My Turrialba Bird Feeder

One of the most familiar sights at the feeder
A Baltimore oriole wonders who these little guys are

Well, it’s not very sophisticated, I’m afraid, just a couple of boards of wood sitting in a guayabo tree.  I put a few bananas on daily whenever I’ve got ripe ones to spare.  At the moment, I have plenty, because all three species are heavy on the trees.  I have tried putting out rice grains but they seem unattractive to most species.

November is a great month for the feeder, because now the migrants are here to add to the usual crowd of residents.  My observations are not at all scientific because some days I don’t have the chance to take much of a look, while on others I am able to spend more time.  However, I do note sightings every day, unless we are simply not at home.

For those unfamiliar with Costa Rica (or perhaps with Turrialba), here’s a run-down, approximately in order of regular attendance, of the species that visit me.  Bear in mind that our village of San Antonio is located at about 1200 m altitude at the limit of range for some lowland and for some highland species.  I’ll begin with the residents and then look at the migrants.

Some typical customers

The Blue-grey tanager, Palm tanager and Passerini’s tanager are definitely the core species chowing down on the bananas, supplemented by other common residents, the Clay-coloured robin, Great kiskadee and Rufous-collared sparrow.

Palm tanager

 The kiskadee is a big fruit eater, unlike the similarly plumaged Social and Grey-capped flycatchers present here year-round, which stick exclusively to insects, it seems.  The kiskadees also seem to take small fish or tadpoles from the pond, or perhaps they are simply bathing.  The House wren is another ever-present species in my garden, but when it infrequently hops onto the feeding board I suspect it is picking up insects rather than bits of banana.

Great-tailed grackles are unwelcome guests (as are the squirrels), but fortunately they don’t show up at the feeder very often, despite their constant presence on the church roof a few hundred yards away.

A local resident fights with a northern migrant

The next most frequent banana-eaters are the saltators, of which we get three species here.  The Black-headed saltator is the largest and the noisiest.  At first I thought it was perhaps the most regular visitor, vying even with the tanagers.  However, I have found that there are some times of the year when it just doesn’t put in an appearance.  Perhaps this coincides with the seasonal lack of chayotes, a variety of squash, that grows on the back fence and explains the local name of this noisy and bold saltator, chayotera.

La chayotera – big and loud

The second of our saltators is the drably attired Greyish saltator, which also turns out to be absent for some part of the year.  Most days, however, I can check off both the Greyish and the Black-headed on the daily list, though as I write the latter has not put in an appearance for several days.

Grayish saltator, modestly attired

  The third musketeer is the Buff-throated saltator, a fairly bright and attractive bird intermediate in size between the other two, but generally appearing much less frequently.  Its visiting times are rather hard to predict, but at the moment it is coming to the guayabo almost daily.  This shot unfortunately doesn’t get the distinctive buff throat.

Buff-throated saltator, least common of the bunch

Golden-hooded tanagers with a Baltimore oriole

Two large resident birds that come irregularly to the feeder but are to be seen every day in the garden (and everywhere in the area) are the spectacular Montezuma oropendola and the ubiquitous Brown jay.  Both are very loud and very visible.  The Chestnut-headed oropendola, a slightly smaller species, can be found just a few kilometers away at the Guayabo National Monument, but so far I have never seen it here in San Antonio.  When the Montezuma oropendola hits the feeder the bananas don’t last long.  The birds arrive usually three or four at a time; generally they grab large chunks of banana and take off, rarely staying at the feeder.  The jays also turn up in numbers, shrieking their Tico name of piapia.

Our common resident, Montezuma!

Next in order of frequency is perhaps the Melodious blackbird, like the grackle an invader from the north but now well established in many parts of Costa Rica.  Any all-black bird at the feeder is likely to be this loud-whistling but plain-looking species.

Another all-black, or almost all-black, bird is the White-lined tanager, which I place in a group of residents that appear only sporadically.  The all-black White-lined male never appears alone, but the accompanying female, warm chestnut in colour, seems to be at first glance a different species.  Appearing with greater frequency is another little tanager, the Golden-hooded tanager, a true gem with its lovely combination of gold and blue.

Golden-hooded tanager

Still another resident tanager that has appeared at the feeder, but only very occasionally, is the beautiful Crimson-collared tanager.  If this one appears, I count myself very lucky.

Another common resident that pops up among the bananas occasionally, often without seeming to partake, is the Bananaquit.  It seems rather strange that a bird bearing such a name and nesting only ten yards away should mostly avoid so many bananas.

To round out the residents, the handsome black and yellow Black-cowled oriole attends the feeder with some frequency, but it is heavily outnumbered by its cousin, the Baltimore oriole, leading banana-eater among the migrants, which I should now consider.

The beautiful Baltimore oriole and the equally attractive Summer tanager, both well-known farther north in the United States, are the first at the feeder once October rolls around, and their presence can be counted on here until perhaps the end of April.   They are just two of many migrant species that occur here at the house, but they are also the only ones that seem to tuck in on the bananas.

Male Summer tanager

Several members of the euphonia family (Yellow-throated, Yellow-crowned and Elegant) can be observed, but I have seen none of them swallowing any bananas.  They always seem to prefer the mistletoe berries located higher up the guayabo tree.

The Emerald toucanet graces the cover of the best Costa Rican bird guide

On one occasion an Emerald toucanet flirted briefly with the bananas, but this species is hardly ever to be seen in my garden.  It’s larger cousin, the Keel-billed toucan, is a daily regular, but it usually stays high in the eucaliptus or pines, and  I have never seen it descend to the bananas.  Wish it would!

Although several flycatchers and hummingbirds are regular visitors to the guayabo tree, I have seen no other species feeding on the bananas, so that completes my account of My Turrialba Bird Feeder.  Many warblers (all migrants since none of the resident species has so far put in an appearance in my garden) and several vireos are delightful visitors that flit around the same guayabo, above and around the bananas,  but they stick to insects and flower nectar, of course.

In an addendum (December 2, 2009), I must add that I now have a Hoffmann’s woodpecker chowing down on bananas at the feeder with some regularity, while today, a hungry band of Grey-headed chachalacas stuffed themselves full for the first time.

2 thoughts on “My Turrialba Bird Feeder

  1. I enjoyed your post. I live in Turrialba on the CATIE campus, and I’m helping my daughter set up a platform feeder for a science project. My question is, do you peel the bananas you leave out? Or just throw them out, peel and all?

    Also, have you ever tried papaya? And would you leave the peel on that?



    • Hi Amanda,

      I’m still stuck in California until May 1st but looking forward to coming back to Turrialba. As for the bananas, you can leave them unpeeled if you wish, but I usually split them open so that the smaller birds can get to the food immediately. I leave the peel on. I also cut them into chunks because otherwise squirrels carry off whole bananas and oropendolas fly away with really big chunks. Another thing I do is I stick a bamboo stake in the ground with lots of spiky side stalks and impale chunks on it. The banana cannot then be too ripe or it will just fall off. You can also use plantain for this. Regarding papaya, I don’t use it because doesn’t seem to attract any more birds or different species, and it costs more than bananas. I am no expert on feeders and could probably do much better if I were to give it some more thought. I’ve had no luck with seed for example. Hope this helps.



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