A Breathtaking Birding Experience

Blogpost written by Patrick Newcombe, Conservation Visitor 

When I first arrived in the Osa for my birding experience, the tremendous diversity of birds astounded me. I seemed to spot a new species each time I walk into the forest around Osa Conservation’s biological station.  Even at the station itself, I saw such birds as the Fiery-billed Aracari, an endemic species in both Panama and Costa Rica. The species diversity stems, in large part, from the selective pressure insectivorous birds put on their prey. This causes insects to adapt in order to evade their avian predators. In turn, the bird predators must specialize alongside their prey to catch the insects.



Fiery- billed Aracari / Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Fiery- billed Aracari / Photo by Manuel Sanchez

The Black-cheeked Ant Tanager is one of these insectivorous birds and is only found in the Osa Peninsula! Its population numbers fewer than 15,000 individuals. I found Black-cheeked Ant Tanagers at four different locations in the area and spent hours noting their presence in mixed species flocks and observing their fascinating behavior.


Photo by Patrick Newcombe

Black-Cheeked Ant Tanager / Photo by Patrick Newcombe



I also studied Manakin distribution around Osa Conservation by birding the surrounding trails and recording their presence in a GPS. I was thrilled to find 21 unique locations and view at least 5 leks. A lek is when birds perform elaborate mating displays. Red-capped Manakins tended to be concentrated in primary forest either near the border of secondary forest or in a clearing from tree falls, which create patches of secondary growth.


Red- Capped Manakin / Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Red- Capped Manakin / Photo by Manuel Sanchez


Another highlight from my time here was helping to conduct point counts of birds in areas that will be reforested with different concentrations of the fast-growing balsa tree, an experiment that tests the efficacy of this idea for reforestation. Learning the methodology for conducting point counts, as well as understanding the reason for using them in grasslands, fascinated me. These counts reflected the Osa’s enormous avian diversity, and I am glad that I contributed to such an important project that could help the birds that I am so passionate about.

Birding in the Osa was a unique experience that allowed me to learn about and contribute to avian diversity.

Birds, Environmental Education, Science and Research

Love-songs and Lovebirds in the Osa

Read about Esmeralda Quirós Guerrero’s research on the singing patterns of birds in the Osa. The intense biodiversity around our stations provided her with a perfect place to conduct her research. We love learning more about the incredible birds of the Osa!

Did you know that many species of birds sing duets? Vocal displays are one of the most researched interactions between and within species. There is a great diversity in the structure of singing behavior. I have been investigating the learning process of duets in Osa songbirds. Duets are complex songs that large groups or paired mates sing in coordination with one another to produce a wide array of performances. Not only are duets complex in how they are structured but several species also have a big repertoire of duets that they use non-randomly. For example, a particular phrase from a female is only sung in response to a particular phrase from a male and vice versa. This coordination is not only hard to produce but also hard to learn.

Riverside Wren

Riverside Wren

I chose to study the development of Riverside Wrens, Cantorchilus semibadius which inhabit the pacific slope of southern Costa Rica. Riverside Wrens are found next to rivers and wetlands and they sing elaborate duets. I decided to conduct my research at Osa Conservation because they have a large population of these Wrens right next to their station.

At this first stage of my PhD I am beginning to describe how juveniles from each sex start to learn and practice their vocalizations. So far I am seeing that in the earlier stages vocalizations are quite atypical, in the intermediate stages single individuals are performing whole duets, and in the latter stages individuals are singing with siblings and their parents. Initially, they sing both male type or female type songs interchangeably. In the latter stages individuals mostly stick to one type of vocalization, either male or female depending on their sex. This means that juveniles need a rehearsal period to learn how to duet and that the interactions with sibling and adults while practicing is essential. I believe investigating the relationship between social influences and duets is important in understanding such an intriguing and complex behavior.


Banding the Wrens



Esmeralda Quirós Guerrero

PhD Student-St. Andrews University, United Kingdom

Aves, Birds

Sighting of Yellow-billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae) in the Piro area of the Osa Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica.

