One tree, many birds

The Poró gigante (Erythrina poeppigiana) was introduced to Costa Rica from northern South America and is not considered to be a species native to this country. The tree is called poró extranjero (foreign poró) by the older farmers, who still remember that it was brought from Venezuela to Costa Rica about 100 years ago.

It is now hugely important as shade for coffee; that is why it was introduced to this country. And as these photos show, it is also extremely important to birds. When you spot  its red flowers and spiny branches, be sure to take a careful look:

Blackbird, Melodious, Paso Marcos (1)

Here, a Melodious Blackbird, itself a species that has only recently invaded Costa Rica, in this case from the north,  nips at the red flowers of the giant poró. Photo by John Beer.

Blackbird, Melodious, Paso Marcos (2)

Here´s what the poró flowers look like when outlined against a blue sky. Photo by John Beer.

Who said that exotics are always bad for the local ecology? Although the Melodious Blackbird (Dives dives), which is a new arrival since the mid-1980’s whose piercing whistles can now be heard in gardens throughout Costa Rica, is also not a native species. the next photos clearly show that this tree, which can grow to a height of well over 100 ft (30 m plus),  is a favourite of many Costa Rican bird species, both migrants and residents:

Oropendola, Chestnut-headed, Paso Marcos (3)

Here’s the first of our two local oropendola species, the Chestnut-headed Oropendola. Photo by John Beer.

The Chestnut-headed Oropendola (Psarocolius wagleri) is the much the less common of our two local oropendolas. As seen in these photos from Paso Marcos on the Rio Pacuare, it is often found in the company of the significantly larger Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma), which, however, it tends to dominate at feeders:

Oropendola, Montezuma, Paso Marcos

Montezuma Oropendola displays his yellow tail. Photo by John Beer

Another very common species that enjoys use of the poró gigante is the noisy Brown Jay (Psilorhinus morio), called piapia by Costa Ricans because of its loud squawk:

Jay, Brown, Paso Marcos

Brown Jays unfortunately tend to scare away smaller species. Photo by John Beer.

The bark of the tree also attracts woodpeckers. Here are the two species most likely to occur in our area:

Woodpecker, Hoffmann´s, male, juvenile, Paso Marcos

Juvenile male Hoffmann’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes hoffmannii). Photo by John Beer.

Woodpecker, Hoffmann´s, female, Paso Marcos

And here’s the female Hoffmann’s. Photo by John Beer

Even more common in our area than the Hoffmann’s is the Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani), a Caribbean species:

Woodpecker, Black-cheeked, female, Paso Marcos (2)

Female Black-cheeked Woodpecker, again courtesy of John Beer

Finally, here’s a migrant found in great numbers in most parts of the country from September to May, the beautiful Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula):

Oriole, Baltimore, male, Paso Marcos (2)

John notes that the colour of this male Baltimore‘s breast neatly matches that of the flowers of the giant poró.

This is merely a small sample of the regular visitors to this introduced tree species. In particular, its fruit is food for parrots and parakeets and its flowers regularly attract many hummingbird and euphonia species, though these are hard to photograph as they move rapidly from one flower to another at a great height. The tree is easy to recognize. Check it out!

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