Taxonomy Changes: 2021

(From San Vito Bird Club Taxonomy Tsar, Jo Davidson)

Not even a global pandemic can keep the Taxonomists of the American Ornithology Society from their appointed duties. Right on schedule, as always, they have announced the classification changes for this year. I’ll start with the three birds that have changes to both their English and scientific names.
Let’s begin with one of my local favorites. The Rufous-capped Warbler has been split into two separate species:

Rufous-capped Warbler (Basileuterus rufifrons)
Chestnut-capped Warbler (Basileuterus delattrii)

Chestnut-capped Warbler: photo by Jo Davidson

The easiest way to differentiate the two is that the Chestnut-capped Warbler has an entirely yellow
belly, and in the Rufous-capped, the lower portion of the belly is grey. There are other small differences, but they are very difficult to distinguish in the field. All the pictures I have taken in Coto Brus are of what is now called the Chestnut-capped, so I am guessing that one is more abundant in our usual birding spots.

Next on the list is the Tropical Gnatcatcher, which has also been split:
White-browed Gnatcatcher (Polioptila bilineata)
Tropical Gnatcatcher (Polioptila plumbea)

The Costa Rican species is now called White-browed Gnatcatcher. The species retaining the Tropical Gnatcatcher name resides in South America.

There is also a split of the Sedge Wren:

Grass Wren (Cistothorus platensis)
Sedge Wren (Cistothorus stellaris)

The Costa Rica resident species, which has an astonishingly small range in the Cartago area, is now called the Grass Wren. Note that the scientific name has not changed. The other species, which kept the English name but was assigned a new scientific name, is found in the U.S. and Canada.

Finally, here are the birds which have had changes to their scientific names only:
Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianum) is now Nannopterum brasilianum
Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway) is now Caracara plancus
Striped Owl (Pseudoscops clamator) is now Asio clamator
Elegant Euphonia (Euphonia elegantissima) is now Chlorophonia elegantissima
Magenta-throated Woodstar  (Calliphlox bryantae) is now Philodice bryantae

Until next year, Happy Birding!

Welcome White-winged Doves!

We have been waiting for quite some time for these angelic-looking birds to show up in our beloved southern zone and it appears our vigil might be over.

White-winged Doves. Photo by Jim Zook

First, a pair was spotted in September near La Union de Sabalito by Jim Zook who was on the job doing bird counts for Stanford University. Shortly thereafter, one was found by Randall Jiménez Borbón, a Pajarero Del Sur member and Detectives de Aves teacher, in his garden in Linda Vista just south of San Vito on the road to Ciudad Neily.

In the Stiles and Skutch Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica (published in 1989), they were considered a ‘. . . locally abundant permanent resident in dry Pacific NW, south to Jaco.’ In more recent times, they are described as ‘. . . common resident in northern Pacific and across the Central Valley . . . ‘ by Garrigues and Dean in the second edition of The Birds of Costa Rica. You can see the trajectory; it was just a matter of time.

They are pretty easy to see if you are expecting them: Garrigues describes them as “. . . commensal with humans. . . ” and goes on to say they favor open areas and are often seen feeding along roadsides. They look a lot like Mourning Doves except for the white band down the length of the wing – this is easily seen at rest and a lovely display in flight. Further, Mourning Doves have long, tapered tails and black spots on their wings, both of which are lacking in the Whities.

From November to May, our resident populations are joined by migrants from the southwestern US. The entire range goes from Arizona, New Mexico and Texas in the US; throughout Mexico and down through Central America to western Panama, as well as throughout the Caribbean islands.

Breeding season is January to March, so we will try to keep an eye on the Sabalito pair. And, meanwhile, keep a sharp eye out as they may turn up at your house any day now!

An Exquisite Visitor

Stop the presses! Male Rufous-crested Coquette debuts in San Vito. Photo by Pepe Castiblanco.

For several weeks in September, excitement ruled the birding world of San Vito as a male Rufous-crested Coquette was found feeding at an Inga tree on the road to a nearby neighborhood called Piedra Pintada. It was a THRILLING find — a new species for CR!

This captivating, tiny bird was a source of delight and fascination for the many birders who came running to see it, along with unsuspecting motorists puzzling over the crowd that suddenly appeared daily at 5:30 am clamoring out of cars and off motorcycles with telescopes, tripods, binoculars and cameras.

