Featured Bird: Blue-crowned Motmot

Blue-crowned Motmot by Alan Dahl

The Blue-crowned Motmots (Momotus momota) have been spending a lot of time around a Nance tree (Byrsonima crassifolia), a prolific fruit producing tree in the garden here at Friends of the Osa’s Osa Biodiversity Center.  Lately there have been quite a few hanging around giving their distinctive soft low pitch “moot moot” call at dawn which has sounded like a large choral group, each bird with its own perfectly timed solo, and the group never missing a beat.  With the Nance fruiting right next to the house, one of them actually flew through the front door the other day making me realize that it was time to share this species with you on the blog.  Oh and by the way, he or she did find its way out of the house fairly quickly.

In this species the male and female look alike and as you can see from Alan Dahl’s photograph, they are brilliantly colored.  Motmots in general have two very distinct features worth noting: the racquet-shaped tail and a heavily serrated bill.  The tail is more than half the birds total length and has two long central feathers.  During feather preening sections of the tail barbs fall off leaving the exposed vane.  The tip of the feather or the racquet remains intact forming what looks like a racquet head.  Motmots are famous for slowly and methodically swinging their tail feather back and forth like a pendulum.

The bill has tooth like serrations allowing them to take small snakes and lizards as well as other insects and tear them apart.  They also accompany army ant swarms picking off what the other birds kick-up from the ground.  And yes, they like fruit.

A third and very interesting characteristic of the Motmot is the fact that they dig their nest into burrows.  They are most closely related to Kingfishes and todies which also dig into burrows.  Motmots excavate tunnels in the bank of a road or stream or in the side of a pit or hollow in the ground.  Their nests are unlined and can wind as far back as 5 – 14 feet (1.5 – 4 meters).  Now I don’t know about you all but I have a hard time seeing such a beautiful majestic bird digging a long tunnel in the dirt and coming out looking that good, but I truly hope to see it someday.

You can see the Blue-crowned Motmot all over Costa Rica, and at least at the moment, all over Cerro Osa on the Osa Peninsula.  You can also find them from Mexico down through Argentina and in just about any type of habitat most often perched in the shade saying “moot moot, moot moot”!

We would like to thank Alan Dahl for allowing us to showcase his photographs.  You can find his work at Focused On Nature.


Featured Bird: Violaceous Trogon

Violaceous Trogon by Tyler Reynolds

This week’s bird, the Violaceous Trogon (Trogon violaceus) jumped out at me (not literally) as I was having my morning coffee on my front porch here at Friends of the Osa’s Osa Biodiversity Center on Cerro Osa.   I was watching all the typical dawn action, mainly the Tropical Kingbirds and Gray-capped Flycatchers being overly vociferous when I saw another yellow bellied bird perched calmly on a Virola tree branch.  This particular belly though was accompanied by a violet head, a beautiful long black and white barred tail and the distinctive yellow eye ring of the Violaceous Trogon.  The female Violaceous is distinguished from her mate by her gray head and elliptical eye ring.  I have since noticed that this male trogon as of late is always perched on that same branch every morning in its upright posture, not for long, but long enough for me to finish my coffee and get a good look.

There are 40 trogon species in the warm regions of the world, ten of which are found in Costa Rica.  Four species can be found here on the Osa Peninsula: the Black-throated Trogon, the Slaty-tailed Trogon, Baird’s Trogon and the Violaceous Trogon.  You can see all four species here on Friends of the Osa properties.  You just have to look very carefully as they can be somewhat still.

You can find them in wet lowland forest and also along edges and open areas.  They will hover to pluck fruit or insects from the vegetation and are known to eat wasps.  In fact, Violaceous Trogons have been known to nest inside wasp nests, termite nests and arboreal nests of Azteca ants.  Naturalist Alexander Skutch observed a pair actually nesting inside a wasp nest (vespiary).  The Trogons built their own nest inside the vespiary in the early morning hours before the wasps became active.  During the day the Trogons would hunt the wasps taking them from the air or from the surface of the vespiary.  Interestingly, the wasps never drove the Trogons from their nest nor did the Trogons ever eliminate all the wasps, but they did successfully fledge young.

