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bird finding in Costa Rica raptors

Braking for Bat Falcons at the Socorro Canyon

Several species of falcons are resident in Costa Rica but only one of them is a classic, fast-diving, Falco. This winged bullet is the Bat Falcon and like other members of that lethal genus, this bird was born to kill.

Plumaged sort of like a Eurasian Hobby (even more so like the Oriental Hobby), this smart-dressed mini predator is equipped with big feet to snatch from the air, swifts, parakeets, and any other small birds. Like the Merlin and other Falco species, the Bat Falcon may prefer to hunt next to rivers or other open areas where it can more easily catch potential prey that flies within range. We have seen them at any number of spots and even near San Jose but according to the account for this species at the Handbook of the Birds of the World site, the healthiest populations occur in areas of extensive tropical forest. It usually occurs in pairs and although I have seen this species hunting during the day, it hunts more often at dawn and dusk (when it also preys on bats). At the Cafe Colibri, some birders have even seen Bat Falcons catch hummingbirds (!).

Even hummingbirds like the Violet Sabrewing.

It seems that the falcons learned to perch somewhere in the canyon below the cafe and then fly up to catch unwary hummingbirds that venture too far from the safety of vegetation. These small aerial predators can hunt from a perch or fly high overhead to stoop down on their prey in flight. It no doubt uses its natural falcon radar to zero in on that swift or swallow that flies a bit slower than the rest of the flock and goes after it with typical Falco zeal.

Bat Falcon habitat.

Speaking of the Cinchona area, I often brake for a pair of Bat Falcons that hunt the canyon of the Sarapiqui River from around there to Virgen del Socorro. There might even be two pairs using that stretch of the forested canyon but whether one or two, a pair can often be found perched on any number of snags near the road. Yesterday, we had a couple of these beauties perched so nice and close, we just had to stop and admire them.

The larger female was the more obvious of the two and sat on the tip top of a snag.

Another individual was calling on occasion and with some inspection, we located it. It was a small male and might have been a young bird. It called over and over as if begging for food until eventually flying to a closer perch where it fed on the remains of an unidentified bird.

While enjoying the falcons, we also heard a pair of Laughing Falcons calling, scoped a distant White Hawk, and watched Swallow-tailed Kites wheel over distant forest. With roadside birding like that, not stopping pretty much amounts to birder blasphemy. We were happy to pay our respects, I look forward to going back to that area to do some raptor counts!

2 replies on “Braking for Bat Falcons at the Socorro Canyon”

There is a pair that can be seen preening most mornings atop a Cieba tree on Playa Guiones. The speed and agility of these birds in flight is amazing. Most impressive is the speed they generate out of diving banked turns. Recently, I was watching one of those dives, the falcon, wings pulled back, descended 20 meters, leveled off and grabbed a Rufous Tailed Hummingbird that was feeding in the mangrove. In a millisecond, the falcon caught then plunged its beak into the neck of the hummingbird, be heading it. The little Bat Falcon is an shockingly vicious predator.

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