and ponds, even artificial ones like the one in Concasa, which has been visited by a juvenile bird almost every morning from January 2018 to March of the same year. The name is misleading though, as the blue is color is rather dull on this bird. The juvenile is mostly grayish, with a darker cap, yellow eye and lower mandible, and black upper mandible. The adult shows a light dull blue on the back and wings, with brownish neck and white cheeks, maintaining the dark cap and yellow eye, but the upper mandible changes to yellow. They stalk prey from the edge of water ponds and lakes, and launch a forceful attack as fish pass by, able to snatch fish of considerable size and swallow them in one go.
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.
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.