Look at this flare!

The RCCO has a short history here. It was reported in 2016 and again in 2018 at Rancho Naturalista in Turrialba. In the second edition of The Birds of Costa Rica by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean it is listed in the back under ‘Rarities’. Historically, it is included in A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch, published in 1989, that cites four male specimens taken near San Jose in 1892 and 1906. It can be found in six other countries: Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

What about the tail?

Considered ‘uncommon’ where it occurs, it zooms around like a large bee. It has two ‘country cousins’ that share the same status of ‘uncommon’: the White-crested Coquette and the Black-crested Coquette. ‘Whitey’ is endemic to southern CR and western Panama so we are often hosting birders who hope to see it at the Wilson Botanical Garden. ‘Blacky’ can be found in the Caribbean foothills —  Arenal Volcano National Park is a good place to look — and is likewise beelike and difficult to find.

The lesson here is that you never know! It could easily appear in your garden on one of our beautiful flowering trees – Corals and Mayos will start flowering soon – and roadsides and gardens have hedgerows of Rabo de Gato (Stachytarpheta), favored by many species of hummingbirds.

Can’t have too many photos of this wonder so here is just one more.

A special thank you to Pepe Castiblanco, co-owner of Casa Botania Lodge, for these photos.

Rufous-crested Coquette: In Coto Brus!

Once again our sharp-eyed and energetic colleagues, los Pajareros del Sur, have spotted an amazing and beautiful new species to our area.

A Rufous-crested Coquette! (see photo below) Lophornis delattrei

Previously seen only one other time in Costa Rica (near Turrialba), the Rufous-crested Coquette is a southern species of hummingbird found in western South America and as far north as Panama…until now!

Congratulations to the Pajareros del Sur and to all of us who have had the opportunity view this spectacular bird.

(Photo courtesy of Pepe Castiblanco; taken on the road to Pintada near Aguas Claras. Feeding on Inga flowers.)

Euphonias: A Tutorial Do Eu Know Them?

[Before I get started with this tutorial, let me acknowledge one thing–I totally get it if you’re not interested in getting ‘way deep down in the weeds’ with your birding.  I think most week-end birders are perfectly content with macro-birding; ‘…Parrot’, ‘…Tanager’, ‘…Pigeon’…’Euphonia’‘…Flycatcher’. Hell, I’m that way with food and especially with wine. ‘…Red’ or  ‘…White’ are about as far as I care to go with wine. (I guess you could say I’m a macro-wino.) So I warn you; this tutorial does go fairly deep–deep into the weeds with tiny but significant differences between our six beautiful Euphonias.  That said, I encourage you to read on. These six birds are just so special.]

  • Thick-billed
  • Yellow-throated
  • Yellow-crowned
  • White-vented
  • Spot-crowned
  • Elegant

Six species of Euphonia are found down here in Coto Brus…all beautiful…all fairly similar.  How can you tell them apart?

Firstly, all Euphonias:

  • are about the size of a small tanager.
  • have pointy but cone-shaped bills.
  • show profound differences between males and females, with males being more colorful.
  • And most importantly, male Euphonias present with a rather specific variation on the same theme; a bright yellow underside contrasting with a dark-blue back and head.

These variations are the key to identifying which of the six species you’re looking at.!  

Number 1: When you see a Euphonia, always check to see if the Euphonia has a yellow throat or a dark blue throat.  

If it has a yellow throat, you’re looking at either the Thick-billed Euphonia or the Yellow-throated Euphonia.

The next part is a bit more challenging.  

The Thick-billed Euphonia has a yellow throat and a long cap. ‘Long cap’ just means the yellow extends past the eye (see below).

The Yellow-throated Euphonia also has the yellow throat but has a short cap (yellow cap stops right at the eye),

Two down, four to go.

Number 2: If the Euphonia has a dark blue throat, it is one of three Euphonia species.

Yellow-crowned Euphonia, White-vented Euphonia or Spot-crowned Euphonia.

The Yellow-crowned Euphonia has the blue throat with long yellow cap (again, past the eye.)

