Creature Feature

06 May 2013

Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis)

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News
Photo by Clive Bowley

Photo by Clive Bowley


The Bat Falcon, a resident breeder in Trinidad, inhabits the forest and surrounding areas of the Asa Wright Nature Centre. Last year it could frequently be seen perched atop an Immortelle branch where it surveyed the territory for its meals. That branch, conveniently positioned to the eastern side of the verandah allowed, once or twice, fortunate guests and guides to witness feeding time at the perch. The food of choice for this species is, of course, bats. However, the Bat Falcon will also feed on small birds, mammals and insects.
Bat Falcons are small raptors (27 cm in length) belonging to the family Falconidae, which consists of Falcons and Caracaras. Representatives of the latter group can also be seen in Trinidad. This raptor’s range extends from southern Mexico to northern Argentina.
The Bat Falcon makes high-pitched call of ‘kiu,kiu,kiu.’ It is a rather charming raptor with an outstanding black and white striped upper breast and cinnamon lower breast. It has a black head and grey throat but yellow eye-rings and feet. In Trinidad, breeding has been recorded in February. A clutch of two eggs is normally laid in a nest that is built high off the ground.
The Bat Falcon is found in pairs and appears to be territorial. Take a walk at dawn or dusk to catch a glimpse of this falcon–as these are the times when it is most active–in direct, quick flight or soaring in circles.

Johanne L. Ryan


  • ffrench, Richard. A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. Cornell University Press. 2012.
29 Apr 2013

Bird Banding Project Launched at Asa Wright

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News
Green Kingfisher ready for banding.

Green Kingfisher ready for banding.


Asa Wright Nature Centre successfully initiated its first Bird Banding project just two weeks ago. It was spearheaded by certified Bird Bander and Trainer, Caleb Walker, in conjunction with certified Bird Bander and Klamath Bird Observatory representative for Trinidad, Carl Fitzjames. Both Caleb and Carl were trained at the Klamath Bird Observatory in Oregon, U.S.A. This project arose out of the need to build a database of the birds in Trinidad and Tobago. By building this database, people can gain more information on breeding, molting times and feeding habits of birds. One can also learn about the lengths of time different species take to develop from juveniles to adults. The project will take place at two ends of the Arima Valley: the William Beebe Tropical Research Station and Brasso Seco. The first session took place in the verdant forest of Brasso Seco. As the mist rose above the mountains, Carl, Caleb and more of Asa Wright’s staff Kimberly and Johanne began their early-morning bird monitoring exercise. Birds such as the Green Kingfisher, White-lined Tanager, Violaceous Euphonia and Golden-headed Manakin were caught and examined. Carl and Caleb used the utmost care when handling the birds, as all certified banders are trained to do. We at Asa Wright earnestly support this initiative and eagerly await future banding sessions.

Article and photos by Johanne L. Ryan


Caleb banding a bird.

Carl showing Kimberly how it’s done


05 Apr 2013

New species of stick insects

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

A male Apteroxylus chaguaramalensis. Photos courtesy ASPER (Association pour la Systématique des Phasmes et l’Etude de leur Répartition)


Have you ever seen a “God Horse” on a bush? You may mistake it for a twig. But it is alive – a stick insect belonging to the order Phasmida derived from the Greek word ‘Phasma’ meaning ghost. Over 3,000 species of stick insects have been described to date.

ASPER is a French organisation dedicated to the systematic study of stick insects and their distribution. It was founded in 1997 to produce an inventory of the Phasmids of Guadeloupe with the National Park of Guadeloupe. The ASPER team has since expanded its repertoire and studied the stick insects of islands of the Lesser Antilles like St. Lucia, Dominica, Martinique and Trinidad and Tobago

