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During much of the year in Costa Rica, the song of the Striped Cuckoo is a common part of the auditory scenery. I hear them near my house singing from scrubby fields around the coffee plantations. I hear them call from the tangled second growth of deforested areas in the humid lowlands of the Caribbean and Pacific Slopes. It seems like any humid place in Costa Rica below 1,400 meters with enough edge habitat supports a population of  Striped Cuckoos.

They get overlooked though, because they tend to skulk. Like Anis, Roadrunners, and most of those Old World Coucals, the Striped Cuckoo is a terrestrial cuckoo species. It will ascend into the subcanopy of some edge trees or get up on top of some bush when it sings (and thank goodness because otherwise we would hardly EVER see them) but usually, it creeps around in dense, tropical undergrowth where it does who knows what. Sometimes, you can get lucky and see one take a dust bath on some blazing hot, lowland tropical track, or see one spread its wings and flash its black alulas. Is this a mechanism to catch more grasshoppers? To attract a mate? Evidence of madness? Who knows!

What I do know is that at least their song is pretty easy to imitate and often gets them to show themselves.

Striped Cuckoo birding Costa Rica

A Striped Cuckoo coaxed out into the open at El Gavilan in the Sarapiqui lowlands.

Striped Cuckoo birding Costa Rica

Striped Cuckoos love to raise their crest….

Striped Cuckoo birding Costa Rica

and lower it….

Striped Cuckoo birding Costa Rica

and raise it, over and over. It’s pretty cool to watch so I apologize for not having a video of it.

Striped Cuckoo birding Costa Rica

Here’s a frontal view of the same Striped Cuckoo.

When birding Costa Rica, listen for their clear, two noted whistle that might remind you of a Bobwhite, the first note lower than the second. They also have a longer song with a few lower notes that follow the second note.

This longer song sounds more like the much rarer Pheasant Cuckoo. By the way, if you ever see a Pheasant Cuckoo in Costa Rica, PLEASE let me know right away because there are very few sites known for this species in the country. The only regular site seems to be savannas near Buenos Aires although they have also been recorded from Carara in scrubby habitat near the crocodile bridge, around Esparza, and close to the Panamanian border near San Vito.

Why they are so rare in Costa Rica is another of those neotropical, bird distribution enigmas. I mean they aren’t too difficult in cloud forest near Valle Nacional, Oaxaca, are regular in Metropolitan Park, Panama, and are found in the Amazon of southeastern Peru (where I used to hear them just about every darn morning but never saw them!). Based on where they have been found, I suspect that their rarity in Costa Rica has something to do with them not liking the high amount of precipitation that falls here.

So, Pheasant Cuckoos are tough to see but they should at least vocalize if around so seem to be genuinely rare in Costa Rica as opposed to just being ridiculously shy and mute.

No picture of the Pheasant Cuckoo yet! One day though, I’m going to do surveys and run around the country whistling like a Pheasant Cuckoo until I figure out where they occur.

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19 Responses to “Striped Cuckoos are common in Costa Rica but where’s the Pheasant?”

  1. Hah! I’m not greedy, Patrick – I’d be happy with a look at the Striped Cuckoo next time in Costa Rica.
    Liz and I are thinking about another visit this winter. I know you’ve heard about the Costa Rican Bird Route. One of the places associated with that is this place off the old road to Sarapiqui -

    http://www.albergueelsocorro.c.....dation.htm

    Sounds convenient, reasonable price, Tico food (you know we like that) and good chance for foothills birds. MAYBE a Striped Cuckoo! Do you know much about it? How is the repair work on that road doing anyhow?

    Here’s hoping the house is working out well (still waiting for pictures) and family is doing well.

    Steve

  2. Hi Steve,

    If you know the song, they aren’t too tough to find and could occur around the Alberque Socorro. I haven’t been there but it should be good for the foothill stuff and sounds like a nice, cozy, economical place. Its accessible from the Sarapiqui region but the other road past Cinchona won’t be completely fixed anytime soon.

    Yes, I have heard of the Costa Rican bird route and will post about it now and then. I’m would really like to visit some of the more remote sites up north- they are underbirded and have a lot of potential because there is a fair amount of lowland rainforest that is more or less connected to a huge block of lowland rainforest in Nicaragua. A friend of mine so Harpy Eagle up that way some years ago.

    House is coming along well as is the family. Yes, I need to post pics soon!

    Pat

  3. Hmmm, it looks like a long haul through Puerto Viejo. Maybe we’ll save Alberque Socorro for another trip. I’m assuming you are saying there are no buses going through San Miguel and Varablanca, etc.
    I tracked down the other sites by their descriptions and it does seem like many are pretty far north. Seems this “Bird route” has been created to expand tourism to these remote areas. What do you think might be some target birds (besides Harpy Eagle) for those areas?

