Elegant Euphonia

Visitors to the tropics have to contend with many new individual and generic bird names. One such genus is the euphonias. Although euphonias are considered to be members of the finch family, they feed primarily on small berries, chiefly mistletoe. Here in Costa Rica, 9 species bear the name euphonia, while another member of the genus has the lovely moniker of Golden-browed Chlorophonia (see pp. 364-367 in the latest edition of the standard field guide, The Birds of Costa Rica, by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean).

Here on the Turrialba Volcano slope, locals claim to see the Elegant Euphonia (Euphonia elegantissima) in the dry season, though it is in fact a resident and is present year-round. Until recently, because of its striking beauty it was much persecuted for the cage-bird trade. In our region, I have rarely seen it in captivity, but I always scan parasitic plants in tree-tops (here called matapalo, ‘kill-tree’) for its presence. One large higuerón close by our house seems to attract Elegant Euphonias frequently, despite the Great-tailed grackles that now nest there. When they come to our garden their high twittering often betrays their presence.

This week, while walking back home from nearby Santa Cruz (home of the famous Turrialba cheese), I was very pleasantly surprised to find a pair of these little gems down at eye level. If only they were always so easy to see at close range! They seemed interested in a nest site, though its precise location will have to be a subject of further study for me. I do know that they have nested regularly in our village of San Antonio.

Euphonia, Elegant, female, Cristina, La Suiza (1300 masl) (1)

Female Elegant Euphonia, photographed at La Cristina de La Suiza, courtesy of John Beer

The female, shown above, is pretty enough with its powder-blue cap, and the species was indeed once called the Blue-hooded Euphonia. The male, however, is something else. Unfortunately, the only usable images I have were taken with my own tiny camera here at home in San Antonio and do not do the bird justice at all. This is the best I can offer:

Elegant Euphonia in my guayabo

Male Elegant Euphonia in a guayabo tree here in San Antonio

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