Some birds have short names, some names are kind of long. The name for the wild chicken of the Costa Rican highlands falls into the latter category. To be accurate, it’s not really the chicken of the Costa Rican highlands because it doesn’t scratch the forest floor in as many highland spots as say the Spotted Wood-Quail (another wild chicken-bird). In Costa Rica, it has a pretty small range that encompasses the upper slopes of the Central Valley, and some areas of the Dota range in the Talamancas. I have also had it in the highest spots of Irazu volcano but it doesn’t seem to occur in the treeline habitats on Cerro de la Muerte. Since it doesn’t occur in Monteverde either, this is one restricted chicken.
Despite the very small range, fortunately, the wood-partridge seems to be adapted to living in disturbed habitats. In fact, this is no bird of the primary forest but a species that seems to rely on thick second growth and hedgerows. You can also see it in moist forest but it really does seem to be most common in a mix of second growth, forest edge, and agriculture. This is what the scene is like on the drive up to Irazu and that’s probably also the best area to encounter it in Costa Rica.
Given the shy nature of this and other wild chickens, don’t expect to see the Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge prancing around the potato fields, especially in the middle of the day. These plump birds exist because they are expert skulkers and feed on a bunch of different morsels. To counter its skulking ways, head up to the Irazu area just after the cold dawn and drive back roads, keeping an eye and ear out for the wood-partridge. Or, you could park near areas with thick second growth and listen for calling birds. Once they are located, keep scanning the edge of the hedge or vegetation from where they are calling until they show themselves.
Lately, some people have also been seeing this toughie at Myriam’s Cabins in the San Gerardo de Dota Valley. Like literally, right at her cabins! That has never happened to me but I guess it has for some other lucky birders. If you stay there, watch the semi-open area near the lower cabins and the farming area below the restaurant (another semi-open spot that looks good for this cool bird).
Yet another means of seeing this species is by looking for them in the upper reaches of the Central Valley. Some of the best spots seem to be situated above Grecia, watch and listen for them along the roads to the Bosque del Nino. It won’t be easy but perseverance could pay off.
If the birds don’t show, at least the views are still nice from the slopes above Grecia (where the birds above live).
On another exciting note, birders in Costa Rica during December might like to participate in the Osa Christmas count. The Osa is a fantastic, birdy area, and a lot of species are always seen on the counts. Check out Osa Birds to learn about this conservation work and to contact them for the count!