Bird Fact Friday – All About Trogons

From pages 269-270 of The New Neotropical Companion:

Trogons are cavity nesters. Some species excavate nest holes in decaying trees; others dig into termite mounds. The Gartered Trogon (Trogon caligatus) utilizes large wasp nests, after carefully removing and consuming the resident wasps. The species also utilizes termite mounds as nests.

The Resplendent Quetzal

Male Resplendent Quetzal, in all its splendor.
Photo by Gina Nichol.

Trogons feed on fruits from palms, cecropias, and many other species, which they take by hovering briefly at the tree, plucking the fruits. They also catch large insects and occasional lizards, swiftly swooping down on them or snatching them in flight. Trogon bills are finely serrated, permitting a tight grip on food items. Arguably the most spectacular member of the trogon family is the Central American Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno; pictured above), which is said to be the inspiration for the legendary phoenix.

New Neotropical Companion CoverThe New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

The New Neotropical Companion is the completely revised and expanded edition of a book that has helped thousands of people to understand the complex ecology and natural history of the most species-rich area on Earth, the American tropics. Featuring stunning color photos throughout, it is a sweeping and cutting-edge account of tropical ecology that includes not only tropical rain forests but also other ecosystems such as cloud forests, rivers, savannas, and mountains. This is the only guide to the American tropics that is all-inclusive, encompassing the entire region’s ecology and the amazing relationships among species rather than focusing just on species identification.

The New Neotropical Companion is a book unlike any other. Here, you will learn how to recognize distinctive ecological patterns of rain forests and other habitats and to interpret how these remarkable ecosystems function—everything is explained in clear and engaging prose free of jargon. You will also be introduced to the region’s astonishing plant and animal life.

Bird Fact Fridays – Flowerpiercers, the Evolutionary “Cheaters”

From page 173 in The New Neotropical Companion:

Flowerpiercers (a group of 16 bird species related to tanagers), like hummingbirds, consume nectar from flowers . But they “cheat.” Rather than forage within the flower, where they might encounter pollen and thus aid in cross-pollination, they use their delicately upturned and hooked bills to pierce the flower at its base and access the nectar without ever encountering the pollen.

Indigo Flowerpiercer

The Indigo Flowerpiercer (Diglossa indigotica) occurs in cloud forest in western Colombia and northwestern Ecuador. There are 16 flowerpiercer species in South America. Photo by Andrew Whittaker.

Flower traits have been shown to evolve not only to attract certain pollinating species but also to discourage species that are ineffective pollinators or pollen robbers. Adaptations to reduce nectar robbery include adding toxins to the nectar that discourage robbers but not pollinators, flowering at times when nectar robbers are inactive, growing near plants that offer better food sources for nectar robbers, or evolving flowers that are physically difficult for robbers to access.

New Neotropical Companion CoverThe New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

The New Neotropical Companion is the completely revised and expanded edition of a book that has helped thousands of people to understand the complex ecology and natural history of the most species-rich area on Earth, the American tropics. Featuring stunning color photos throughout, it is a sweeping and cutting-edge account of tropical ecology that includes not only tropical rain forests but also other ecosystems such as cloud forests, rivers, savannas, and mountains. This is the only guide to the American tropics that is all-inclusive, encompassing the entire region’s ecology and the amazing relationships among species rather than focusing just on species identification.

The New Neotropical Companion is a book unlike any other. Here, you will learn how to recognize distinctive ecological patterns of rain forests and other habitats and to interpret how these remarkable ecosystems function—everything is explained in clear and engaging prose free of jargon. You will also be introduced to the region’s astonishing plant and animal life.

Bird Fact Friday – The spectacular Resplendent Quetzal

From page 270 in The New Neotropical Companion:

Male Resplendent Quetzal, in all its splendor. Photo by Gina Nichol.

Arguably the most spectacular member of the trogon family is the Central American Resplendent Quetzal, which is said to be the inspiration for the legendary phoenix. Guatemala’s monetary unit is the quetzal, and the bird’s image appears on all currency. Quetzals inhabit the cloud forests of Middle America, migrating to lower elevations seasonally. Most striking about the quetzal’s plumage is the brilliant green male’s elongated upper tail coverts, graceful plumes that stream down well below the actual tail, making the bird’s total length fully 61 cm (24 in). Females are a duller green and lack the elaborate tail plumes.

The New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

The New Neotropical Companion is the completely revised and expanded edition of a book that has helped thousands of people to understand the complex ecology and natural history of the most species-rich area on Earth, the American tropics. Featuring stunning color photos throughout, it is a sweeping and cutting-edge account of tropical ecology that includes not only tropical rain forests but also other ecosystems such as cloud forests, rivers, savannas, and mountains. This is the only guide to the American tropics that is all-inclusive, encompassing the entire region’s ecology and the amazing relationships among species rather than focusing just on species identification.