In 2010, the ASPER team comprising Phillipe Lelong, Yannick Bellanger and Toni Jourdan travelled to Trinidad to study our country’s stick insects. They believed there was a possibility of finding new species on the island. While in Trinidad, the ASPER team had a chance to stay at Simla and was able to visit Mount Chaguaramal at Aripo with naturalist guide, Harold Diaz. This trip proved fruitful as they discovered two new species of stick insects: Clonistria caputaurata and Apteroxylus chaguaramalensis. Both of these are rare species and can be found at Mount Chaguaramal. The new species of Clonistra can also be found at Morne Bleu. Be on the lookout for stick insects in your neighbourhood. You may be more successful in finding them at night as they are mostly nocturnal. If you do stumble upon one that you cannot identify send a photo to

J.L. Ryan

19 Mar 2013

Red-breasted Blackbird (Sturnella militaris)

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News


The Red-breasted Blackbird could not have had a more self-explanatory name. The males are exactly what you would picture: black with a brilliant red breast and throat. The females, on the other hand, may be a bit more difficult to identify. They are brown, streaked and have but a stain of light red on their underparts. The female’s association with a nearby mate is probably the easiest way to confidently identify it by sight. Males like to be seen, often occupying a prominent perch, while the retiring females may perch on a post or tuft of grass, or linger in the grass.

Recognising the call of the Red- breasted Blackbird can be an easier task. In a savannah, marsh or open grassland, listen for its song–a staccato chirp followed by a longer, somewhat metallic squeak. When on display, it gives a rattling call as it parachutes to the ground.

The Red-breasted Blackbird has only been occasionally seen in Tobago but is a permanent dweller of the aforementioned low-lying areas in Trinidad. Here, where it is also known as the Trinidad Robin, it breeds from March to December. This blackbird is also found in central and northern South America as far as Peru, Bolivia and Brazil.

The 18 cm long Trinidad Robin eats a variety of insects along with rice and grass seeds. It makes a cup-shaped nest of fine grass and at times, plant down. The average clutch has between two to four eggs.

This member of the Icteridae family (American orioles and blackbirds) species is often parasitised by the Shiny Cowbird. Look out for this blackbird and you can decide which common name suits it best –the Soldier Bird, Trinidad Robin or Red- breasted Blackbird.

– J.L. Ryan




22 Feb 2013

White-headed Marsh Tyrant (Arundinicola leucocephala)

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright

Photo by Pierre-Yves Bilat


The White-headed Marsh Tyrant is a resident of Trinidad which frequents marshy savannahs, the edges of mangrove swamps and at times, the seashore. A fairly conspicuous flycatcher, its white head and neck, and black body rendered it the nicknames “Widow” and “Nun”. In the field, its colour is most relied on to identify it, as its call of a high-pitched ‘tzeek’ is not often whistled.

The White-headed Marsh Tyrant belongs to the largest family existing in the Neotropics, the Tyrannidae or Tyrant Flycatcher family. This species is restricted to South America (from Columbia and Southern Venezuela to Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay) and Trinidad, where it breeds from January to April and from July to October.

At 13 cm long, this Tyrannid is smaller than the Pied Water-Tyrant, another

speciesfoundinTrinidad,towhichitbears a resemblance. Unlike the Pied Water Tyrant, however, the White-headed Marsh Tyrant is seldom seen on the ground and may only drop briefly to the ground to capture insects. Single or pairs of Marsh Tyrants are normally seen perching on low branches or fences.

The White-headed Marsh Tyrant has, like members of the Flycatcher family, the distinctive habit of sallying for insects from perches. Its diet centres on terrestrial invertebrates such as dragonflies, grasshoppers, froghoppers (Tomaspis) and beetles.

The White-headed Marsh Tyrant builds spherical nests with a ‘porch’ obscuring the entrance. In these nests, they lay a clutch of two to four white eggs. Both parents attend to the young.

So, on your next birding adventure, look out for the small but striking White- headed Marsh Tyrant.

– J.L. Ryan



07 Feb 2013

Rufous-tailed Jacamar (Galbula ruficauda)

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright

Rufous-tailed Jacamar. Photo by Mark Hedden/Caligo Ventures.