The Spot-crowned Euphonia also has the blue throat but with a short yellow cap (see below).  There are some little spots on the crown but they are very hard to see.

The White-vented Euphonia also has the blue throat with a short yellow cap, plus it also has a white under-belly and vent (butt) and it’s a wonderful dancer (see Fun Facts below).

Five down, one to go.

If you see a Euphonia and are totally stupified by its bright POWDER BLUE cap and RUFOUS belly, it is an Elegant Euphonia.  This bird truly cannot be confused with any other bird.

Now you know all six of our beautiful Euphonia species!

Euphonia Fun Facts!

  1. The name ‘Euphonia’ comes from the Latin and means ‘good sound’.
  2. Back when I first came to Costa Rica in the early 1980s, Euphonias were very popular cage birds; not only because of their beauty but their ‘good sound’ singing.  No more caging our native birds…please.
  3. The White-vented Euphonia can also be identified by its almost constant dancing.  Both males and females do a booty-shake dance.
  4. Euphonia females are the designated nest tenders and baby care-givers and as such they have rather drab coloration to avoid being seen,. 
  5. Up in dryer Guanacaste, there are three other Euphonia species.
  6. The Spot-crowned Euphonia has as its scientific name, Euphonia imitans.  Spot-crowns have the ability to imitate many other bird’s calls; including Roadside Hawk, Buff-throated Saltator, and Lesser Goldfinch.  Thick-bills also have this ability, to a lesser degree.

Lastly, my dear friends, as to identifying the female Euphonias; rather than drag you even deeper in the weeds…just call me or send me an email with your questions/concerns.  And congratulations if you’ve managed to read this far.

Greg Homer

Biggy and Smally: Woodpecker Messenger Service

The smallest woodpecker in Costa Rica, the Olivaceous Piculet, is no bigger than a warbler!  This very charismatic, big-bird-in-a-small-bird’s-body is often seen tap-tap-tapping on a slender dry twig looking for bugs.  The tapping sounds the Piculet makes have given it the local name of the Telegraph Bird.

The biggest woodpecker in Costa Rica, the Pale-billed Woodpecker, (probably the model for beloved cartoon character ‘Woody Woodpecker’) is over a foot long.  Normally, the Pale-billed Woodpecker is identified by it’s robust and very loud two-note rap…’TOCK-TOCK’…but recently I discovered the actual call of the Pale-billed Woodpecker.  To my surprise the Pale-bill’s call sounds very much like one of those old electric Morse Code devices with the key!  Click on the ‘Listen’ button in the lower right corner of this eBird page.

If you’re an old Boy Scout or Girl Scout, listen carefully–maybe IT IS an actual Morse Code message coming from the Pale-billed Woodpecker.  What message might they be sending us?

(images from eBird)






Swainson’s Thrush: ‘Hello, I Must Be Going’

Go outside for a minute or two and then come back in and finish this article…go on, really.


OK, now you’re back.  There is a very good chance you saw, or more likely heard, a Swainson’s Thrush or two while you were out there.

During late March and early April, here in Coto Brus, it seems like someone has opened up a giant firehose; and from that firehose has come a mighty river of Swainson’s Thrushes (see below).

This Swainson’s Thrush visit with us will be a fairly brief one however; for the Swainson’s Thrush is a passage migrant through Costa Rica.  They have been wintering in South America and are now anxiously heading home to North America where they will build homes and raise families.

Listen for them.  You’re likely to hear their flutey, thrush-like musical trill.  Also, you may hear my favorite of their calls, which I call the ‘Dripping Faucet’ call.  Here it is.  Click on Listen (lower right) and then select the third recording from the top:

During this time of year I am always reminded of that wonderful Groucho Marx song, ‘Hello, I Must Be Going.’

Hello, I must be going
I cannot stay
I came to say
I must be going
I’m glad I came
But just the same
I must be going.


Trogon Songs of San Vito

This time of year our two most common Trogons–the Gartered Trogon (yellow) and the Collared Trogon (red)–spend a good portion of the day singing their songs of territory and romance.

The Gartered Trogon…with its yellow belly, blue head (male), green back, and bright eye ring…sings a high-pitched single tone call, about three notes per second, usually while perched on a horizontal branch.

