Posted by: ktzefr | September 18, 2010

Bird Songs of the Sarapiqui…

Mornings on the river the night mist still clings to the water and the air smells of damp earth, white ginger, rain.  Exotic birds fly through the orange groves and banana trees and tall cecropias, singing songs we’ve never heard before…

Reflections on the Tortuguero River, Costa Rica

(Click on the bird names below to hear their song.  For some birds there are audio examples of song, bird calls, sounds of alarm, and flight calls.  Check them out.  Be sure to use the back arrow to return to the blog ).

The laughing falcon is a natural alarm clock.  Serious birdwatchers are out of bed by five o’clock! (If this fellow is outside your window, however, you might feel like crawling under the bed…have a listen.)

Into the forest…

Bridge to the Tirimbina/Costa Rica

Many people, on their first hike in a tropical rainforest, are surprised by the silence.   Most birds and other wildlife, except nocturnal creatures, are most active in the early morning and late afternoon hours.  Midday can be eerily quiet.

If you double click on the photo below, you can get a closer look at the brown-bag nest (center of picture) of Montezuma’s oropendola.  The oropendola builds purse-like nests throughout the rain forest.  Trees can have thirty “bags” or more.   Be sure to also listen to the oropendola’s unusual burbling song.

Oropendola nest/taken from the rainforest canopy/Costa Rica

The song of the keel-billed toucan sounds almost like a croaking frog!  One of the most beautiful birds of the rainforest, the toucan’s bill can be as big as its body.  Two types of toucans are common in Costa Rica — the keel-billed and the chestnut mandibled.  This last bird is bigger and often follows the smaller bird through the forest until the small one finds a fruit-filled tree.  The big bird takes the fruit and chases the little one away.  It’s the smaller keel-billed, however, that’s the prettiest, in my opinion, as its bill is an amazing rainbow of colors — green, orange, and blue.  Check out the images HERE.

Golden-bellied euphonia dart through the orange grove and banana trees at eye level.  These little birds are partially responsible, too, for dispersing seeds throughout the forest…seeds that become epiphytes — from mistletoe to orchids.

orchids/Costa Rica

Some animals in the rainforest blend in with the environment and are difficult to spot.  Birds, on the other hand, reveal themselves to us at every turn.  But only for a few fleeting moments.  In one such moment we caught an Amazon kingfisher poised on a branch above its prey.

Amazon Kingfisher/Costa Rica

This bird sits motionless until it locates its prey, then it plunges head first into the water to seize the unsuspecting fish.  Back on the “perch” the kingfisher beats its victim against the branches until it is stunned enough to be swallowed whole.   (Note: if you click to listen, see the options and check out both the song, which is quite pretty, and the alarm call, which sounds like…someone shaking maracas??)

We spotted this boat-billed heron on one of the canals that make up the intricate network of waterways that branch off the Tortuguero River.   The heron’s call sounds similar to a duck.  It lives in the mangrove swamps and feeds on mice and snakes and fish and just about anything else that’s small and moves.  I think we must have interrupted this one’s dreams as the boat-billed is a night bird.

Boat-billed heron/Costa Rica

The blue-gray tanager is a gorgeous bird with its gray-white belly and beautiful aquamarine wings and tailfeathers.  Tanagers are among the most common dispersers of tropical trees and shrubs — crucial to the rainforest.  I love the tanager’s high-pitched, squeaky song…sounds almost like a bunch of mice.  Click HERE to see pics of this beautiful bird.

100 feet in the air! Navigating the rainforest canopy/Costa Rica

One morning very early we found a social flycatcher’s nest in a tree along the banks of the Sarapiqui River.   The birds (as seen through binoculars) were olive colored with a dark gray and white head and white throat.  Once they started moving around they were easier to identify.  The most distinguishing feature is their bright yellow chest and belly.  Check out the pretty images HERE.

Parrots and parakeets love to chatter, like a bunch of girls sharing the latest gossip.  The midday silence of the rainforest is often broken by flocks of these birds flying overhead or settling somewhere in the forest canopy.  It becomes easy to recognize their noisy banter in the sky even when they are too far away to identify by sight.  This red-lored parrot had a bird’s-eye view of the comings and goings in the village from his perch amongst the bougainvillea and palms.

Red-lored parrot/Costa Rica

The white-throated tinamou has a long, slow whistle that sounds almost like a person;  the three-wattled bell bird beeps and alarms; and the buff-throated saltator’s song sounds…happy.

Costa Rica has at least 20 species of wrens.  The ones here are not much different from the wrens back home.  One interesting note about wrens, however, is that they have unusual vocalization patterns.  A pair will call back and forth as they lose sight of each other in order to keep in contact while foraging in thickets.  Mated pairs also sing some of the bird world’s most complex duets, alternating parts of one song so rapidly that it actually sounds as if one bird is doing all the singing.  (We took a long  journey to gain this appreciation of the common, but not so simple, house wren.)

Dry bed of the Sarapiqui/Costa Rica

Not all sails and trails are smooth going.  Sometimes the river dries up and sometimes the trails get rocky…but there are always surprises.  Amongst the stones at the left were a zillion tiny dart frogs!


Costa Rica boasts more than 800 species of birds.  Check out Horizontes Nature Tours, a favorite eco-tour company in Costa Rica, offering guided birdwatching (and other wildlife) tours throughout the country.

**If you didn’t listen to the laughing falcon at the beginning, check out the audio now and let me know what you think.  Does this birdcall sound more like an excited old man or a woman in labor?



  1. I’ve never heard a woman in labor but it does remind me of my Oncle Repaud when he got his foot caught in the door….

    • Ha! Love the image, even though I didn’t know Oncle Repaud.

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