The New Neotropical Companion is a book unlike any other. Here, you will learn how to recognize distinctive ecological patterns of rain forests and other habitats and to interpret how these remarkable ecosystems function—everything is explained in clear and engaging prose free of jargon. You will also be introduced to the region’s astonishing plant and animal life.

Bird Fact Friday – How do hummingbirds accomplish their remarkably controlled flight?

From page 277 in The New Neotropical Companion:

The Booted Racket-tail. Photo by Nancy Norman.

Hummingbirds accomplish their remarkably controlled flight both by a unique rotation of their wings through an angle of 180° and by having an extremely high metabolism. Hummingbird heart rates reach 1,260 beats per minute, and some species beat their wings approximately 80 times per second. Hummingbird metabolisms require that the birds must eat many times per day to adequately fuel their tiny bodies. Suddenly appearing at a flower, its long bill and tongue reaching deep within the blossom to sip nectar, a bird will briefly hover, move to a different flower, hover, and zoom off. The best way to see hummingbirds well is to observe at a flowering tree or shrub with the sun to your back so that the metallic, iridescent reds, greens, and blues will glow.

The New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

The New Neotropical Companion is the completely revised and expanded edition of a book that has helped thousands of people to understand the complex ecology and natural history of the most species-rich area on Earth, the American tropics. Featuring stunning color photos throughout, it is a sweeping and cutting-edge account of tropical ecology that includes not only tropical rain forests but also other ecosystems such as cloud forests, rivers, savannas, and mountains. This is the only guide to the American tropics that is all-inclusive, encompassing the entire region’s ecology and the amazing relationships among species rather than focusing just on species identification.

The New Neotropical Companion is a book unlike any other. Here, you will learn how to recognize distinctive ecological patterns of rain forests and other habitats and to interpret how these remarkable ecosystems function—everything is explained in clear and engaging prose free of jargon. You will also be introduced to the region’s astonishing plant and animal life.

Bird Fact Friday – Mashers and Gulpers

From page 163 in The New Neotropical Companion:

This Toco Toucan is plucking a fruit that it will then gulp down whole. Photo by John Kricher.

In dense interior rain forests where wind is attenuated, birds are essential for seed dispersal. There are two basic methods by which birds devour fruit. Some birds (mashers) mash up the fruit, dropping the seeds as they do, while others (gulpers) gulp the fruit whole, subsequently either regurgitating or defecating seeds. Mashers are mostly finches and tanagers, and gulpers are toucans, trogons, and manakins. Mashers appear more sensitive to taste than gulpers, showing a distinct preference for fruits rich in sugars. Gulpers swallow fruit whole and appear taste insensitive.

This Grayish Saltator is an obvious example of a masher. Photo by John Kricher.

The New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

The New Neotropical Companion is the completely revised and expanded edition of a book that has helped thousands of people to understand the complex ecology and natural history of the most species-rich area on Earth, the American tropics. Featuring stunning color photos throughout, it is a sweeping and cutting-edge account of tropical ecology that includes not only tropical rain forests but also other ecosystems such as cloud forests, rivers, savannas, and mountains. This is the only guide to the American tropics that is all-inclusive, encompassing the entire region’s ecology and the amazing relationships among species rather than focusing just on species identification.

The New Neotropical Companion is a book unlike any other. Here, you will learn how to recognize distinctive ecological patterns of rain forests and other habitats and to interpret how these remarkable ecosystems function—everything is explained in clear and engaging prose free of jargon. You will also be introduced to the region’s astonishing plant and animal life.

Bird Fact Friday – The dancing manakins

From page 166 in The New Neotropical Companion:

Photo by Jill Lapato.

The White-bearded Manakin’s name comes from its throat feathers, which are puffed outward during courtship, forming a kind of beard. Thirty or more males may occupy a lek, a single small area in the forest understory. Each male makes his own “court” by clearing an oval-shaped area of forest floor about 1 m (39 in) across. Each court must contain two or more thin vertical saplings, as these are crucial in the manakin’s courtship dance. The male begins courtship by repeatedly jumping back and forth between the two saplings, making a loud snap with each jump. In addition to the snap, the male’s short wing feathers make an insect-like buzzing when he flies, and thus active manakin leks can become a buzzing, snapping frenzy when a female visits. The intensity of the male’s jumping between saplings increases until he suddenly jumps from sapling to ground, and then appears to ricochet back to another sapling, from which he slides vertically downward, like a fireman on a pole.

