5th Bird of Christmas: Bare-throated Tiger Heron

30 Dec

As we continue exploring bird species found in Costa Rica, it’s time to look to the estuaries, lagoons and other waterways for our next two days’ subjects.

Sometimes late at night on the Nicoya Peninsula, I heard a howl that didn’t sound like a howler monkey. It sounded more like a wild cat – and I envisioned the unlikely jaguar or puma nearby.

If I hiked very early in the morning on the Finca de Monos trail that wound along a tiny creek in Curú Wildlife Refuge, I could tread very lightly up a little hill on the trail, not making a sound, and upon cresting the rise, peek down over the steep bank of a the little waterway, and thus sneak up on a solitary long-legged fishing bird, waiting motionless for a fish, frog or crab to come within reach of its long bill. The strangely cat-like cry I had sometimes heard in the night belonged to this estuary ecosystem dweller, the Bare-throated Tiger Heron.

Tigrisoma mexicanum is a wading bird of the heron family Ardeidae, found from Mexico to South America; it is said there was an accidental who appeared in Hidalgo County, Texas once. At times I would come upon this shy bird while paddling along the Rio Panica, or when visiting a remote watering hole in a mountain stream with a waterfall. Since flying isn’t this heavy bird’s strong suit, it’s not too hard to photograph; it usually remains perched yet wary rather than expend the energy to retreat.

My favorite color is yellow and my name rhymes with “tiger.” So of all the herons, this bird is my favorite for its lovely tiger stripes and beautiful yellow neck, which it magically extends whist offering up its hoarse “howk-howk-howk,” making itself look unnaturally elongated. When the male emits his creature-from-the-black-lagoon night call, the beak opens wide and, if you were there watching, you’d be able to see his saffron throat actually vibrate with the sound. At other times it shrinks its neck down into its shoulders to appear very short.

And speaking of short, click here to hear a brief NPR article about some guys who heard a Tiger Heron while sitting around their campfire in Guatemala – the bird’s call is included on the tape.

Photos for this entry are by Bruce Smith and Frances Figart (rhymes with Tiger).

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2 Responses to “5th Bird of Christmas: Bare-throated Tiger Heron”

  1. Mary Jorgensen December 31, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    Frances, your fabulous photos and descriptions have transported me from snow-bound Iowa to a lush tropical paradise and I’m SO grateful for the journey!
    I look forward to more!

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