The Collared Trogon…with its red belly, green head (male) and white stripe separating the two…sings out with a plaintive 1-3 note call; lower pitched and slower in cadence.  Again, the Collared Trogon usually does this while perched on a mid-canopy horizontal branch.

I am including two YouTube links to these beautiful birds giving their calls.  Hope you get to hear these two Trogons and even see them in or near your own neighborhood.

Birds on the Move/Las aves en movimiento


Female Flame-rumped Tanager, a new record for Costa Rica. Photo by Pepe Castiblanco

On a sunny morning in early November, Pepe Castiblanco and I went to look for a bird that had never been recorded in Costa Rica until it was discovered in October. Most followers of this website know Pepe but, in case you do not, he is a birder, natural history guide, musician, raconteur, photographer, baker, restaurateur and co-owner – with his wife Kata Ulenaers — of a nearby B&B.

Pepe’s friend, Juan Abel, who is dashing and works at the Organization for Tropical Studies as a forest guard, found this bird – a Flame-rumped Tanager – on his finca, consorting with a group of Cherrie’s Tanagers. He called some friends, extraordinary birders, to come take a look and so it went. Because this is private property, the search becomes a question of permission. We were grateful to have a chance to go look and got lucky with the bird.

Juan and his wife Ruth have a large, enthusiastic dog that lunged through the door as we pulled into the driveway. Before we were able to get out of the car, the dog clipped one of Juan’s sons’ legs, sending coffee dribbling all over its back, and climbed into the car onto my lap. It was an auspicious start.

We walked around the house, through a guava orchard. The trees look odd because each round, fat fruit is sequestered in a bag to stymie insects and birds. The Abels have chicken coops and banana feeders and a ring of old trees around their farm. We saw four Rose-breasted Grosbeaks taking the sun in a pine tree and heard woodpeckers and Slaty Spinetails churring from the woods.

After a bit, Hafjeth Abel, 19, joined our search party while he fed the chickens, steering us away from making hopeful glances at their banana feeder. The group of tanagers we were after apparently does not frequent the feeder but hangs around the other side of the property near the forest edge. Over we went and suddenly they arrived, sputtering and squeaking, with the Flame-rumped female in plain view, perched for Pepe’s camera. Two Yellow-billed Caciques came out of the forest — an uncommon sighting as they are more often heard than seen.

The new tanager comes with some confusing taxonomy. It has three common names: Flame-rumped, Lemon-rumped and Yellow-rumped. And two scientific names: Ramphocelus flammigerus and R. icteronotus plus a subspecies indicator like this: Ramphocelus flammigerus icternotus. You can consult the authority of your choice, but the Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica follows the American Ornithologists Union checklist so this one is being presented to the Rare Records Committee as Flame-rumped Tanager, Ramphocelus flammigerus.

Maybe another one will join it or show up elsewhere. We will try to keep ourselves updated and report back from time to time.

Juan Abel, standing back row center, found a new bird for Costa Rica in October 2017. Also pictured Pepe Castiblanco, standing right. Photographer unknown.

Una mañana soleada de noviembre, Pepe Castiblanco y yo salimos a buscar un ave que nunca había sido registrada en Costa Rica, hasta que fue descubierta en octubre. La mayoría de quienes siguen este sitio web conocen a Pepe, pero en caso de que usted no lo conozcan, él es un pajarero, guía de historia natural, músico, anecdotista, fotógrafo, panadero, restaurador y co-propietario – con su esposa, Kata Ulenaers, — de un B&B de la localidad.

El amigo de Pepe, Juan Abel, quien es gallardo y trabaja para la Organización para Estudios Tropicales como guarda, encontró esta ave, Flame-rumped Tanager, en su finca, compartiendo con un grupo local de sargentos. Juan llamó a unos amigos, pajareros extraordinarios, para que vinieran a ver. Dado que esta es una propiedad privada, la búsqueda se convierte en una cuestión de permiso. Tuvimos la suerte de tener la oportunidad de ir a observar y encontrar el ave.

Juan y su esposa, Ruth, tienen un perro grande y entusiasta que se lanzó a través de la puerta mientras nos parquéabamos. Antes de que pudiéramos salir del carro, el perro atrapó una de las piernas de un hijo de Juan, echándose el café sobre el lomo, y se encaramó en el carro hasta llegar a mi regazo. Un prometedor comienzo.