Earlier this month at Springhill, a high-pitched call of pee-pee-pee alerted us to the presence of a Rufous- tailed Jacamar nearby. Turning out to be just in front of Springhill’s Main House, employees and guests alike were delighted to spot Trinidad and Tobago’s only representative of the Galbulidae (Jacamar) family. Jacamars are Neotropical birds which are similar to Old World Bee-eaters. They look like oversized hummingbirds and share a few characteristics with ‘hummers’. They have iridescent feathers, long, thin bills and a fullness of energy.

Locally called the ‘King Hummingbird’, the Rufous-tailed Jacamar is common in humid lowlands – on forest edges, in clearings and in secondary forest. It often perches a few metres above ground alongside a road, narrow stream or other type of clearing. There, it waits for prey, mostly flying insects, for which it hawks then thrashes against a branch in order to de-wing. These lively birds are regularly seen dust bathing on gravel roads. They measure 26 cm in length and usually nest in short tunnels on earth banks or even in termite nests.

Rufous-tailed Jacamars breed, in Trinidad, from February to June and in Tobago, from February to August , where I might add, they are quite common. Both sexes share nesting duties and interestingly, during courtship males remove the insects’ wings to feed them to females. Clutches of two to four white eggs with cinnamon spots, are laid.

The Rufous-tailed Jacamar inhabits a range from Central America to South America as far as Brazil and Northern Argentina. The beauty of its shimmering green upperparts and rufous underparts cannot be overlooked. While the male’s throat is white, the female’s is rufous.

These colours fit right in with Christmastime, so we presume that the bird’s unusual appearance at Asa Wright was a fitting start to the holiday season.

–  J.L. Ryan


http://neotropical.birds.cornell. edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_ spp=294936





Photo: Pierre-Yves Bilat

18 Dec 2012

Rufous-breaster Hermit (Glaucis Hirsutus)

Conservation & Education News, Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News


Photo by M.K. Ravishanka


The Rufous-breasted Hermit is found from Panama to the north of South America as well as Trinidad, Tobago and Grenada. Trinidad and Tobago can boast of three hermits and in terms of size, the Rufous-breasted runs exactly in the middle of the pack. It is about 11 cm long with a curved bill that is about one third of its body length.

To identify this hermit one must look for the rufous underparts and the rounded, white-tipped tail. Thelong,pointedwhite-tippedtailwhichis characteristic of larger Green Hermit is markedly missinginthisspecies. Thegreenfeathersonthe upperparts of the Rufous-breasted Hermit have a bronze overtone.

The only Hermit found on Tobago, the Rufous- breasted is known to curiously observe onlookers as close as a few feet away. It favours the understorey where it regularly drinks nectar from Heliconia and Etlingera elatior (Torch Ginger). Nests, which are hammock-like and made of rootlets, are normally attached to the underside of Heliconia leaves, small palm fronds or ferns. These nests are commonly placed alongside streams, roadsides, forest borders and overgrown coffee and cocoa plantations. Males aggressively defend the nests. Also called the Hairy Hermit, this small avian also eats small insects and spiders.

This seldom-heard hummingbird can nest up to four times in one season. In Trinidad, breeding has been recorded from December to August but nesting success is low, about 0.17 %, according to Richard Ffrench. Snakes are major predators of these birds.

Currently, the Rufous-breasted Hermit can be seen at Asa Wright Nature Centre either along the trails or at our verandah feeders.

– J.L. Ryan


  • Hilty, Steven L. Birds of Venezuela. 2003.
  • ffrench, Richard. Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. 1991
29 Oct 2012

Red-crowned Ant Tanager (Habia rubica)

Conservation & Education News, Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

Red-Crowned Ant Tanager by Pierre Yves-Bilat.

The Red-crowned Ant Tanager, identified by the scarlet stripe on its crown, is found throughout central and northern South America. The male with red crown and brownish-red coat of feathers, can claim responsibility for inspiring the species name. Conversely, the female is yellow-brown with a sand-coloured coronal stripe.

Although timid, Red-crowned Ant Tanagers are inquisitive dwellers of the forest understory where they forage for insects. They occasionally follow bands of army ants, hence their name. Whenever excited, they display the red crown in the form of a raised crest. In Trinidad, the males can be confused with female Silver-beaked Tanagers, but their red crown and discordant, grating call give them away, although they are good at staying out of view. Those vocalisations are sometimes followed by a sweet “pee-pee-pee.”

