Friday, January 21, 2011

His Blueness

About a week ago we heard that a pair of Blue Cotingas (Cotinga nattererii) was being seen in Cerro Azul. We were both excited and disturbed. We were excited because we had seen this species only once previously - on our first visit to Panama in December 2008 - a pair in Summit Park. That pair was high in a very distant tree, and we have wanted better views of these beautiful birds ever since. We were disturbed because we heard about the Cerro Azul pair in the evening, and we already had commitments in town the next day, which meant we could not try for them until at least the following afternoon.

We did try that afternoon when we got back to Cerro Azul, but it was almost dark and we saw no cotingas. The next morning we tried again, and saw a female. A day or two later we tried again and saw a female. This week, on our fourth try, we hit the jackpot - we saw three males, all in brilliant, shining plumage, and they were in a closer tree than the female had been. The males were interacting with each other, seeming rivals. Was it rivalry for the female we had seen, or for the fruits on the trees in the area?

We thought we heard them calling, a trilling chittering chirpy sound. Then we got home, checked XenoCanto and read the field guides. XenoCanto has no sound recordings for the Blue Cotinga. Ridgely, in "A Guide to the Birds of Panama", says, "Cotingas of this genus apparently make no vocal sounds, but wings of males (in display?) are sometimes heard to whirr or rattle in flight." Other sources that we have consulted concur, some with question marks and some unequivocally. Yesterday we went back to try to see their mouths open as we heard the sounds, but failed. We saw only one male and one female, and when we did hear the sounds, the male was always in flight.

Marco was able to shoot video of both the male and the female, and it includes some puzzling behavior. A little less than one minute into the video of the male, the bird coughs/gags up what looks like the pit of a fruit, and he then suspends it from the branch of the tree. When we were there, we both noticed several of these pale oval objects suspended from the branch by thin strands, but at the time, we did not know what they were.

Marco was not keen on sharing his video of the female; the light was bad and she was in a distant tree. But since she also exhibited the same behavior, I convinced Marco to include video of her in this post.

We have seen many species of birds (owls, kingfishers, flycatchers and others) cough up pellets. But until now, we had not observed a bird to suspend the pellet (in this case, probably a seed or pit of a fruit) from a branch.


  1. I like the slow motion clip so I could see the coughing up footage better. The bird sound is not from that bird, then?
    Keep up the good work, btw.

  2. The last sound as the bird flies is definitely made by the Blue Cotinga. Is it a vocalization or the sound of wings?

  3. Wow, great job on the video. Interesting behavioral observation.

  4. Thanks John - we really enjoy your photos and blog, too.