Written by: Manuel Sánchez Mendoza & Pablo Porras Peñaranda

The Yellow-billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae) is a regional endemic bird that occurs on the Pacific lowlands of southern Costa Rica and Northern Panama. This species is listed as Endangered (EN) by IUCN’s red list, and its small population, estimated at only 298 to 794 individuals, is thought to be declining rapidly. In the past years, Osa Conservation has led efforts to study this species and its habitat needs to conserve one of Osa Peninsula’s most unique treasures.

Observations of Yellow-billed Cotinga at several locations indicate that it requires access to mature fruits from Lauraceae, Annonaceae, Moraceae and other mixed forest tree species. Recent work by Osa Conservation has documented movement between mangrove and premontane tropical habitats during their suspected breeding season (December to June); however, spatial parameters of home range size and habitat use, and patterns of movements between breeding, feeding and roosting areas remain unknown. Few observations of Yellow-billed Cotingas exist within mangrove habitat during months the birds are thought to be non-breeding, which has lead researchers to believe that the species migrates or “wanders” locally or possibly attitudinally between July and November, but this has never been confirmed. Individuals have been observed at two inland sites on the Osa Peninsula several kilometers away from typical mangrove habitats between the months of September and November, but the breeding status and origin of these birds with respect to their reproductive grounds and their migratory movements is unknown.

The gaps in the natural history of the Yellow-billed Cotinga are slowly filled to technology and birdwatchers sharing their sightings as part of a big citizen-science network. The Yellow-billled Cotinga has been reported in new sightings throughout the Peninsula, specifically at the Osa Wildlife Refuge; nevertheless these sightings are still incredibly scarce and often have a large time-lapse between them. Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird online platform last reported a sighting at the Lapa Rios’ property in 2011 (see map attached).

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Osa Conservation’s naturalist Manuel Sanchez Mendoza along with his brother and niece, Elfer Daniel Sanchez Mendoza and Jennifer Robles Sanchez, have been observing Turquoise Cotingas (Cotinga ridgwayi) at his house backyard (neighboring OC’s Piro Biological Station) foraging on “Aguacatillo” Trees (Lauracea family) for several days when on August 17th to his surprise, an adult male Yellow-billed Cotinga was with the group of birds feeding on that tree. This is a truly amazing report after three years of “silence” (picture attached).

C. Manuel Sanchez

This photo was taken by Manuel Sanchez at his home while observing Turquoise Cotinga’s with his family.


Aves, Birds, Community Outreach, Environmental Education

Migratory birds uniting communities and countries

by Pilar Bernal, Environmental Education and Outreach Manager


On March 1, Puerto Jimenez was filled with color, music, and recreational activities for children and adults. More than 200 people congregated to say their farewells to the migratory birds that will be returning to their nesting habitats in North America. The occasion celebrates the first migratory bird festival of the Osa Peninsula, an event jointly organized with Osa Birds and ACOSA-SINAC, with support from Tropical Wings and the National Park Services of the United States.

The festival’s objectives were to promote knowledge and awareness in communities of conservation and protection through recreational activities, lectures, and exhibitions. As well as bringing to light the joining of the National Park Services of the United States and Costa Rica, the event sought to make people aware of the responsibilities and actions shared by both countries for the conservation of bird species that call both of our countries home.

Participants had the opportunity to take part in a birding walk tour led by the most renowned birders of Osa Peninsula and to learn about migratory birds through talks with Osa Birds, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting Osa’s incredible bird species. Participants were also able to learn about edible plants for birds with Reinaldo Aguilar and conservation projects for birds with the Ornithologist Union of Costa Rica. All this was organized to answer this question at the end of the day: why are the birds so important?

A complementary migratory bird festival will take place in bird nesting locations in St. Croix, Minnesota, in the United States, sponsored by Tropical Wings United States, the St. Croix Scenic River Association and the National Park Service. An art exchange will take place between students from schools of Osa Peninsula and schools in St. Croix.

Check out some photos from this incredible event!


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Aves, Birds, Miscellaneous, Volunteers and Visitors

OC gears up for birding and filmmaking!

