The Red-legged Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus) can be found here on the Osa Peninsula and can often be seen wandering through humid forest canopies and open areas with its other Honeycreeper relatives the Green Honeycreeper (Chlorophanes spiza), the Shining Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes lucidus) and the Blue Dacnis (Dacnis cayana). For those novice birders trying to get their bird bearings here in the tropics, one can at first glance mistake the Blue Dacnis or the Shining Honeycreeper for a Red-legged Honeycreeper. At least I did the first few weeks, but all you have to do is look for the distinctive red legs or the long decurved bill if you’re not yet Dacnis proficient. Also, one surprise that the Red-legged Honeycreeper has for any onlooker is the bright yellow color of the underneath portion of the wing.
Honeycreepers used to be classified in a separate family with the Bananaquit and flowerpiercers, but are now part of the Tanager family which may seem a bit odd considering their nectar feeding habits and bill morphology. Any commentaries on why they were lumped with tanagers are welcome here by the way. But whether you’re a lumper or a splitter, tanagers display more colors and color patterns than any other tropical American bird and Honeycreepers definitely fit the bill. If you’re not sure what I mean find images of Golden-hooded Tanagers and Bay-headed Tanagers and you will see what I’m saying!
Red-legged Honeycreepers extract nectar from the flowers of Inga, Calliandra and other legume plants. They also eat small insects, arillate seeds and many other fruits in fairly open edgy areas. We have seen them moving in mixed-species flocks high up in primary and secondary closed canopy forests as well as right in the gardens of the Osa Biodiversity Center at Friends of the Osa during our early morning avian monitoring point counts.
This species is an open cup nester building a nest of fine rootlets and grass raising two young between February and June. Pairs are monogamous and both take care of incubation and nesting duties. Oh, and in case you’re curious Red-legged Honeycreepers weigh about 13.5 grams, about half the size of a House Sparrow.
Visit Photographs by Bob Levy for more beautiful birds of Costa Rica.