In my Costa Rican garden: Common Tody-Flycatcher

Common Tody-Flycatcher (Todirostrum cinereum): Espatulilla común; Gelbbauch-Spateltyrann; Todirostre commun

Common Tody-Flycatcher at Las Brisas, Limón province; photo by John Beer

I think that in every garden in Costa Rica below around 1600 m you will find this dainty, tail-wagging little bird. Plumage is black above and lemon-yellow below, while the white eye stands out against its dark face. Here locally I’ve recorded it up as high as Calle Vargas, though it is absent from the higher slopes of the Turrialba Volcano. The bird pictured below appears to have been collecting nesting material and I can usually locate at least one nest in my garden each year.

Common Tody-Flycatcher, Santa Rosa de Turrialba; photo by John Beer

This is a tiny bird less than 4 inches in length but it looks relatively big-headed and the bill, which gives it its Spanish name of espatulilla (‘little spatula’), is long and flat. The throat is yellow and a close view reveals what look like fine whiskers:

Throat and underparts are all yellow, despite the lighting in this shot from Santa Rosa de Turrialba; photo by John Beer

Another very similar species also in our area is the Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher (Todirostrum nigriceps), but this bird has a white throat and a dark eye and the black head contrasts with its olive back. It frequents tree tops in forested areas but is much less common and is not easy to locate. Common Tody-Flycatchers are usually found in pairs, and on adult birds the bright eye stands out against the dark face:

Here, one of a pair sits above the long pouch-shaped nest in John’s garden; photo by John Beer

Here’s the pair, standing guard:

The nesting pouch of the Common Tody-Flycatcher tends to be long and sometimes straggly. The birds enter the nest from a side entrance, as seen below:

The repetitious clicking sound of its calls often betrays its presence. Listen and look carefully for its light, fluttery flight and you’re sure to find it wherever your Costa Rican visit takes you.

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