White-fronted Nunbird – a new bird for me

White-fronted Nunbird (Monasa morphoeus): Monja Frentiblanca; Barbacou à front blanc; Weißstirn-Faulvogel

There’s lots of bird activity as full migration season begins so I’m a little behind on reports. First mention must go to a bird that I’d never seen before but that had recently been found at Finca Tres Equis, still in Cartago Province and no great distance from Turrialba. John and Steven helped me locate the same species just over the line in Limón Province not far from Guayacán in late August. It´s the largest of the 5 species of puffbird (Bucconidae) found in Costa Rica and one of only two not actually termed puffbird by its English name. I particularly like the German name, which translates literally as the “white-fronted lazy bird”. This refers to the habit of most puffbirds to simply perch and wait for their prey to come to them, instead of engaging in active pursuit. The White-fronted Nunbird differs from other puffbirds in being extremely vocal. This is what helped us find this particular individual. Once located, identification is easy because of the contrast of the white face and the prominent, coral-red bill:

White-fronted Nunbird feeding near Guayacán; photo by John Beer

Despite my long-time residence in Costa Rica I haven´t had much luck at all with puffbirds. They are generally lowland birds of thick forest or forest edge. An exception is the very rare Lanceolated Monklet. At 5″ it´s the smallest of our puffbirds and, despite its rarity, has been seen with some frequency lately close to Turrialba, but, alas, not by yours truly!

I myself had seen only the big White-necked Puffbird (twice on the Pacific Coast) and the White-whiskered Puffbird (also twice, but at Paso San Marcos closer to Turrialba). I discovered an interesting fact about the latter puffbird, which is said to stuff the entrance to its burrow with green leaves at night. Presumably this is to deter unwanted visitors. This first encounter with the White-fronted Nunbird really made my day. It’s a large and noisy species; but it’s also a quite handsome bird and poses beautifully for photos. In Costa Rica it occurs almost exclusively in the Caribbean. Fortunately, Turrialba is at the gateway to the Caribbean. This nunbird’s range is from eastern Honduras south as far as Brazil and Bolivia.

Upright pose of the White-fronted Nunbird; photo by John Beer
Not at all shy – final shot of my first-ever White-fronted Nunbird; photo by John Beer

I had been out of the country and denied re-entry by the Corona virus, which made me miss the first sightings at Finca Tres Equis on the Turrialba-Siquirres road. Here’s a photo from one of John’s visits there in September last year. Judging from this it could be the same individual! I think not – the locations are many miles apart!

White-fronted Nunbird at Finca Tres Equis; photo by John Beer

Turrialba is in a prime location for birdwatching expeditions. Now I know I don’t have far to go to see again the wonderful White-fronted Nunbird, a species formerly considered common but whose numbers are now in decline.

By the way, this same late-August trip brought my first migrants of the year in the form of a female Cerulean Warbler and a Red-eyed Vireo. Both of these are passage migrants in Costa Rica. With my very best thanks to John Beer and Steven Aguilar Montenegro.

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