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Sunday, 10 February 2019

A Couple of Costa Rican Cuckoos

     Cuckoos (Cuculidae) are fascinating birds, with a wide diversity of types within the group, and several different lifestyles, from gregarious group living, to obligate parasitism, to species that construct their own nests and raise their own young as do most birds.
     The two species covered in this post fall into the latter category, and are are treated here together since we had the good fortune to observe them at the same time on a boat trip along the Río Frío at Caño Negro, Alajuela Province.
     Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana) is a large and splendid bird, polytypic, with as many as fourteen subspecies being recognized.



       It ranges widely throughout Central and South America, from Mexico as far south as NE Argentina.  



     This species may be found in a wide range of habitats, often close to rivers, and it has adapted well in some areas to gardens and parks. In general it prefers open forest and avoids dense lowland forest, but will occupy edge habitat and clearings.
     Its principal food is caterpillars, green or hairy, and it will take a wide range of other insects. Individuals often forage by running along branches in the manner of a squirrel, their long tail resembling that of a squirrel - hence their name, Squirrel Cuckoo.
     The nest is a shallow platform of sticks and twigs containing two or three eggs, which are white when laid but quickly become stained brown.



     Miriam and I have been fortunate to have seen this species in several countries and in various situations. It never fails to engender excitement and delight.
     The second species we encountered on our meander along the river was Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor), a monotypic species with a more familiar look to it (to North American eyes at least) since it is in the same genus as our familiar Black-billed Cuckoo(Coccyzus erythropthalmus) and Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). 



     I remember spending best part of a day about thirty years ago in prime mangrove habitat in Florida searching for this species, without success. Florida is at the northern limit of its range, but it occurs in suitable habitat throughout Central America, the West Indies, Trinidad, the Guianas, Venezuela and Colombia.
     As its name implies, this is a mangrove specialist and is found in few other habitats, and even then in association with water along riparian corridors.



     Mangrove Cuckoos are insectivores, relying mainly on caterpillars and grasshoppers. Other large insects are also a component of their diet, however, and they do not eschew snails and lizards given the opportunity to capture them.



     The nest is a flat platform of sticks and leaves, generally 2-3 metres above the water. Two to three greenish to bluish green eggs are laid, the colour rapidly fading to greenish yellow.
     To see a cuckoo is always a thrill, to observe these two species at the same time more than one might hope for. I doubt that we will have the good fortune to repeat it.

52 comments:

  1. Beautiful little birds!We dont have such strange birds here at my placee.W have the cuckoo but its a different looking kind of bird.Nice bird watching!

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  2. Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor) looks beautiful more.
    have a great weekend

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  3. Hello, both Cuckoos are beautiful. Your photos are awesome. I was hoping to see the Mangrove Cuckoo during my Key Largo Fl visit, no luck though. Happy birding. Have a great day and week ahead.

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  4. Hari OM
    Delightful... the squirrel cuckoo may have it on the looks list... but there something very understated and stylish about the mangrove model!!! YAM xx

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  5. Buenas tardes amigo David, precioso nuevo reportaje de dos aves Cuco maravillosas y preciosas fotos de Miriam. Normalmente cuando uno busca alguna especie para poder ver y fotografiar no se da la ocasión pero en este caso es todo lo contrario el día ha jugado a vuestro favor. Un maravilloso reportaje y como siempre detallado y muy bien explicado amigo profesor David.
    Me ha llamado la atención la planta que figura en las fotos es (Senna alata-Candelabro)
    Recibir un fuerte abrazo de vuestro amigo Juan.

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    1. It makes it even more wonderful, Juan, that you are able to identify the plants,

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  6. You were fortunate to see these birds, they are very unique! Our Cuckoos look different.
    Your photographs, David are wonderful! I enjoyed them a lot.

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  7. Beautiful photos, David! The cuckoos are so pretty. It must be wonderful to watch so many different birds.

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  8. Que maravilla de ave, nada tiene que ver con nuestros Cucos, esta es fascinante. Enhorabuena a Miriam por sus preciosas fotos. Feliz semana y un fuerte abrazo.

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  9. Cuckoo is easy to hear, but very hard to see.

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  10. Fabulous photographs, I think the cuckoos have such pretty colourings.

    All the best Jan

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  11. The cuckoos is very pretty and so nice to see. Another great series of photos, thank you!

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  12. Interesting post and great photos, well dome Miriam. The only cuckoo I know is Cuculus canorus. I hear it often, but I have never yet got a photo of one!!! One day maybe.
    Glad you are back safely and looking forward to the next posts.
    Take care, Diane

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    1. Hi Diane: Ironically, I have seen Cuculus canorus several times in Africa but never on its breeding grounds in Europe.

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  13. I like the name of the beautiful bird "squirrel cuckoo". The second bird is beautiful too. It's nice to see birds unknown to me. :)

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  14. It is wonderful to see this bird, the Cuckoo, which does not look very similar to the one we see here, you can see that diversity of the species you mention.
    Some beautiful photos Miriam does.
    Many kisses!

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  15. You got some fantastic photos. These are gorgeous species of the cuckoo.

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  16. Thank you so much for your informative and beautiful posts.
    I am still considering the 'which are white when laid but quickly become stained brown.' statement. Stained by the sun? By droppings (surely not)? By some other cause?

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    1. Good observation Sue! They are stained by the transfer of dirt and grime from the feathers of the incubating bird.