It’s that time of year again – birding time!

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Aside from the hundreds of native tropical birds who reside in the Osa, the peninsula is also winter home for many North American migratory birds. Every spring, they return to nest – the Scarlet Tanager, the Indigo Bunting, the Golden-Winged Warbler, the Baltimore Oriole, and scores of other migrant songbirds. And every winter, they make the perilous journey back to the rainforests of Central America to wait out the long cold season. Unfortunately, their wintering grounds are under intense pressure from development and natural resource extraction. The rainforests of Central America are being degraded at an alarming rate – and the birds that call these forests home – the endemic species and the migrants who winter there – have no where to turn. North America’s birds need a place that is still wild – our birds need the Osa.

Every winter, OC hosts birding groups from all over the world at our biological stations who come to see Osa’s magnificent birds and help us to protect their home. Unfortunately, aside from these avid birders, not many people understand the global significance of the Osa’s biodiversity or how many of our birds depend on it for survival – so this coming January, a film crew from Wisconsin will be traveling to the Osa with one of these birding groups to conduct a field shoot for the production of two documentaries – one to highlight the importance of the Osa as a biological hotspot, and another to document the efforts of Osa Conservation in protecting Osa’s birds – particularly the Yellow-billed Cotinga. From January 23 – 31st, 2014, this birding trip, led by veteran conservationist, OC board member, and birding addict Craig Thompson, will take the crew on a locally-guided tour of rainforest, beach, river, and wetlands to spot the most elusive Osa birds and interview local Osa residents.

Meet our crew!

Jo Frank Kerman names (2)

Luckily, our film crew are no strangers to filming in the jungle! Producer and writer Jo Garrett has been making documentaries for over 25 years. For the last decade, Jo and videographer Frank Boll have collaborated on a series of stories and documentaries for PBS on the plight of wildlife – including bats, black bears, pine martens, wolves, rattlesnakes, and more – but Jo’s favorite stories spotlight birds and the problems and successes in bird conservation. That passion led to the production of the documentary Our Birds, which highlights the struggles neotropical migratory birds face on their perilous journeys.

Frank Boll has trekked the world shooting stories for over 40 years. Frank’s most recent project took him to Peru in 2012. Funded in part by a grant from the National Geographic Society, Frank spent a month in the cloud forests, documenting the efforts of conservation groups working to save Peru’s critically endangered Yellow-Tailed Woolly Monkey.

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Kerman and Frank on location for a previous film shoot.


Kerman Eckes has worked for twenty years as a location sound recordist and sound designer for Wisconsin Public Television. She’ll get great stereo recordings of the birds calls of the Osa but she also brings other talents to the job: she’s fluent in Spanish, she’s an accomplished professor with a master’s in film production, and she’s served on video production crews in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

This film shoot will definitely put Jo, Frank, and Kerman’s skills to the test, as they trek through jungle and wetlands to document the stories of Osa’s birds. Filming birds in the wild also presents a unique challenge – perhaps even more so than other animals. Birds, especially warblers, are constantly moving – searching the trees and ground for insects, fruit, and other sources of food. How do you capture such tiny, quick creatures on camera, especially ones that are far away and so easily startled? The answer is to combine a camera and a telescope!

Videographers use a digiscope to capture birds on film – essentially a digital camera mounted to a birdwatcher’s spotting scope, which is a light, portable telescope. Frank uses a digiscope comprised of a Canon 60D DSLR camera attached to a Swarovski 30-70X spotting scope, pictured below:

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Due to their constant activity, following birds with such high-powered magnification presents another significant challenge. Footage often has to be trimmed to clips less than 10 seconds long that are later edited together – a serious time investment!

Check out some footage that Frank has already shot with his digiscope of one of Wisconsin’s migrants, the Yellow Warbler, known affectionately as the “little yellow comet.” We’re hoping to spot one of these little guys on our shoot down in the Osa!

Here’s some more footage shot by Frank, of two Orioles engaged in a “flyoff!”

This year, I’ll be joining this birding trip, so stay tuned for updates on the field shoot as it unfolds – direct from the Osa!

