My San Antonio Saltators

Four species bear the name saltator in Costa Rica, though a fifth member of the family is also found here, the Slate-colored Grosbeak. For the purposes of this post, I discount the latter species since I have never found it in our area. It is not yet clear whether the saltators are cardinals, tanagers or grosbeaks. They eat both seeds and fruits and three of the five (see p. 332-3, The Birds of Costa Rica, Garrigues and Dean) appear regularly in my garden here in San Antonio.

At first light the loud, lip-smacking sounds of the Black-headed Saltator (Saltator atriceps) are among the first to greet the ear. In Costa Rica, this species is found only on the Caribbean slope and to some degree in the Central Valley, west from Turrialba. It has a yellow-green back and a big white throat patch bordered in black.


Black-headed Saltator, photographed in nearby Aquiares by John Beer

This distinguishes it from the Buff-throated Saltator (Saltator maximus), which despite its Latin name is slightly smaller and also has a yellow-green back. As its English name indicates, maximus has a buffy throat patch. It is slightly less common than atriceps here in San Antonio but nevertheless it is a common species that sings rather more sweetly. It is found on both coasts as well as in the Central Valley.

Buff-throated Saltator

Buff-throated Saltator in my garden, courtesy of Larry Waddell

All three saltators in my garden have a white eye-stripe, and the third and least common, the Grayish Saltator (Saltator coerulescens), is best recognised by its generally dull grey plumage. It too vocalises regularly and Garrigues’ description of its song is pretty accurate: a “pleasant whistled phrase ending on a rising note”. With a little diligence, I can usually find all three species on any given day.


Grayish Saltator in nearby Santa Rosa, courtesy of John Beer

The only saltator species in Costa Rica that I have not mentioned so far is the Streaked Saltator (Saltator striatipectus). This is a southern Pacific species that does not occur here at all, although there is a small population at nearby Ujarrás.

In other news, James and Laetitia Hart have again confirmed the White-eyed Vireo at the same location in San Rafael de Santa Cruz by recording its song. And here at home Elegant Euphonias are now again eating matapalo (mistletoe) in a nearby higuerón tree, while Russet-naped Wood-Rails and a Green Heron are frequently near my koi ponds. The Cape May Warbler has not yet appeared this year and we may have to wait until the bottle-brush trees in the church yard flower more profusely.

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