 

The New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

The New Neotropical Companion is the completely revised and expanded edition of a book that has helped thousands of people to understand the complex ecology and natural history of the most species-rich area on Earth, the American tropics. Featuring stunning color photos throughout, it is a sweeping and cutting-edge account of tropical ecology that includes not only tropical rain forests but also other ecosystems such as cloud forests, rivers, savannas, and mountains. This is the only guide to the American tropics that is all-inclusive, encompassing the entire region’s ecology and the amazing relationships among species rather than focusing just on species identification.

The New Neotropical Companion is a book unlike any other. Here, you will learn how to recognize distinctive ecological patterns of rain forests and other habitats and to interpret how these remarkable ecosystems function—everything is explained in clear and engaging prose free of jargon. You will also be introduced to the region’s astonishing plant and animal life.

Bird Fact Friday – Why does the Toucan have such a large, colorful bill?

From page 273 in The New Neotropical Companion:

Photo by James Adams

Perhaps more than any other kind of bird, toucans symbolize the American tropics. With a prominent boat-shaped, colorful bill almost equal in length to the body, the toucan silhouette is instantly recognizable. Toucans’ seemingly oversize bills are actually lightweight. Colorful patterns adorn most ramphastid bills; they may possibly be used for signaling in mate selection. Recent studies on the Toco Toucan have demonstrated that the birds are able to radiate excess heat from their long, vascularized bills. In a paper by Glenn Tattersall and colleagues, the researchers conclude that the toucan bill is “relative to its size, one of the largest thermal windows in the animal kingdom, rivaling elephants’ ears in its ability to radiate body heat.”

Toko Toucan. Photo by John Kricher

The New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

The New Neotropical Companion is the completely revised and expanded edition of a book that has helped thousands of people to understand the complex ecology and natural history of the most species-rich area on Earth, the American tropics. Featuring stunning color photos throughout, it is a sweeping and cutting-edge account of tropical ecology that includes not only tropical rain forests but also other ecosystems such as cloud forests, rivers, savannas, and mountains. This is the only guide to the American tropics that is all-inclusive, encompassing the entire region’s ecology and the amazing relationships among species rather than focusing just on species identification.

The New Neotropical Companion is a book unlike any other. Here, you will learn how to recognize distinctive ecological patterns of rain forests and other habitats and to interpret how these remarkable ecosystems function—everything is explained in clear and engaging prose free of jargon. You will also be introduced to the region’s astonishing plant and animal life.

Bird Fact Friday – Nectar and fruit-eating specialists

Photo by James Adams

From page 144 in The New Neotropical Companion

There is year-round availability of nectar and fruit in the tropics. Nectar specialists include all the multiple hummingbird species as well as various flowerpiercers and some others. Fruit-eating specialists include cotingas, many tanagers, guans, curassows, and parrots. Add to those iguanas and other reptiles, scores of monkeys, and rodents such as agoutis and pacas, and you have a lot of fruit consumers. None of these groups can exist successfully outside of the tropics, since they are so dependent on constant availability of nectar and/or fruit. In the photo above, this Lovely Cotinga (Cotinga amabilis) approaches a fruiting tree. A species such as this, with its dependency on fruit, could not exist in the temperate zone.

The New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

The New Neotropical Companion is the completely revised and expanded edition of a book that has helped thousands of people to understand the complex ecology and natural history of the most species-rich area on Earth, the American tropics. Featuring stunning color photos throughout, it is a sweeping and cutting-edge account of tropical ecology that includes not only tropical rain forests but also other ecosystems such as cloud forests, rivers, savannas, and mountains. This is the only guide to the American tropics that is all-inclusive, encompassing the entire region’s ecology and the amazing relationships among species rather than focusing just on species identification.

The New Neotropical Companion is a book unlike any other. Here, you will learn how to recognize distinctive ecological patterns of rain forests and other habitats and to interpret how these remarkable ecosystems function—everything is explained in clear and engaging prose free of jargon. You will also be introduced to the region’s astonishing plant and animal life.

Bird Fact Friday – Harris’s Hawks hunt cooperatively

Credit William S. Clark

From page 190-191 in Raptors of Mexico and Central America:

The Harris’s Hawk preys mainly on mammals, especially rabbits, and birds, but also lizards and insects. They hunt on the wing and from perches. Cooperative hunting occurs more often in winter. Unlike many buteos, they don’t hover. They perch more horizontally than other raptors and are often seen in groups of up to a dozen individuals, especially in winter. They breed cooperatively, often with polygamy and nest helpers. A large stick nest is built in small to large trees and sometimes on power poles and cell towers.