You can find the Violaceous Trogon on either coastal slope of Costa Rica and it ranges from Mexico down through Amazonian Brazil.  And yes, for those of you who may be wondering, the Resplendent Quetzal is also in the Trogon family and found in the Tilaran, Central and Talamanca Cordilleras here in Costa Rica.

Keep an eye out down the road as I will also devote a page to the Baird’s Trogon since it is endemic to Costa Rica and Panama and vulnerable to extinction according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

This week’s photograph was taken here on the Cerro Osa property just today by Friends of the Osa’s Tyler Reynolds.

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

California Students Raise Money and Plant Trees on the Osa Peninsula

Tree Nursery - Cerro Osa

A group of 8th graders from Crane Country Day School recently traveled to Costa Rica and fell in love with the country during their ten day stay. The class of forty students ventured all the way from Santa Barbara, California to the Osa Peninsula!

Once the students made it back to California, they realized they wanted to help out in some way. Their trip to Costa Rica had inspired them so much that they decided to raise money for Friends of the Osa. Their efforts proved fruitful as they managed to raise $400.

The class chose to support our forest restoration effort on the Osa Biodiversity Center’s Cerro Osa property: our new program plants one native tree for every $10 donation. With the money raised by these students, 40 new trees were planted.

We are glad that these students felt so inspired by the trip and hope that they will continue to conserve natural habitat wherever they are. We really appreciate the effort made by the Crane 8th graders and send a big thank you out to these students for their support!


Featured Bird: Vermiculated Screech Owl

Dahl_Vermiculated Screech Owl Pair

Owls may arguably be the most interesting family of birds.  There are actually two families of owls, but the Vermiculated Screech Owl (Otus guatemalae) belongs to the Strigidae family of typical owls.  Owls are unique to other birds in a multitude of ways.  They have specialized wing feathers allowing them to fly silently which enables them to hunt by sound and catch prey easier while avoiding detection.  They can actually hear sounds 10 times fainter than a human can and have eyesight 100 times more effective in low light than humans.  They are nocturnal predators with eyes that are fixed in the front of their head set in a facial disk of feathers which direct sound waves to large ear openings.  Because of their front facing eyes they have to move their heads in a 270 degree arc to see things to the side, and NO, they can’t turn their heads all the way around!

The Screech Owls tufts of feathers on the top of their head are referred to as “ears” or “horns” but they are neither ears for hearing nor horns found on mammals.  They may be there as a form of non-vocal communication or as a form of camouflage.  During the day while roosting they erect them in the shape of a V breaking up the shape of the face making it difficult to distinguish them from the tree bark.  Of course the owl’s coloration also helps with that.  They are mainly found in thickets during the day and are extremely difficult to see at night making them quite illusive to humans.

The Vermiculated Screech Owl eats mainly insects such as katydids and beetles.  All the flesh is digested and all the indigestible parts (bones, hair, or in this case, the exoskeletons of insects) are formed into pellet castings and regurgitated.  They also have a reversible outer toe helping them to grasp prey.

They nest in old tree cavities or old nests of other birds (documented in an old trogon nest) laying 2-3 eggs.  Incubation is done primarily by the female from 26 – 37 days.  Due to the fact that incubation starts after the first egg is layed, owlet nestmates may differ a lot in size and age.  When food resources are scarce the older larger chicks may devour their younger siblings.

Oh, and you might be wondering why one of the two owls in the photograph is grayish and the other brown.  The male and the female are actually alike but there are two different “morphs” or colorations found in Vermiculated Screech Owls; the rufous phase and the brown phase.  They are also quite small, about 8 1/2 “which is about the size of a Red-winged Blackbird.

You can hear Vermiculated Screech Owls here after dark at Friends of the Osa’s Osa Biodiversity Center but trying to see them is another thing entirely!

And in response to people asking what Vermiculated means.  It is simply in reference to the wavy vertical markings you see on the breast and belly.

This week our photograph comes from Alan Dahl.  You can see his photographic galleries at Focused on Nature.  He has a wonderful commitment to conservation and allowing us to show off his photographs is one of the ways he has supported Friends of the Osa and our conservation efforts on the peninsula.

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