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September 20, 2021

Return of Bird of the Week: Chestnut-breasted Guan

Male Chestnut-bellied Guan, Pantanal, Brazil

This is a medium-sized guan, and in contrast to its tree-loving cousins, mostly forages on the ground. It’s the rarest Cracid – the family of Chachalacas, Guans and Currasows – that WC has photographed, and is likely globally threatened. Birds of the World (paywalled), one of the definitive sources of information on the 10,000 species of birds, says, “Comparatively little is known of the species’ natural history.” That’s an understatement. This species prefers the swampy forests and savannah of the Pantanal, the very large, seasonal swamp in eastern Bolivia and western Brazil, although smaller populations are found in central Brazil….

Return of Bird of the Week: Crested Guan

Crested Guan, Costa Rica

Last week you met your first Guan, the Black Guan. This week it’s a close cousin, the Crested Guan, another arboreal Cracid. Crested Guan, Costa Rica The Crested Guan is much larger than the Black, and is one of the largest of its genus, coming in at more than two kilograms. The bright red dewlap, red legs, black body, white-scalloped chest feathers and brownish tail make it another very distinctive species. And noisiest: not only does it have a loud, repetitive honking call, when it flies from tree to tree its landing sounds like a train wreck. For a species…

Return of Bird of the Week: Black Guan

Black Guan, Costa Rica

While there are many other species of Curassow, WC hasn’t been able to photograph them, so we’ll switch to another clade of Cracidae, the Guans. And we’ll start with the Black Guan. It’s not a bird you’re likely to confuse with any other: black body, blue nares, bright red legs and bright red eye, it’s an arboreal cracid (WC likes that description and worked to find a way to get it into the blog post). It’s considerably smaller than the Curassows; just 69 centimeters long and weights a little over a kilogram. It’s less vocal than other guans, it’s unusual…

Return of Bird of the Week: Bare-faced Curassow

Bare-faced Curassow Female, Pantanal, Brazil

This is a smaller relative of last week’s Great Curassow, found in the Amazon basin and down into Paraguay and Argentina. It’s also sexually dimorphic. The males is black, with a white belly, extensive bare, black skin around the eye and a bi-colored, black and yellow bill. The crest is tightly curled black feathers. The female is a beautiful bird, with a rufous belly, barred back and tail and a splendid crest. This is a crepuscular species, usually out only in the predawn and evening twilight. It usually emerges from the forest into clearings to foage, as these two birds…

Return of Bird of the Week: Great Curassow

Great Curassow Female, Costa Rica

As promised, we’ll leave the obscure Puffbird family behind and shift the focus to the much larger, but even more obscure family Cracidae. These are the Curassows, Guans and Chachalacas of Neotropical forests. Prized by Native Americans as game birds, they have developed a healthy wariness of humankind. Those that weren’t wary became dinner, after all. There are 54 species of Cracidae; WC has photographed only a bare handful of them. To say they are secretive doesn’t begin to describe it. Birds in this family look somewhat like turkeys or pheasants, but those are distant relatives. We’ll start with the…

Return of Bird of the Week: Barred Puffbird

Barred Puffbird, Darién Province, Panama

Here’s a final Puffbird to wrap up this family of birds. It may seem like WC has been writing about Puffbirds for months, but in reality WC has photographed only a tiny fraction of the 36 members of this family. So many birds; so little time. The Barred Puffbird has a pretty restricted range, from eastern Panama to Ecuador. It’s apparently most common in Columbia, where WC has never been. And despite being present in a chunk of Ecuador, WC has never seen it there, despite four birding trips to that excellent country. It’s rare, as well as difficult to…

Return of Bird of the Week: Collared Puffbird

Collared Puffbird, Manu Road, Peru

The Collared Puffbird is found in Amazonia, the Amazon River basin, including the lower eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in Ecuador and Peru. WC was lucky enough to see and photograph – admittedly poorly – the species in Peru, where it is comparatively rare. In fact, eBird reports less than 300 sightings for Peru. The bright orange bill, cinnamon head and distinct black collar makes this a very easy bird to identify in the field. Its call, given generally before dawn, is a classic jungle sound, a loud: “awww awwAWW-chaw awwAWW-chaw awwAWW-chaw”, repeated up to six times. This species…

Return of Bird of the Week: White-eared Puffbird

White-eared Puffbird, Pantanal. Brazil

Remember WC cautioned readers that some of the Puffbird photos were pretty sketchy. Here’s another. The White-eared Puffbird is found from eastern Peru and central Brazil south to Paraguay and northeastern Argentina. It prefers the middle levels of jungle forest and the gallery forests of the lowlands. Like other Puffbirds, it still-hunts from mid-level perches in trees and shrubs, and will take a wide range of prey, from insects to reptiles to crabs. White-eared Puffbirds have one of the most southerly distributions of any species of puffbird; there is some evidence that the southernmost populations of White-eared Puffbird are migratory, moving north in the austral…

Return of Bird of the Week: Gray-cheeked Nunlet

Grey-cheeked Nunlet, Darien, Panama

If there are puffbirds called “Monklets” you should have known there would be puffbirds called “Nunlets.” In fact, there is a whole genus of them, Nonnula, in which there are at least six species. The Gray-cheeked Nunlet is the only one of the six which WC has been able to photograph to date. It’s a pretty easy species to recognize: the reddish eye ring, cinnamon breast and brownish cap are distinctive. Ironically, the Gray-cheeked Nunlet is possibly the rarest of the six. This is a lowland species found in western Panama and eastern Columbia. Like all of the puffbirds, it’s an…

Return of Bird of the Week: White-necked Puffbird

White-necked Puffbird, Panama

WC has a few more photos of Puffbirds, but none of them are going to win any prizes for quality. Still, the birds are interesting enough that WC will share the mediocre documentation photos, with apologies for the sub-standard quality. Here’s a White-necked Puffbird, a species found from southern Mexico to Peru and much of Brazil. It’s one of the largest of the Puffbirds, and likely has the largest bill. It’s fairly uncommon across its entire range. Unlike its cousins you’ve met so far, this is generally a canopy bird, harder to find and photograph. This photograph is taken against the…