Boat-billed Heron – signature bird at CATIE

Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius); Pico-cuchara; Kahnschnabel; Savacou huppé

Adult Boat-billed Heron at CATIE lake; photo by John Beer

If you want to see the Boat-billed Heron in the Turrialba area, the only chance you will have is at the tropical agricultural research centre, CATIE, just outside town. The elevation, around 650 m, is quite high for this heron, which used to be placed in its own specific family. June is a great month to visit CATIE because of the many nesting herons and egrets of several species. The Boat-billed Heron is wonderful to behold because of its huge bill, bushy crest, held flat behind the head, and large, beady black eye.

Immature Boat-billed Heron at CATIE lake; photo by John Beer

Nesting season for this particular species is June to September, which presumably means that this juvenile fledged earlier this month. They forage at night and thus are best observed at dawn and dusk.

Adult Boat-billed Heron on nest at CATIE; photo by John Beer

Skutch, in A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, notes that the nest is small for so large a bird; it is usually located over the water and 2, rarely 3, eggs are laid. At CATIE herons must beware of large caimans that regularly wait beneath the nest sites for any falling chicks.

The Boat-billed Heron can be considered a signature species for CATIE at Turrialba but remember that the centre includes a variety of interesting habitats and boasts an impressively long list of bird species.

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