Friday, April 27, 2012

Waiting for the Rainy Season to Start? Just listen for the "Yigüirro", Costa Rica's National Bird!

Costa Rica, a relatively small country, has some of the best bird watching opportunities in the entire world. The Official List of the Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica contains 857 species registered for an area of only 51,100 km2.....that's smaller than the state of West Virginia! This means Costa Rica boasts the greatest density of bird species of any continental American country, more than you can find in all of the United States and Canada combined!

This would bring visitors to believe that the Costa Rican

National Bird would be one of the more colorful and impressive species found in this small paradise......maybe a Resplendent Quetzal? A Keel Billed Toucan? Scarlet Macaws? Perhaps a Fiery Billed Ari Cari? But nooooo.......Costa Rica's National Bird is the Clay Colored Robin!!

If a plain old Robin sounds pretty boring for a National Bird, you would be right!! This rather dull colored and outwordly unimpressive bird is the last one you would think would represent a country with such an abundance of species to choose from as it's representative "ave".

In general appearance and habits, the Clay Colored Robin (scientific name: Turdus Grayi) resembles other thrushes such as the

American Robin. Averaging 9-10.5 inches in length, and weighing around approximately 6 ounces, the plumage is a dull brownish color, with a faintly streaked throat. The bill is greenish-yellow with a dark base, the legs are faint pink or flesh-colored, and the irises are reddish---all useful identification points, but just further proof that this is just a boring brown bird!

But wait!! Unbeknownest to most foreigners, the Clay Colored Robin has special abilities that make this species a very popular

bird throughout Costa Rica. In fact, in 1977, the Costa Ricans chose the "yigüirro" as a national symbol (over many much more colorful birds that inhabit this paradise) due to its strong and melodious song that always comes during the start of the rainy season. Due to it's tendency to comfortably live near houses and settlements, this species ability to "call in the rains" is not only handy for local farmers but everyday folk as well, so keep that umbrella handy!

In Costa Rica, the clay-colored robin is most commonly found in the Central Valley in human-altered areas like gardens and coffee plantations, but this species can be easily found countrywide. The bird has increased its range up over 6,500 feet in areas where forest has been cleared, so from sea level to higher elevations, the Clay Colored Robin gets around!

The typical robin's nest consists of a cup made of strips of vegetation bound with mud. A clutch is two or three eggs, with

incubation around 13 days. The young leave the nest after 13 more days, weighing a mere two ounces or so, looking much like their parents with some additional spots on the wings and breasts. Two or three broods are possible over the course of a productive nesting season.

Although not as bold as the robins of North America and Eurasia, the Clay-colored Robin in Costa Rica is still a friendly garden bird. They forage on the ground for worms and other invertebrates but tend to eat more fruit than other common robins. Clay-colored Robins will gorge themselves on backyard fruiting trees such as Oranges and Guayabas and also visit fruit feeders, so they are not hard to attract at all. These birds nest at the end of the dry season so their young can benefit from the abundance of food available at the start of the wet season.

The "Yigüirro" song is also considered good luck and a blessing. Yiguirros are probably one of the bird species that practice more the ECC or "Extra couple coitus", which means that both males and females look for mating with other birds out of their couple. The yiguirros can be quite territorial, which is one of the reasons they can be heard singing a lot, as they have to mark their territory or their couple will easily forget about them. Besides that, yiguirros have many beautiful songs used for different purposes, such as when threatened, when looking for a mate, before they go to sleep, at sunrise and even the peculiar rain call that they are famous for. Some of these songs are very complex phrases, full of color, which made yiguirros very popular caged song birds. For an extensive variety of these bird songs click here!

So if you’re coming to Costa Rica for some birdwatching activities, you’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for the ubiquitous

Clay Colored Robin, and for even more convenience you will know when to be carrying your umbrella. You might also want to have a copy of the new field identification guide published with Zona Tropical and Cornell University Press. It’s small enough to fit in your back pocket, yet deals with essentially all the species that one might see from the mainland. The illustrations alone will often suffice for identifying the bird you have just seen, but, on the facing page of each plate, range maps and texts are provided that should help to clinch the ID of whatever bird you are seeking. Of course, the book is available at Amazon, but you might want to consider ordering through ABA Sales, so that some of the proceeds will go towards supporting birding activities and conservation efforts.

So in summary, birding in Costa Rica is an extraordinary experience, offering bird enthusiasts unique opportunities within relatively short distances, involving very diverse habitats in the six ornitologic regions of the country, from sea level to high mountains.

Exciting guided tours and itineraries take you to wonderful locations where you are able to enjoy the best of birding and nature found in the middle of nowhere, or around literally every Costa Rican hotel throughout the country. And don't forget to listen for the melodious song of the famous Yiguerro, or you could get stuck in a rain shower without your umbrella!!

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

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