A guava, bagged to exclude insects and birds. Photo by Alison Olivieri

Caminamos por la casa, hasta llegar a una plantación de guava. Los árboles se ven extraños porque secuestran su fruto en una vaina, para protegerlos de aves e insectos. Los Abels tienen gallineros y alimentadores de aves, y un anillo de árboles viejos alrededor de su granja. Vimos varios Picogrueso Pechirrosado (Calandrias) tomando el sol en un pino y escuchamos carpinteros y Arquitectos Plomizos en el bosque.

Después de un rato, Hafjeth Abel, de 19 años, se unió a nuestra búsqueda mientras alimentaba las gallinas, alejándonos de echar miradas esperanzadas al alimentador. Aparentemente, el grupo de tangaras que estábamos buscando no frecuenta el alimentador, sino el otro lado de la propiedad, cerca del lindero del bosque. Fuimos ahí y llegaron, chillando y revoloteando, con la hembra Flame-rumped a plena vista, en una posición privilegiada para la cámara de Pepe. Dos Caciques Picoplata salieron del bosque, una observación entraña, ya que frecuentemente se los escucha más de lo que se los ve.

La nueva tangara viene con una taxonomía confusa. Tiene tres nombres comunes: Flame-rumped, Lemon-rumped y Yellow-rumped; dos nombres científicos: Ramphocelus flammigerus y R. icteronotus; y un indicador de subespecie: Ramphocelus flammigerus icteronotus. Usted puede consultar con la autoridad de su escogencia, pero la Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica sigue el listado de la American Ornithologists Union, así que esta especie está presente en el Comité de Registros Raros como Flame-rumped Tanager, Ramphocelus flammigerus.

Quizá otra se le unirá o aparecerá en otro lugar. Trataremos de mantenernos al tanto y reportarle de cuando en cuando.


(This article courtesy of SVBC Taxonomy Tsar, Jo Davidson)

Thanks to all of you who attended the recent San Vito Bird Club annual meeting. This post provides the basic information and links to some excellent resources that were included in the presentation on Taxonomy.


Plain Wren has been split into three separate species.

  • Isthmian Wren (Cantorchilus elutus).
  • Cabanis’s Wren (Cantorchilus modestus)
  • Canebrake Wren (Cantorchilus zeledoni)

Gray-necked Wood-Rail is now Gray-cowled Wood-Rail

Three-striped Warbler is now Costa Rican Warbler (Basileuterus melanotis).

Blue-crowned Motmot is now Lesson’s Motmot (Momotus lessoni).

Green Violetear. is now Lesser Violetear (Colibri cyanotus).

Only the scientific names of the following species have been changed.

  • Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus) is now Ardenna creators
  • Wedge-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus pacificus) is now Ardenna pacifica
  • Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) is now Ardenna grisea
  • Short-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris) is now Ardenna tenuirostris
  • Dusky Antbird (Cercomacra tyrannina) is now Cercomacroides tyrannina
  • Tawny-crowned Greenlet (Hylophilus ochraceiceps) is now Tunchiornis ochraceiceps
  • Lesser Greenlet (Hylophilus decurtatus) is now Pachysylvia decurtata
Official List of Birds of Costa Rica –
Online Excel file including Order, Family, Scientific name, English name and Spanish name(s). This will come in very handy if you post information or inquiries to the AOCR Facebook page (link below).
Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica (AOCR)
Dues are 10,000 colones per year, for which you receive their newsletter, access to monthly seminars, and discounts on products and tours.
Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica (AOCR) – Facebook
This is truly a worthwhile group to join. If you don’t currently “do” Facebook, you may want to set up a profile just to access this incredible resource. In addition to truly wonderful pictures and details about our Costa Rican birds, there is much information on events and conservation efforts throughout the country.
American Ornithological Society (AOS) –
This is the group responsible for the annual taxonomy changes, which are actually published in July, not March. You will find the yearly supplements under “Publications and Checklists.”
Atlantic article on Taxonomists
Lighthearted and informative!
Rebecca’s e-mail address –
For those who did not have a pencil ready.
If any of you have questions regarding taxonomy issues, please e-mail them to the following address: