Recently, while guiding in the La Selva area, one of our many target species finally showed at the end of the day. Like other birds I was looking for, in Costa Rica, this one only occurs in lowland rainforest on the Caribbean slope and thus finds itself sharing a hitlist with the likes of Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Snowy Cotinga, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, and other choice species. Although those three birds failed to show, the White-ringed Flycatcher made an appearance as one of our last species of the day.
A distant White-ringed Flycatcher.
This flycatcher is one of several species that looks kind of like a Great Kiskadee or Social Flycatcher, but isn’t, and that’s why I’m going to talk about it. Based on the images of White-ringed Flycatcher that pop up during online searches, it looks like Social Flycatcher is the biggest contender in terms of mis-identification because 80% of the images that were tagged as White-ringed were actually Socials along with a few kiskadees and even Tropical Kingbird thrown in for good measure. That’s reasonable, I mean they look almost exactly the same, but this is also why you won’t learn much about identification of White-ringed Flycatcher from looking at images in Flckr.
Instead of doing that, check out these tips for an honest to goodness tick of White-ringed Flycatcher while birding in Costa Rica, Panama, or other parts of their range:
Habitat and Behavior: Yep, these factors are mentioned first because they provide the best clues. While other kiskadee type flycatchers can hang out on fences, and even zip down to the ground, the White-ringed has more refined tastes. This fly-catching aristocrat almost always keeps to the canopy, even perching on the very tops of tall trees like a pseudo-cotinga. Yes, it will come lower in some places but if you see a kiskadee-type bird sitting on a fence row, it’s probably not going to be a White-ringed. I am sure this is why so few images of this species are actually available. Unlike the other kiskadees, this one also prefers forest. Thankfully, it will come to the edge and sometimes to semi-open areas, but for the most part, this is a forest species that requires old second growth and/or mature lowland rainforest. Similar to other kiskadees, it sallies for bugs and fruit, and often occurs in groups of four to six birds.
The La Selva entrance road is a regular spot for this species.
Tertials: Instead of checking other parts of the bird in question, check out the back section of the wing. Although some Socials and other kiskadee types can show some pale edging to the tertials, this field mark seems to always stand out more in the wings of the White-ringed Flycatcher, even at a distance.
Hard to see in this image but this shows the pale tertial edging and white meeting on the nape.
White on the head: True to its name, it does have a white “ring” on its head. Actually a diadem, the white eyebrow is broader or wider than other kiskadees, and meets on the front and back of the head. In the Social and Boat-billed, the white on the head does not meet on the nape, but does so in the Great Kiskadee.
Eyelid: Ok, I don’t know if it’s the eyelid or some spot right above the eye, but with a good look, a small white crescent is visible right above the eye of the White-ringed. A far as I can tell, the other kiskadees lack this small but distinctive detail.
Check out the eyelid.
Beak: Not the most principle of field marks but one that does lend itself to the identification equation. Compared to Social Flycatcher, White-ringed has a slightly longer, straighter bill. See enough Socials and this is evident.
Song: As usual with Tyrannids, ear birders are in luck. This one calls frequently, and has a distinctive, even pitched, trilled vocalization nothing like the calls of Social Flycatcher or other kiskadee types.
Places to see it: This species is fairly common at any lowland rainforest site on the Caribbean slope, including the La Selva area and Sarapiqui, Laguna del Lagarto, anywhere near and south of Limon, and various other places. Interestingly, it also occurs on some parts of the Arenal Observatory entrance road.
For more tips about identification of birds in Costa Rica, as well as information about sites, get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.