    S

  4. Yeah, it would be a rather long ride with buses because, no, the Varablanca-San Miguel route is still closed.
    Yes, most are pretty far north, take a while to get to, and have yet to develop accommodation. I think that some may offer home stays though (check the Costa Rica birding route website for details).
    Yes, that is exactly why the bird route was created. I have only been up that way several years ago but I suspect that any lowland species is possible. One would have to be lucky to see Harpy, Crested Eagle, and Red-throated Caracara but they are possible. Other target species would be:
    Great Curassow, Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Agami Heron, Guatemalan Screech Owl, Central American Pygmy Owl, Slaty-backed Forest Falcon, Semiplumbeous Hawk, Tawny-faced Quail, Olive-backed Quail-Dove, Great Green Macaw, Great Jacamar, White-fronted Nunbird, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Snowy Cotinga, Gray-headed Piprites, and a host of other lowland species. I would love to do some surveys up there sometime.
    The only place I got to several years ago was at Trinidad- a tiny settlement where the Sarapiqui met the San Juan. There were a few small cabinas to stay at but no reserves nor trails into the forest. There was a lot of forest around though with one of the largest chunks of lowland rainforest in Central America just across the river in Nicaragua. Birding was very good- saw at least a dozen Great Green Macaws each day, Pied Puffbird, lots other parrots, etc.

  5. That must be helicopter only access. Sounds like some adventurous birding. Very nice list though – worth the trouble.

    S

  6. A helicopter would be easiest but you can get to several of the sites in the CR bird route with public transport lalthough it would take several hours to get there. Some of those sites would be really cool to visit though for adventurous birding and a rural Costa Rican experience. I visited Trinidad by taking a boat from Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui but I think other sites where one can access the forest interior would be better. There might NOT be transport to the Albergue Socorro- I would check with the owners of the lodge to make sure about that though.

  7. I’ll be arriving in Costa Rica with my girlfriend and 2 birding friends and will have a few hours to explore after we arrive before dark. (Flight arrives at 11:15am CST 7/24)We’ll have our rental, where would you suggest we head to for some birding before checking into our hotel for the night? My girl and I did Poas last time but I thought I’d ask if there were other options that would be productive.
    Your blog here has been an awesome resource, wish I had found it before our trip back in February.
    Thanks
    Gallus Quigley

  8. Glad you are finding the blog to be a good resource. If your hotel is in the central valley, then here are a few options:

    Foothill birds: Quebrada Gonzalez in Braulio Carrillo National Park. This is the closest, high-quality rainforest near San Jose. It takes 50 minutes to get there by car along the main highway to Limon, look for the ranger station on the right hand side of the road a few ks after the bridge over the Rio Sucio. You can walk the trail inside the forest for $10 per person or just bird from the parking lot for free. The forest birding can be slow and difficult but lots of rarities are possible and mixed flocks can be amazing. From the parking lot, one has to contend with traffic noise but it can be good for raptors and lots of stuff coming to the edge of the forest. It’s especially worthwhile to scope the canopy from here- a Tiny Hawk was hanging out on a nearby ridge some months ago. A major downside is that the highway has been closed on and off lately because of landslides.

    Highland species: The Poas area is probably your best bet because of proximity.

    Pacific Slope moist forest: The University of Peace is an hour or so by car and has nice trails with a good mix of dry forest and moist forest species. Check my post on that for more info.

    Those are the best places that come to mind for a good few hours of birding near the Central Valley.

    good birding and let me know what you see or if you need a guide!
    Pat

  9. We did Braulio Carrillo NP added some lifers, we stayed at Cerro Lodge, Hacienda Baru, and El Toucanet while traveling and had 246 species in 5 full days of birding, well not quite full days because of the afternoon rains. If you’ve never been to El Toucanet you need to go it is an awesome lodge and my favorite of the trip followed closely by Cerro Lodge.
    We’ll be back in Costa Rica soon because we just love it there and I’ll contact you about guiding us around a few places. Having a guide is a big plus especially with sulkers and other difficult species.
    Must list has a big hole in it around Antbirds.
    Gallus

  10. Glad to hear that you had a good, quick trip to Costa Rica. So many birds to see! I have been to El Toucanet some years ago but hope to get there sometime again soon because I keep hearing good things about the place. Would be good to do a post about the place. Glad to hear you liked Cerro Lodge too-nice place with a nice owner who in interested in conservation. Oh and the birding is pretty darn good too!

    I would be happy to guide you on your next trip. On my first trip to Costa Rica, like many birders, I was so looking forward to seeing all of these interesting looking antbirds and antpittas. At the end of three weeks though, I also had a huge whole in my antbird list (I only had three species -Black-hooded Antshrike, Russet Antshrike, and Dot-winged Antwren) and left the country feeling absolutely intrigued about neotropical birds and the differences between birding in the tropics and in temperate zones. Since that first trip in 1992, I eventually learned how to see antbirds, tinamous, quail-doves, curassows, forest falcons, and other neotropical groups of birds but it took a while and I actually still learn more about the complex habitats where they are found every time I go birding.