These birds commonly mix with other species and are known to build shallow cup nests, usually near streams. At a length of eighteen centimetres, the oft-hidden Red-crowned Ant Tanager is a true beauty.

– J.L. Ryan


  • Hilty, Steven L. Birds of Venezuela. 2003.
  • ffrench, Richard. Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. 1991


05 Oct 2012

Bay-Headed Tanager (Tangara gyrola)

Conservation & Education News, Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

In the Trinidad forest, the Bay-headed Tanager is a distinct species, sporting its red ‘bay’ head and grass- green body. The subspecies, which exhibit variations in plumage, range from Costa Rica to Brazil. Some Tanagers may have blue under-parts while others have grass green under-parts. Some species in Trinidad have green bellies with a bluish tinge. All birds on average are 5.5 inches long.

Also named the Tete Cacao, these birds can be found singly or in pairs and even in flocks of mixed species. They forage among the mid to upper canopy for fruit. One favourite of the Bay-headed Tanagers at Springhill is the fruit of the ‘Trema’. Less often, the Bay-headed Tanager will forage for insects.

The Tete Cacao moves along branches in quick movements, stopping ever so often with its head down seeming to observe the berries for which it is searching. Richard Ffrench described the call of the Bay-headed Tanager as a’ rather slow 5-note sequence, seee, see, see, tsou tsouy, the last two notes lower in pitch’ (Birds, 368). At Asa Wright, you may be fortunate to hear this melody.

This painting of the Bay-Headed Tanager was done by Don Richard Eckelberry (1921-2001), a renowned wildlife artist who played a significant role in establishing the Asa Wright Nature Centre.

– J.L. Ryan



  • Hilty, S. L. 2003. Birds of Venezuela. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
  • Ffrench, R. 1991 Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. Oxford:Macmillan Publishers Limited.




Bay-Headed Tanager

From a painting by Don Eckelberry



24 Sep 2012

Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana)

Creature Feature, Tropical Nature News

The Squirrel Cuckoo mimics the sound of a human whistle- the ‘woop, woooo’ that is sometimes made by males in the presence of an attractive female. It has a large repertoire of calls but the one mentioned above is the most common.

This member of the Cuculidae family is an inhabitant of forests and semi-open cultivated areas in Trinidad. Cuckoos stay mostly in the middle to the tops of trees, where they forage for preferred meals in insects and lizards. Our ‘Coucou Manioc’ as it is also called, likes large insects including caterpillars, cicadas, grasshoppers and beetles.

Characteristically, the cuckoo darts like a squirrel in trees, its long tail trailing behind it. When flying, it will glide for a short time. Stealthily, it stalks its prey and launches at them at the appropriate time or occasionally sallies for flying insects.

The Squirrel Cuckoo has a rufous head, back and long tail with white-tipped tail feathers, red eyes and a greenish-yellow eye-ring and bill. It resembles another one of our species in Trinidad, the Little Cuckoo, except for some distinguishing features. The ‘Coucou Manioc’ is larger (17 inches), has a longer tail and has a pale pinkish upper throat and pale grey lower breast. The Squirrel Cuckoo inhabits Southern Mexico to middle and south America and of course, Trinidad.

In Trinidad, breeding has been recorded in January, May, July and October. This cuckoo makes a nest out of twigs and lined with dead leaves, 15-40 feet above ground normally. It lays two pale yellow eggs which the male and female help incubate. Both parents also feed the young.

Come to Asa Wright Nature Centre in the right season and you may get a live viewing of the endearing Squirrel Cuckoo.

This painting of the Squirrel Cuckoo was done by Don Richard Eckelberry (1921-2001), a renowned wildlife artist who played a significant role in establishing the Asa Wright Nature Centre.

– J.L. Ryan



Hilty, Steven L. Birds of Venezuela. 2003.

ffrench, Richard. Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. 1991