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Birding Costa Rica feeders Introduction

Costa Rica Feeder Birds

Feeders; what a great way to bring the birds to YOU, to see them up close from your nest instead of searching for theirs. Place that cornucopia of bird food strategically and you can watch the birds eat breakfast while you eat breakfast. When you get home from work, you can tune into the feeder instead of zoning out to the TV. Heck, it’s your home; if you feel like it, dress in tweed and pretend to be Sherlock Holmes, invite a friend to be Watson and solve bird ID quandaries; “No, you haven’t seen an Ivory-billed at the feeder; that is a Pileated my dear Watson” (you could also do this on field trips but unless it’s Halloween or you despise networking I wouldn’t advise it).

Watch your trusty feeder to get inspiration from Cardinals, Goldfinches, Nuthatches, Woodpeckers, and Mourning Doves (yes this species CAN generate inspiration…although mostly when they get wacked by Cooper’s Hawks). I admit some feeders have a hard time at being inspirational; I know this from personal experience. I watched our family feeder as a kid in downtown Niagara Falls and to risk being called close-minded, it pretty much sucked. The few highlights at our feeder were rare visits by Downy Woodpecker and Song Sparrow. I wondered where all the Goldfinches, Grosbeaks, Redpolls and other cool birds were and eventually learned two main things from my first bird-feeder:

1.) That my backyard had an unholy affinity for Pigeons, Starlings and House Sparrows and 2.) I had to search for the “cool” birds elsewhere. I eventually found those “cool” birds and ended up in a country with a huge variety of very cool birds; Costa Rica. Here, I never have to be concerned about a trio of invasives being the only stars in the backyard bird show. Exotic bird families show up and species differ by location, elevation and feeder food offered. For the most part, fruit is used instead of seeds; papayas, ripe plantains and bananas. In fact, with feeders in Costa Rica, you almost want to go out there and feed with the birds. Birds like….

that most versatile of flycatchers, the Great Kiskadee.

These guys will eat just about anything and are far from shy; kind of like the “Blue Jay” of Costa Rican feeder birds. This one is choking down a lizard.

Blue Gray Tanagers are standard. Locals called them “Viudas” which means “Widows”. This is a true Tico entymological mystery because Tica widows don’t wear blue. One would have expected Groove-billed Anis to have this monniker but they are called “Tijos” after their call.

Instead of House Sparrows (which seem to be restricted to gas stations and MacDonalds, go figure), we’ve got Rufous-collared Sparrows. This one was at one of the only seed feeders I have seen in Costa Rica; at the Noche Buena restaurant high up on Irazu Volcano.

The common backyard finch in much of Costa Rica is the Grayish Saltator. Their finchy song can be heard all over town but they can be kind of skulky.

Clay-colored Robins, the national bird of Costa Rica are faithful feeder visitors.

Summer Tanager shows up at fruit feeders all over Costa Rica. This species has to be one of the most common wintering birds.

Another very common wintering species that loves the fruit is Baltimore Oriole.

One of the only warblers that will visit a fruit feeder is the Tennessee Warbler.

In the Caribbean lowlands, the resident oriole species is the Black-cowled. It also takes advantage of fruit feeders.

As do striking Passerini’s Tanagers

Feeders near cloud forest attract some seriously mind blowing birds. Some of the best feeders were located in Cinchona; a town tragically destroyed by the January 8, 2009 earthquake. The following images of some downright clownlike birds were taken there.

Emerald (Blue-throated) Toucanet,

Red-headed Barbet – check out the blue cheeks on this female

Prong-billed Barbet

Silver-throated Tanager

And Crimson-collared Tanager

The hummingbird feeders in Costa Rica are also  fantastic; so fantastic though, that I think they merit their own, separate post.

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Birding Costa Rica common birds feeders lowlands

Common Costa Rican Birds; Palm Tanager

Tanagers for most birders are synonymous with brilliantly colors, burry songs and summertime. In eastern North America, it’s the stunning Scarlet Tanager in shining red and black and beautiful cozy-red Summer Tanagers. In the west, the Western Tanager adorns the conifers, looking like an orange-faced king of the goldfinches while the brick-red Hepatic Tanager lives in the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico. None of these 4 is dull, and all have pleasant, lazy summer songs; quality perching birds.

As one heads south of the border, towards the epicenter of “tanagerism”, things get a bit more complicated. Somewhat like North American warblers, there is a tanager species for most every habitat and situation. The further south one goes, the more species there are with an especially dizzying array of tanagers in the Andes. The Tangara genus in particular is filled with birds that resemble living jewels. Costa Rica has a few Tangara species, Golden-hooded being a common bird of the humid lowlands.

Golden-hooded Tanager

Not all Tanagers are brightly colored. One of the most common, the Palm Tanager, is a fairly dull bird at least in terms of plumage. Aptly named, these guys are seriously in love with palms. A non-forest species, There isn’t a morning that goes by when I don’t hear the squeaky song of a pair of Palm Tanagers issuing from the monstrous palms that tower in front of our apartment. No doubt they are expressing their joy because they believe they moved on up (like George and Wheezie) into one of the best high-rises in San Jose.

Palm Tanagers and one Great Kiskadee

Although not the fanciest of species to look at, like other common birds, it pays to learn this one well to pick out two other, uncommon, similar birds; Plain-colored Tanager and Sulphur-rumped Tanager.

Plain-colored Tanager; note the smaller bill and bit of black on the face. In good light it also shows a buffy wash to the belly and vent. Forget about that blue in the wing- you almost never see it!

I wish I had a picture of the other one! While Plain-colored is regularly seen, the Sulphur-rumped is a downright rarity with very little known about it. It is hardly ever seen and is one of the birds that yours truly still needs for a lifer! With luck, I will finally catch up with Sulphur-rumped Tanager in May when I head to Manzanillo in the southeast.

Look for Palm Tanagers anywhere you see palms; this is one you are not going to miss.

Look for Plain-colored in forested areas and edge of the Caribbean lowlands. The La Selva entrance road is good.

Aside from in your dreams, look for Sulphur-rumped around Cahuita, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Manzanillo or in Buryabar, Panama.