Mystery bird at feeder. Tropical mockingbird or Striped cuckoo?

Tropical Mockingbird (only for reference – not a photo of my mystery bird)

A wonderful day of mixed clouds and rain, and a surprise visit at the feeder.  I have what looks like a mockingbird or thrasher (maybe a cuckoo because of the long tail) in my yard but it doesn’t match any descriptions in the guide books. It seems to match the Tropical mockingbird except for the breast colour.

Here’s the description:

a single bird, looking like a mockingbird or thrasher, with very conspicuous white in the tail (rather like a White-tipped dove, it seems) when flying.

It sat next to a Baltimore oriole at my feeder (bananas), allowing a size comparison. It was very much bigger than the oriole, so I calculate at least 10 or 11 inches. It then flew off into a eucalyptus tree.

I saw it only briefly at the feeder, which is in a guayabo tree. It has a conspicuous yellow eye with a black line or mask through it, and a long straight bill. It is grey in colour overall, but the belly is white. I was unable to check for wing bars. It did not call. It seemed to cock its tail.

The main problem with this bird is that it has a dark, muted yellow breast. I assumed it was a bird I’d never seen before. I am unfamiliar with Tropical mockingbirds, but know Northern mockingbirds very well, but I was astonished not to find a bird matching the description in Garrigues or in Stiles and Skutch. It might match the Tropical mockingbird except for the breast coloration. Could it get stained somehow, or is there some South American vagrant of which I am ignorant? I observed it in good light but only for about 15 seconds from a distance of about 15 yards. It reappeared very briefly, and I was able to confirm the main points of identification. My wife says she saw it also on Friday but assumed it was a bird I knew. I failed to get a photograph but hope to get one if it reappears tomorrow. This seems fairly likely, I would say.

In retrospect, and searching through the guides for the nth time, I hit upon the Striped cuckoo.   Yes, I know, two totally different birds, it would seem, yet both are quite unfamiliar to me.   I have looked at numerous photos both of the Tropical mockingbird and the Striped cuckoo.  Some photos look nothing like the bird I saw, others (of either species) look possible, if the cuckoo doesn’t raise its crest.  When I finally get to see the cuckoo, yet another supposedly common bird in the Caribbean lowlands, I will know if that’s it.

If anyone can help, my telephone number here in San Antonio, near Santa Cruz, Turrialba, is 2 556 56 51.

October 25, 2009 8:02 PM

I now (August 2016) look back at this early post from when I was a mere novice and I discount everything except cuckoos. I believe this was perhaps a Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor) despite its being so far out of range. On February 25th of 2010, I helped band a Mangrove Cuckoo at CATIE in Turrialba, so it’s not impossible. The Yellow-billled Cuckoo is a fairly frequent migrant here but the breast colour is normally pure white. I’d still like help with this if anyone catches my update.

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