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Birding Costa Rica Introduction lowlands Pacific slope

Costa Rican Owls: Black and White Owl (Ciccaba nigrolineata)

All owls are very cool birds. If Fonzie was a birder he would give a resounding two thumbs up, “Aaaeeyyyyy” for Owls. They are way up there on the bird coolness scale because:

1. They are raptors: All raptors are automatically cool; even Common Buzzards and Red-tailed Hawks.

2. They are nocturnal.

3. They can see in the dark.

4. We hardly even see them even where they are common.

Of the 16 species of owls that have occurred in Costa Rica, the Black and White Owl is one of the most stunning. Like its name says, it is as black and white as an oreo cookie. It also has an orange bill and legs to brighten thing up.

They occur from the lowlands to middle elevations (1,500 meters) and are mostly found in humid forested areas. A bird of the forest interior as well as forest edge, their distribution is probably limited for the most part by availability of large trees for nesting and their main food source; large insects bats. Here is a link to an article that describes how Black and White and the related, similar sized Mottled Owl avoid competition by food source. In short, the Mottled takes rodents while the Black and White sticks to bats. Black and White Owls are sometimes seen around streetlights located near primary forest or old second growth. They might prefer microhabitats where it is easier to catch bats. Places like tree-fall gaps and forest edge. In fact, the only places I have heard and seen Black and White Owls at night are in just such situations such as the soccer field and buildings at OTS (open areas surrounded by old second growth), and at streetlights adjacent to old second growth at nearby Selva Verde and Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui. Where I have seen Black and White during the day, though, is where 1,000s of people (birders and non-birders alike) have seen Black and White Owls; at the main plaza in Orotina.

The plaza owls and their offspring could be the most frequently seen owls in the world.

Orotina is a small town in the hot, humid foothills of the central Pacific slope. Not far from Carara, the surrounding area hosts some humid forest and dry forest species. The main plaza is like other plazas in Costa Rican towns; busy and noisy, a meeting place for everyone in town under the shade of several large trees.

Despite all of the people activity, it has also hosted a pair of Black and White Owls since at least 1998. They can be found roosting in any of the trees and can be surprisingly difficult to find. The quickest way to see them is to ask the plaza ice cream vendor, “Victor Hugo”. He may have been the first person to find the owls in the plaza. He usually knows where they are and might also attempt to sell you real estate as happened on my past visit. Even if you don’t want to buy land and become an Orotinian, at least buy an ice cream or “shaved ice” from him if he shows you the owls.

11 replies on “Costa Rican Owls: Black and White Owl (Ciccaba nigrolineata)”

Our farm worker in Ojocjal told me the owls on our place are called Olopopo or Ollopopo. Anyone know this name for an owl there?

@Mike C- Yes, Oropopo is the name that many people use for the Spectacled Owl. This large owl is fairly common in much of the Neotropical region. “Oropopo” refers to one of its main vocalizations, a gruff, chuckling sort of noise that descends in pitch

The owls and sloth are still in the park at Orotina (Limon). We docked in Limon on a cruise ship and made the short walk to the park where we saw the owls and sloth. If you can’t find them there is always someone willing to show you for a small fee.

@Chuck- Thanks for the update! Did you actually dock in Caldera and visit Orotina or see these in the main park at Limon (Orotina is several hours from Limon but much closer to Caldera)?

Just found your blog – great stuff and really helpful. We tried Orotina in 2015 during a March visit but no luck so a top bird to find on our upcoming visit this year. Are they still there or are there other great spots to look. Over 22 days we are covering a lot of the country so almost anywhere can be fitted in ;0)

Great to hear Cinchona is going well – really enjoyed our stop there last time too and good to support local initiatives. We so appreciated what they were doing – even though a coati stole the bananas!
Thanks again

@Jeff- Thanks for the report, it sounds like they show up from time to time but are pretty much unreliable in Orotina nowadays.

We stopped by Orotina a few days ago and found Victor Hugo. I asked him about Owl and sloth. He said he has not seen the owl for 4 years. We saw these owls here in 2008. Sad – it seems like there’s a lot more people / human activity now, some trees removed, more developed

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