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  17. WoW!!! Extraordinario reportaje de los cucos de Costa Rica, dos especies espectaculares. Que envidia me dan tus viajes David, jajaja. Un fuerte abrazo desde España, todo lo mejor amigo mío.

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  18. Beautiful birds !! These cuckoos from Costa Rica are different from those living in Poland!
    Greetings

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  19. Those cuckoos are so charming!!
    beautiful photos of the birds in Costa Rica.

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  20. Spännande fåglar, hade ingen aning om att det fanns så många olika arter av gök. Vi har endast en, som jag ofta hör men aldrig ser och den bygger inte eget bo utan sätter ägg i någon annans bo och låter andra fåglar föda upp ungarna.
    Detta beteende har säkert ett syfte men jag förstår inte vilken vinsten är.

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    1. It is an advantageous system for a parasitic cuckoo, Gunilla. The species passes on its genes with no parental effort.

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  21. Wonderful photos, it was a joy to visit your blog today and learn so much.

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  22. Hi David.

    Beautiful colored birds.
    You have taken beautiful pictures.

    Groettie from Patricia.

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  23. I've just read your last couple of posts, appetite definitely whetted! I'm looking forward to reading about your trip.

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  24. Beautiful cuckoos and stunning photos. Looking forward to reading more about your trip.

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  25. What beautiful birds this is David.
    Wonderful to see.
    Greetings Tinie

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  26. More Amazing Costa Rican birds! Love the long tail on the Squirrel Cuckoo, we are lucky to have the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo visit us, I anticipate their soon arrival, I hear them more than see them but they come into the yard for water in the hot dry times.

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  27. Son preciosos. El que se ve por España, también es bonito y me encanta oírlo cantar ( señal de primavera ) Un beso.

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    1. It is lovely to hear the birds sing, Teresa, and as you say it is a sign of spring.

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  28. OK, don't hate me because I'm ignorant, but I never really knew there was a cuckoo bird. A real one. I thought they were just the name of the little birds in the German clocks! Maybe it's because of the expression "He's kind of cuckoo" for a goofy person or the clock, but I honestly didn't know. They're beautiful! Just lovely. And do they make the clock sound like their name? What a wonderful find. See, this is why I love blogging. I learn new things every day!

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    1. The Eurasian Cuckoo sounds like the clock, Jeanie. I am glad that my blog has enrolled you, de facto, in Ornithology 101!

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  29. Aren’t they lovely birds! I saw cuckoos when we wintered on the Texas Gulf Coast (where I had a group leader\teacher). Maybe I’ve spotted one here in Florida , but no picture and as a solo and apparently lifelong amateur birder, I’m never sure enough to know for sure. But it’s fun to look.

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  30. Fascinating information and your photos are wonderful! Thank you for your comment on my post about the Sandhill Cranes. It is a shame that we have encroached on their territory so much and I always think of that when I am visiting my daughter in central Florida, especially when I see them in the road or on the sidewalks in her neighborhood. They seem to have adapted well though and people (at least in her area) are very respectful of them. I have to admit I do enjoy seeing them so up-close.

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  31. I can well understand that you enjoy seeing them so close, Lois.

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  32. I was certain that Texas has no cuckoos,but I've just discovered that the yellow-billed and black-billed are common residents here; the Texas Breeding Bird Atlas has a good summary of their range and habits. It says that "the yellow-billed reaches its maximum abundance in the central states of Oklahoma and Texas." And yet, I've never seen one. It may be that they're not dwellers on the coastal plain, but are more common farther north. Texas is a big place.

    This pair of species is so pretty. Isn't it wonderful to have such a rare experience as a dual sighting? The thrill of discovery can last a long time.

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    1. Smooth-billed and Groove-billed Anis, and Great Roadrunner are also found in Texas, all of which are cuckoos.

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    2. I didn't know that about the roadrunner. I frequently see those in the hill country.

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  33. It really would be a thrill to see these birds. I was told where someone had seen a Cuckoo here but I try to stop by that area and haven't see one yet. I hope they are right! We see so many different birds here in Florida. Wonderful photos!

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  34. Oooh - Squirrel Cuckoo brings back memories of Costa Rica for me...and Argentina too :-)

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  35. As I can understand you were in a hot and beautyful country to be able to see these gems of birds. This one looks stunning. I wonder what more encounters you had David. But as usual you we show us in the coming time.
    Regards,
    Roos

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  36. Hi David,
    Wonderful set of images of the cuckoo. Appears you had an interesting boat trip.
    The Squirrel Cuckoo has such a splendid tail, likewise the Mangrove Cuckoo, both read as being interesting birds of the species.
    What have you got in store for us next!!!!
    All the best, John

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  37. Hi David. Just catching up after a week away with a stay at the Grant Arms with Lindsay.

    This interesting (and beautifully illustrated) post has made me feel quite nostalgic for the time that Lindsay and I had a boat which we kept locally and used to cruise the rivers and canals - and once even took it out on the sea! The main aspect I miss is the wonderful avian sightings we used to enjoy by just cutting the engine and drifting by.

    My love to you and Miriam - - - Richard

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  38. Hello David,
    Wow Wow Wow ....... what a beautiful bird there are on this planet! These Costa Rican cuckoos are really great to see. I have never really met this and that will probably never happen. Truly fantastic!
    The Black-billed Cuckoo is also a beauty 💖
    Kind regards, Helma xo

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    1. You just have to join me on a trip to CR Helma and I will show them to you!

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