  11. Great Curassow (0-3) is a nemesis, as is Volcano Hummingbird (0-2). Tinamous I’ve manage to hear 2 but seen 0, using tape I had one so close I thought I could reach into the bushes and touch it. Raptors in CR frustrate me because they don’t soar, as a hawk counter for several years in the PA and NJ I want my raptors over my head in flight not perched like and owl in a tree, hard to find, hard to ID. lol

    Cerro Lodge was great birding, wish they had some feeders around to bring some bird in closer. The bathrooms are the most awesome thing though, such a cool idea. We had a Black & White Owl while there which was one of the top bird of the trip. Scarlet Macaws were nice but I’d seen them before in Ecuador.

    My 2 birding friends had never birded outside of Florida since getting into birding, I think they had like 200 lifers, I got only 94 this time, I had 99 in February which was my first trip to CR. They are already talking about going back again.

    I am hoping I can make it an annual trip since it is fairly cheap to go for a week and the birding is great. Mexico might be the only place with lots of birds that I can fly to cheaper but no where near as beautiful. i keep saying I am going to move there someday.

  12. Yeah, that curassow can be tough. At La Selva, they are usually pretty easy because they have become tame and walk around the grounds but are easy to miss almost anywhere else. Santa Rosa and Corcovado National Parks can be good for them, and they can show up in a number of the larger protected areas but are never guaranteed away from La Selva.

    Tinamous are also pretty tough. Little is common and widespread in second growth of the humid lowlands but rarely seen because they are shy and love dense, second growth. Easiest places to see them are at feeders at Bosque del Rio Tigre or Rancho Naturalista. Less expensive ways are by locating a calling bird and just being extremely patient. Another way to see them is to watch drainage areas behind restaurants. The leftover rice and wet ground with inverts might attract Little Tinamous as well as other birds and animals.

    In my opinion, the easiest place to see Great Tinamou is at Carara. If you spend a day on the loop trail past the bridge over the forest stream, you are almost guaranteed to see one or more sans playback in the forest. For more tinamou info, see my post on it (search for tinamous).

    I hear you on the raptor front here in Costa Rica. Most are forest based with low density populations and few soar. Some do, however, and sites where you can look out over good forest often yield 2-3 non-vulture raptor species between 9 and 11 am during sunny weather. The parking lot at Quebrada Gonzalez in these times and conditions typically turns up King Vulture, at least one hawk-eagle species, Short-tailed Hawk and quite often Barred and White Hawks. I used to also see Great Black Hawks soaring with some regularity but haven’t seen them in so long that I suspect they have decreased in CR.

    Yeah, I like the bathrooms at Cerro Lodge too! Have seen a neat little tree frog that likes it for habitat. Glad to hear you got Black and white Owl there- seems to be a very regular site for that species. Pacific Screech is there too but when the Black and whites are out hunting they tend to stay quiet and out of site because the Black and whites probably eat them opportunistically- last time I was there at night, a Black and white came in to tape of Pacific Screech and it looked hungry!

    200 lifers in a week! How exciting for them! Last time I did that was when I went to Thailand- what a birding dream that was.

    That’s what’s so nice about Costa Rica- one can make it an annual trip because it’s so much closer than most people realize. And it’s so diverse, that one is usually going to see new birds on every trip. I kept saying the same thing about moving here until I finally did.

  13. They got 211 lifer out of 248 species, I only got 94 lifers and I was the leader of the trip. My friends are new to birding and I’ve gotten them so many lifers they’ve lost count. The trip doubled their life list. I am now relegated to the boredom of Florida birding with no lifers in sight till my next trip out of the eastern US or a rare bird shows up. It is what happens after you do a big year and reach 400 species for the state faster than anyone ever has in Florida.
    Great article on Forest Falcons, interesting you mention it comes to Pacific Screech-owl b/c that is what I was playing when it flew in. Also had an unidentified nightjar around my cabin.

    What is the cost of housing like down there?

    Good Birding
    Gallus

  14. Over 200 lifers in a week must have been pretty exciting for them. A Big Year in Florida must have also been pretty exciting!
    In CR, housing in the central valley is similar to that of many places in the states although still cheaper overall. Outside of the central valley, in more remote areas (which are also better for birding), I get the impression that housing can be much cheaper than in the States. One has to be very careful about buying though to avoid getting ripped off or the seller asking for a much higher price because the buyer is from North America or Europe.

  15. Over 200 lifers in a week must have been pretty exciting for them. A Big Year in Florida must have also been pretty exciting!
    In CR, housing in the central valley is similar to that of many places in the states although still cheaper overall. Outside of the central valley, in more remote areas (which are also better for birding), I get the impression that housing can be much cheaper than in the States. One has to be very careful about buying though to avoid getting ripped off or the seller asking for a much higher price because the buyer is from North America or Europe.

  16. Thanks for the post. It helped me identify and new sighting in my patch recently.

  17. Hi Jen- glad to hear that!

  18. FINALLY, finally, finally got to *see* this bird today, and on our property, about 3 years after you aurally identified it for me, Patrick! It’s driven me nuts for years to hear it but not be able to find it visually. I’m a happy camper.

  19. @Connie- Congrats on finally seeing that neat bird in the yard!

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