Snowy Cotinga

Male Snowy Cotinga at Bonilla; photo by John Beer

What a beauty! If you see a small all-white bird in the treetops in Costa Rica, it’s unlikely to be the species above. Today’s sighting was only my second despite having lived here so long. The Snowy Cotinga (Carpodectes nitidus)  is one of 4 birds in this country that bear the English name of cotinga. It is the only one of these that can be found not too far from Turrialba. However, you need to know exactly where to go and have a little bit of luck too. This time we found a single bird at Lagunas de Bonilla, but that’s almost in Limón province.

The straight line of the forehead is a notable feature of the Snowy Cotinga when seen in profile; photo by John Beer

Cotingas feed primarily on fruit and insects and are often spotted high in treetops in forested areas. The only other species in our area that may, at a distance, be confused with the Snowy Cotinga are the fairly common Masked Tityra (Tityra semifasciata), seen here….

Male Masked Tityra at Santa Rosa; photo by John Beer

and the much less common Black-crowned Tityra (Tityra inquisitor):

Male Black-crowned Tityra at Finca Estrella in the south of the country; photo by John Beer

Either of the tityras is possible in our area but any glimpse of the head of either a male or female tityra will eliminate any chance of it being a Snowy Cotinga. Be aware that female cotingas of all species are either greyish in colour (Carpodectes species) or have scales and spots (Cotinga species).

The other 3 cotingas of Costa Rica are the Turquoise Cotinga (Cotinga ridgwayi), its Caribbean slope equivalent and look-alike, the aptly named Lovely Cotinga (Cotinga amabilis), and the Yellow-billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae), which is a yellow-billed version of the subject of this post. Of these 3, only the Lovely Cotinga is found in our area, but it is a rare species of the Caribbean foothills with only one sighting for 2018 recorded in eBird at Cerro El Silencio.

Today’s sightings from Bonilla, with additional photos, can be found at: https://ebird.org/camerica/view/checklist/S50302180

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