Birding half a world away in the Rio Botanical Gardens

So after the marathon UN conference in Rio, I had one last day to enjoy poking around the city on my own. I could have spent it literally following my nose—to all the corner bakeries and sandwich shops for buttery jelly-filled cookies (for breakfast too? Yes!) or yet another exotic fruit juice combo (pineapple-mint-orange? Yum!).

Pond with lily pads and mountain in distance at the Rio Botanical Gardens

But instead I took a taxi to the Botanical Gardens to get to know birds half a world away from home. How could I pass up this chance? A new Brazilian friend promised the birds would be so close I wouldn’t even need my tiny new travel binoculars. She was exaggerating. But only slightly.

tree draped with mossThere was only one problem: how do you ID birds on the road when you haven’t invested in the frightfully expensive web connection? I merely took some notes and then waited until I was home to check the web.

Lucky for me, one photographer has posted beautiful shots of hundreds of birds from southeastern Brazil. With the help of Paul Gale, I can now recognize some birds of the southeast Atlantic rainforest—a few of the 140 who live in the Botanical Gardens of Rio de Janeiro.

The most common one I saw was this beautiful bird about the size of a robin with the squat head, long beak, and short tail that in profile reminded me of a kingfisher. It’s a great kiskadee:

Great kiskidee (c) Paul Gale Bird Photography. Used by permission.

Great kiskidee (c) Paul Gale Bird Photography. Used by permission.

Great kiskadees hang out in the tops of palm trees and chirp a single, sharp note.

The very first bird I saw was huge, about the size of a pheasant, sitting in the low shady branches of ground-hugging trees. My little binocs revealed something I would have missed otherwise: the red wattle. This is the dusky-legged guan:

Dusky-legged guan (c) Paul Gale Bird Photography. Used by permission.

Dusky-legged guan (c) Paul Gale Bird Photography. Used by permission.

Of course there were tons of small parrots, like conures, which reminded me of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hillone of my favorite-ever movies. These were—I think—maroon-bellied parakeets, beautiful birds with orangish tail tips and blue wingtips:

Maroon-bellied parakeet (c) Paul Gale Bird Photography. Used by permission.

Maroon-bellied parakeet (c) Paul Gale Bird Photography. Used by permission.

High overhead the vultures were wheeling—black vultures, with whitish coloring on the underside of their primaries:

Black vultures (c) Paul Gale Bird Photography. Used by permission.

Black vultures (c) Paul Gale Bird Photography. Used by permission.

Of course there was the South American equivalent of our robin, the rufous-bellied thrush. (The American robin is also a thrush, also rufous bellied.)

Rufous-bellied thrush (c) Paul Gale Bird Photography. Used by permission.

Rufous-bellied thrush (c) Paul Gale Bird Photography. Used by permission.

And swallows galore were winging here and there in the open air between tall trees. The ones I saw were blue-and-white swallows:

Blue-and-white swallow (c) Paul Gale Bird Photography. Used by permission.

Blue-and-white swallow (c) Paul Gale Bird Photography. Used by permission.

The most vivid bird I saw was a small bird that darted swiftly in and out of the foliage of short trees, and without my binocs I’d have missed it—the green-headed tanager:

Green-headed tanager (c) Paul Gale Bird Photography. Used by permission.

Green-headed tanager (c) Paul Gale Bird Photography. Used by permission.

Unless they were male green honeycreepers; juveniles are also multicolored:

Juvenile male green honeycreeper. By Dario Sanchez via Wikimedia.

Juvenile male green honeycreeper. By Dario Sanchez via Wikimedia.

Either way, they were bright. And beautiful.

Of course, there were the small brown birds whom I still haven’t been able to identify. My notes say “sparrow-like with pointed beak; clear breast; orangeish behind ears” for the one and “sparrow-like with olive-yellow breast; hunts on ground” for the other. They will have to remain LBJs, little brown jobs.

My trip to Brazil was complete when I saw monkeys—the adorable common marmosets, small as squirrels with tufted ears. They ran up, down, and around trees, grooming one another or just lying on a branch next to a friend.

Common marmoset © Raimond Spekking / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Common marmoset © Raimond Spekking / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

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2 Responses to Birding half a world away in the Rio Botanical Gardens

  1. Dave S. says:July 7, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    Priscilla – you’ve met Calypso, our pet parrot? She is a maroon-bellied parakeet, the same species you saw in the wild! They are native to SE Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and N Argentina. Lucky you!

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:July 8, 2012 at 7:23 am

      Oh, of course! I love Calypso. No wonder those Brazilian parrots crawling up and down the trees and murmuring to one another felt so familiar.