Raptors of Mexico and Central America
William S. Clark & N. John Schmitt
With a foreword by Lloyd Kiff
Introduction | Sample Plate

Raptors are among the most challenging birds to identify in the field due to their bewildering variability of plumage, flight silhouettes, and behavior. Raptors of Mexico and Central America is the first illustrated guide to the region’s 69 species of raptors, including vagrants. It features 32 stunning color plates and 213 color photos, and a distribution map for each regularly occurring species. Detailed species accounts describe key identification features, age-related plumages, status and distribution, subspecies, molt, habitats, behaviors, potential confusion species, and more.

Raptors of Mexico and Central America is the essential field guide to this difficult bird group and the ideal travel companion for anyone visiting this region of the world.

Bird Fact Friday – Which vulture’s head color varies with mood?

Lesser Yellow-headed
Vulture. Adult. Credit William S. Clark

From page 95 in Raptors of Mexico and Central America:

The Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures forage for carrion by gliding low over wet open areas and are able to locate carrion by smell as well as by sight. They also spend lots of time perched on the ground or on a low fence post. Active flight is with slow, deep, deliberate wing beats on flexible wings. They soar and glide with wings in a strong dihedral, often rocking or teetering from side to side, rarely soaring high. Adults’ head color varies with mood; the head is redder when the vulture is excited. Cathartid vultures often bow their wings downward in a flex until the tips almost meet.

Raptors of Mexico and Central America
William S. Clark & N. John Schmitt
With a foreword by Lloyd Kiff
Introduction | Sample Plate

Raptors are among the most challenging birds to identify in the field due to their bewildering variability of plumage, flight silhouettes, and behavior. Raptors of Mexico and Central America is the first illustrated guide to the region’s 69 species of raptors, including vagrants. It features 32 stunning color plates and 213 color photos, and a distribution map for each regularly occurring species. Detailed species accounts describe key identification features, age-related plumages, status and distribution, subspecies, molt, habitats, behaviors, potential confusion species, and more.

Raptors of Mexico and Central America is the essential field guide to this difficult bird group and the ideal travel companion for anyone visiting this region of the world.

Bird Fact Friday – How do long-winged harriers hunt prey?

From page 145 in Raptors of Mexico and Central America:

The Long-winged Harriers are typical harriers that hunt in low, slow flight just above the ground, pouncing on prey with a quick agile strike. They eat small mammals, small birds, frogs, lizards, and bird’s eggs. Some prey is located by hearing, enhanced by their owl-like facial disk. The Long-winged Harrier’s scientific name is Circus buffoniCircus is from the Greek kirkos, “circle,” from its habit of flying in circles. The species name,  buffoni, is for French naturalist George Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon.

Raptors of Mexico and Central America
William S. Clark & N. John Schmitt
With a foreword by Lloyd Kiff
Introduction | Sample Plate

Raptors are among the most challenging birds to identify in the field due to their bewildering variability of plumage, flight silhouettes, and behavior. Raptors of Mexico and Central America is the first illustrated guide to the region’s 69 species of raptors, including vagrants. It features 32 stunning color plates and 213 color photos, and a distribution map for each regularly occurring species. Detailed species accounts describe key identification features, age-related plumages, status and distribution, subspecies, molt, habitats, behaviors, potential confusion species, and more.

Raptors of Mexico and Central America is the essential field guide to this difficult bird group and the ideal travel companion for anyone visiting this region of the world.

Bird Fact Friday – Weekly Warbler: Blackpoll

From page 182-183 in The Warbler Guide:

The Blackpoll Warblers (fall birds) have yellowish throat and breast in contrast with the white lower belly. They have bold white wing bars, and distinct eyeline with broken eyering. The Blackpoll Warblers have contrasting tertial edging, and flight feathers white-edged on tips. Their streaking in sides and back is always present even when faint. Their long wings indicate a long-distance migrant: up to 7,000 miles each way—more than any other warbler.

The Warbler Guide
Tom Stephenson & Scott Whittle
Drawings by Catherine Hamilton
Warbler Guide App
Species Account Example: American Redstart Male

Warblers are amwarblerong the most challenging birds to identify. They exhibit an array of seasonal plumages and have distinctive yet oft-confused calls and songs. The Warbler Guide enables you to quickly identify any of the 56 species of warblers in the United States and Canada. This groundbreaking guide features more than 1,000 stunning color photos, extensive species accounts with multiple viewing angles, and an entirely new system of vocalization analysis that helps you distinguish songs and calls.

The Warbler Guide revolutionizes birdwatching, making warbler identification easier than ever before. For more information, please see the author videos on the Princeton University Press website.