Ian’s Bird of the Week – Boat-billed Heron

Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius) by Ian

Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius) by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Boat-billed Heron 

After I’d photographed the Resplendent Quetzal, my immediate reaction was one of relief: ‘Now I can just relax and enjoy the rest of my time in Costa Rica!’. Needless to say, that didn’t last long and I decided to chase a couple of other species on my bucket list including Scarlet Macaw and Boat-billed Heron. If you’re not familiar with bucket lists, have a look here http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0825232/ – and I hasten to add that I’m not terminally ill!. I enquired at the Hotel Savegre, where I was staying, and they booked me into the Villa Lapas, another eco-lodge-style hotel, but in the lowlands on Puntarenas Province on the Pacific Coast.

Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius) by Ian

Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius) by Ian

‘Lapas’ is the Spanish for Macaw, and that seemed like a good omen, particularly as the hotel is adjacent to the Carara Biological Reserve, supposedly one of the best places in Costa Rica for Scarlet Macaws. Anyway, I checked into the hotel and booked myself on an early morning wildlife boat trip on the Tarcoles River. I was the only passenger, so the crew of two were only too happy to try to satisfying my wishes. Sure enough, within minutes of starting, we got distant views of a pair of Scarlet Macaws feeding on Beach Almonds and after a trip up the river we went down to the mangroves for the climax of the trip, three Boat-billed Herons roosting in the mangroves.

Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius) by Ian

Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius) by Ian

There have got to be the strangest looking herons, with their huge bills, though otherwise they show some resemblance to Night-Herons and are also nocturnal – hence the large eyes. The bill looks it’s designed a heavy duty task like crushing crabs, but in fact it is used rather passively as a scoop and Boat-bills eat a variety of invertebrates and small vertebrates unlucky enough to get in the way. In the past they have been given their own mono-typic family, but DNA research has shown that they are related to both the Tiger-Herons and the Night-Herons.

I first got interested them when reading about them in Trinidad in 2005 where they are rare. Elsewhere in South America they are reasonably common with a range extending from Mexico to northern Argentina. There are five sub-species, sometimes treated as two species, Northern and Southern, but the Costa Rican race (panamensis) is intermediate between the two extremes and it is usual now to treat them as a single species.

I’m enjoying being back home in North Queensland, though the first week here has been a busy one as I’ve been preparing material for a workshop on wader identification tomorrow. When that is out of the way, I can get back to the website and the rest of my domestic routine in earnest.

Best wishes,

Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: +61-7 4751 3115
Preferred Email: ian@birdway.com.au
Website: http://birdway.com.au

Lee’s Addition:

the stork, the heron after its kind, and the hoopoe and the bat. (Deuteronomy 14:18 NKJV)

Boat-billed Herons belong to the Ardeidae Family of the Pelecaniformes Order. I am glad Ian managed to get photos of it. We were able to get photos at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh and a Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, FL. It is really an interesting beak that the Boat-billed has. The Heron is one of the Birds of the Bible.


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