A Birder’s Bird

A guest “Viewpoint” written by Greg Homer, a birder’s birder who has led many trips to Costa Rica over the years. Greg and his wife Helen are our newest members. . . . .

It’s possible — even probable — that in the entire history of the world no non-birder has ever uttered the phrase “Ooh look, a Thrushlike Schiffornis!”.  But this wonderful creature, described by field guide author Richard Garrigues as “. . . a non-descript olive-brown bird . . . ” and somewhat more generously by the great Alexander Skutch as ” . . . not brightly colored”, is most definitely a joy to behold when seen by a birder.

Greg Homer, on deck at his new digs near the Wilson Botanical Garden.

Greg Homer, on deck at his new digs near the Wilson Botanical Garden.

Toucans, motmots, most parrots and many tanagers fall into a category of birds often referred to as Charismatic Avifauna (C.A.).  These birds are so colorful and/or charming that both birders and non-birders alike stop what they’re doing to give them a look. It’s extremely easy to love a Bay-headed Tanager or Fiery-billed Aracari.

But the Thrushlike Schiffornis most certainly does NOT fall into the C.A. category.  Not only is the Thrushlike Schiffornis non-descript and not brightly colored, it does not live a particularly exciting or charismatic lifestyle (at least not to all of us non-Thrushlike Schiffornises).  The terms ‘sluggish’ and ‘secretive’ and ‘solitary’ are often used to describe its behavior.  The song of the Thrushlike Schiffornis is unlikely to ever become a Top 10 ringtone.  And, on top of all that, there is the name — to me, ‘Thrushlike Schiffornis’ sounds more like a medical diagnosis than a bird.

“Mrs. Hartoonian, we have the results back on that culture we did on your eye.  You have thrushlike schiffornis.”

 “Is that bad?”

“Well, it isn’t good; but these days it is treatable with antibiotics.”

And get this. . . in my copy of A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch (first edition 1989), the Thrushlike Schiffornis isn’t even called a Thrushlike Schiffornis.  Back then it was listed as a “Thrushlike Manakin . . . which may possibly be a Thrushlike Mourner.”

When I was a kid back in the citrus belt of California, family, friends and neighbors used to look at me, smile and then tell my parents, “Well, there’s a face only a mother could love.”  And so it goes for the Thrushlike Schiffornis — a bird only a birder could love.