Read more about our film project here – and even help fund it!


Aves, Birds, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Uncategorized, Volunteers and Visitors

Join a Conservation Birding Trip this winter!

Dahl_Vermiculated Screech Owl Pair

A pair of Vermiculated Screech Owls. Photo by Alan Dahl


Fall is fast approaching, and the change of seasons signals something particularly exciting for the Osa Peninsula – the return of migrating birds! The Osa is home to almost 500 resident bird species and many more who migrate to the peninsula from boreal forests in the US and Canada. Now in the middle of September, the migratory bird season is well under way, with species such as the Golden-winged warbler, Olive-Sided Flycatcher, and the Baltimore Oriole making their long journey to Central America.

Besides the many species that winter in the Osa, the peninsula is a year-round home to an astonishing diversity of tropical birds. When the continents of North and South America merged some 3 million years ago, birds living on either side of the divide poured into the newly-formed land bridge, creating a wealth of avian diversity seen few other places in the world. Protecting these birds’ habitats has become a top priority for conservationists as their territories face increasing threats from deforestation, farming and climate change.

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A pair of Scarlet Macaws. Photo by Alan Dahl

Fortunately, you can help protect these birds and their nesting grounds by joining one of our Conservation Birding Expeditions this winter! These amazing adventures, taking place from January 18 – 26 and February 9 – 16, 2014, include extensive birding, hikes through old-growth rainforest and mangrove patches, ogling of sloths and howler monkeys, and general frolicking throughout the jungle. You’ll also hear nightly presentations from Osa Conservation staff on the conservation efforts currently underway at our research stations,  including sea turtle nesting, reforestation efforts, environmental education, and large cat conservation. All birding tours and hikes are led by local naturalist guides with plenty of experience in flushing out the most elusive nesters.

The first five nights will be spent at Piro Biological Station, where you’ll bird along the Rio Piro, Cerro Osa and other spots local spots while witnessing biological research and conservation in action. The remaining nights will be spent at Bosque del Rio Tigre, an intimate ecolodge on a 31-acre private wildlife reserve, where you can spot up to 60 different bird species in the morning and fall asleep to the sounds of cascading waterfalls in the evening!


Guest house at Piro Biological Station

This is an amazing opportunity to explore the natural beauty of the Osa Peninsula and its globally-significant biodiversity, and to revel in the wonders of the animal kingdom. All adults, ages 18 and over, are welcome to join a trip. For more information, including a detailed itinerary, costs and accommodations, please email or visit our Conservation Birding page. We hope to see you there!

**Note: listening to excessive birdsong may cause giddiness, lightheadedness, and uncontrollable gaiety. Please take proper precautions, such as drinking plenty of water, eating regularly, and bringing a change of shorts.**

Birds, Uncategorized

Ornate Hawk Eagle

by: Craig Thompson

Photo provided by: Ellen Gennrich
Photo taken by: Nito Paniagua

There’s a new sheriff in town and this one has style. Sporting a black, spiky crest, zebra-striped legs and rich rufous trim, the Ornate Hawk Eagle is one of the American tropics most beautiful raptors. When seen standing, members of this genus (Spizaetus) appear to be wearing finely knit socks, an image conveyed by dense feathers running the length of their legs. But don’t be fooled by fancy plumage. This bird plays hardball.

Accomplished at the art of ambush, “Ornates” perch silently in the forest, scanning for prey. Their distinctive plumage enables them to disappear in the foliage. Unsuspecting quarry are attacked on the ground or snatched off branches with astonishing speed. Short, broad wings (for an eagle) and a long tail provide exceptional maneuverability in deep forest. No-nonsense talons make quick work of the unwary, mostly medium-to-large birds like parrots, toucans and curassows. There is even a record of an Ornate bagging a Black Vulture. On occasion, small mammals like agoutis and squirrel monkeys end up on the menu. So too the occasional snake or lizard.

Ornate Hawk Eagles are long-lived and slow to reproduce. Large stick nests constructed high in the forest canopy are the recipient of a single egg. Juvenal hawk eagles fledge after three months in the nest, but require an additional nine months of parental care before they’re ready to go solo. So great are the demands of parenthood, Ornates nest every other year, providing a much needed respite between bouts of reproduction.

A denizen of large tracts of primary forest, the Ornate Hawk-Eagle has become increasingly rare throughout its Latin American range. The culprits? Loss of forest and persecution by hunters. It has disappeared entirely from deforested areas of Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico and El Salvador and is diminished throughout the remainder of its range, including Costa Rica.

This adult Ornate was photographed along the Rio Piro in March 2013 by a group of conservation birders based at Osa Conservation’s Piro Biological Station. It flushed during an early morning encounter, but no one, including bird guide Nito Paniagua, could identify it during the tantalizing, but fleeting glimpse. Much to everyone’s delight, it quietly circled back and perched in a tall tree along the river, offering point blank views. Trip participant Ellen Gennrich summed up the group’s reaction. “What a treat it was to get such a good look at this rare bird!  Seeing the elaborately-adorned Ornate Hawk-eagle reminded us of why we MUST protect the Osa Peninsula.”

This eagle’s prospects are brighter due to Osa Conservation’s grassroots conservation efforts. By working to safeguard the peninsula’s forests and waters, Osa Conservation is ensuring a vibrant future for all of the Osa’s residents, wild and otherwise.


Interested in experiencing the best of the Osa’s magnificent birds and wildlife? Contact Craig Thompson – – to learn more about future conservation birding opportunities.



Birds, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

Protecting an Iconic Species: Community involvement in Scarlet Macaw conservation

The Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) is a species in danger of extinction. In Costa Rica, there are only two healthy populations of scarlet macaws, the largest of which is located on the Osa Peninsula. This population is estimated to be between 800 and 1200 individuals (Dear et al 2010). This population was almost completely eliminated due to the illegal removal of trees for timber and agriculture, hunting for food, and illegal trade of Macaws as pets. During the last two decades, commercial logging and hunting of birds has decreased significantly, and the population of Macaws of the Osa Peninsula has increased rapidly. However, the loss of natural cavities in the trees used as nests for these animals has greatly limited the recovery of their populations. A study in recent years recommended long-term conservation that combines environmental education in local schools, community involvement, and stricter penalties for hunters and the Lapa Roja habitat destroyers (Guittar et al 2008).

Read More »

Birds, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

Reviving a Rainforest Helps Keep Migratory Birds’ Winter Home Wild

By Carolina Herrera, NRDC

Wondering where that brightly colored songbird that visited your yard during the summer disappeared to when the temperature dropped? Many songbirds and other migratory birds spend the cooler months in Latin America’s tropical rainforests, so preserving their winter habitat is essential to their survival. That’s one reason why NRDC partnered with the group Osa Conservation to help Revive a Rainforest on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. With the support of our members we’ve been helping to restore 50 acres of degraded tropical rainforest by planting carefully selected native tree species.

Six hundred and fifty species of birds make North America their home and breeding ground. While some of these birds are permanent residents many are migratory, with migration paths varying from short, medium to long. Approximately 350 species breed in the US and Canada and then winter all the way in Latin America and the Caribbean where they need to find sufficient food and safe nesting locations. The Yellow Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, and the Canada Warbler are just three of the many species that journey long distances during their seasonal migrations to Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.

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Jungle Callings: The Elusive Potoo

Photo by Manuel Sanchez Mendoza

If you’ve ever spent the night in the rainforest you know how deceptive sound can be. Unlike the intriguing daytime peeps, flaps, buzzes and calls that inspire one to explore deeper into holes, hollows, and underbrush, the haunting sounds that pierce the blackness of night cause the uninitiated like me to wholeheartedly question their disbelief of ghosts, goblins and spell-casting forest witches. Nighttime at Piro has a way of transforming torrential downpour into slowly approaching footsteps, guttural howler calls into sinister forest cries. Especially haunting is one sound that I really would have sworn was a ‘bruja’ laughing slowly and eerily into a wooden whistle repeatedly throughout the night.

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