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Rare and endemic birds in Celestun Biosphere Reserve

Matraca Yucateca / Yucatan Wren / Campylorhincus yucatanicus

The Yucatan Wren is an endemic inhabitant in the north of the Peninsula of Yucatan with a very restricted range of about 1,120 km2 (432.5 miles2), which goes from Celestun to Ria Lagartos and from the beach to scarce 3 to 5km inland. It lives on the coastal dune and scrub forest.

Because of these conditions it is considered as a trapped species (an animal or plant living on a very small habitat), which, if modified by any natural disaster (hurricanes), or other environmental circumstances (roads or housing), may cause the extinction of the individual.

Feeding behaviors: The Yucatan Wren forages secretively on the ground looking for insects, lizards and even fruits. It very rarely ventures to open areas. Its flight is very short and it prefers to stay protected in safe spots.

Courting and nesting: When the male reaches maturity he starts building several nests on a tree; he then calls for females. The female verifies the nests. If she does not like any, the male rebuilds them and even constructs more, thus making the tree look like a nest colony, situation which, in turn, will confuse predators.

Breeding: Once the female accepts the nest, they mate and 3 to 4 eggs are laid. Male and female alternate the incubation and feeding periods. They bring food to the chicks and get rid of their waste keeping good sanitary conditions on the nest. Chicks are independent in about 1 month and mature in 1 year.

Conservation status: Right now, their status on the dune is very healthy, but, as said, their population can be seriously affected by human development and natural phenomena such as hurricanes and fires. This may cause them to share an even more reduced space generating inbreed and weakness due to poor genetic variation.

Interesting facts: The nests are built, amongst others (palm trees and agave fibers), with wild cotton threads containing the seeds. Once the nesting period subsides and nests decay, the cotton seeds are “planted” with the necessary fertilizer, thus spreading the cotton plant all over the dunes.

The presence of this bird is an indicator of healthy ecosystems.


Codorniz Yucateca / Yucatan Bobwhite / Colinus nigrogularis

The name bobwhite derives from the call it makes. It is the only quail in the northern half of the Yucatan Peninsula and lives in the scrub forest and the coastal dune forest. Yucatan Bobwhite appears also in Guatemala and Honduras as a disjoint population.

The Yucatan Bobwhite is believed to be related to the northern bobwhite, which, left behind, was isolated for a long period of time, acquiring different features and evolving into another species.

Quails are ground dwellers, but males, during the breeding season, are often seen perched on mid bush calling for females when they have already molted acquiring a beautiful plumage. Their call attracts many females but may also attract predators such as the grey fox, raccoons, opossums and wild cats. Being perched on mid tree allows the bird to have a better sight of predators. If one shows up, they remain silent for a long time.

When the male escapes from predators he flaps its short wings making a loud clapping sound that disturbs predators and alarms its possible mates of danger. One bird taking off triggers the flight of all the others.

Feeding: This silent quail forages the ground in search primarily for seeds and fruits, but may take insects as well. The groups are formed by families which dominate a certain territory. On the first year, males usually leave the family and go in search for mates to form a new group.

Breeding: Females may lay 8-12 eggs, almost one a day. They will start incubating the eggs once the last one is laid. This will assure a synchronized hatching, important issue, due to the fact that chicks are hatched “precocial”. “Precocial” means that they are born with open eyes and a down plumage which protects them from rain and wind. As the odor of the remnants from the eggs will attract predators, mother and chicks have to leave the nest. Synchronized and precocial hatching allows them to walk and even forage away from the nest as early as the first day after hatching. After 3 weeks chicks are capable of short flies to escape predators.

Conservation status: Due to its small habitat preference and restricted range and because it is part of the normal diet of the Mayan communities, it is considered a threatened species in the Yucatan Peninsula. Nevertheless Yucatan Bobwhite’s population still remains healthy.


Chara Yucateca / Yucatan Jay / Cianocorax yucatannicus

It is a nomadic species, which hunts and moves from one habitat to another seeking for better and more abundant food. Once food is found they establish their territory and remain for several days there until it becomes scarce.
Yucatan Jays hunt in large groups and have a sentinel who watches out for danger as the others feed on the ground. As one of the most organized groups of birds, they may repel an attack defending their feeding territory from other birds and even from other animals.

Because of its white juvenile plumage the Yucatan Jay is locally called “Chel” which, in Mayan language, means ‘blond’. As they grow, the white colored feathers turn into black and the wings to a bright royal blue which contrast with its beak that remains yellow until it reaches adulthood.

Feeding: A true omnivorous bird, it feeds on everything, but has a preference for seeds and fruits. From time to time they may also eat any animal that they subdue.

Conservation status: The “Chel” Jay is very abundant all over the Yucatan Peninsula: the States of Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo in Mexico and all the way down to North Belize and North Guatemala in Central America.


Maullador Negro / Black Catbird / Melanoptila glabrirostris

This secretive mimic bird is a member of the family of the mockingbirds and thrashers, which together make a group called mimidae. The mimidae have the highest level of vocalization among birds and the ability to produce calls that they learn from other birds and animals and even more, they are able to mimic sounds such as fire alarms, telephone rings and cat miaus.

The Black Catbird inhabits the peninsula where it encounters scrub forest and wet forest. It lives usually around cenotes (sinkholes), freshwater springs and hummock forests.
In the Celestun Special Biosphere Reserve (Yucatan State, Mexico) it is commonly observed during the rainy season - August to December - when they find enough food and shelter. Afterwards they abandon the low forest and seek the high forest of Mexico’s Quintana Roo State, Belize or Guatemala.

Catbirds are among the few birds that are able to count and to recognize their eggs when the nest has been altered or invaded by parasite birds such as the bronzed Cowbird.
(Bird parasites are those which lay their eggs in nests of other bird species, giving the work of incubation and feeding to the host. Most of the time the parasite bird hatches first, demands more food and grows faster and bigger than those of the host. This event weakens the host’s species putting it in danger of survival).

The Black Catbird male is unfaithful – it may have two nests at the same time, which he caters regularly.

Feeding: The Catbird forages silently and often it is heard scampering the leave litter in search for insects, seed and berries.

Breeding: It makes a cup nest where it usually lays 2 greenish blue eggs. Chicks hatch altricial or helpless, with closed eyes, and no sense of coordination. They remain on the nest to be fed by their extremely territorial and protective parents.

Conservation status: Common.


Carpintero Yucateco  / Yucatan Woodpecker  / Melanerpes pygmaeus

Yucatan Woodpecker resembles the Golden Fronted Woodpecker but in miniature. Sometimes it is difficult to classify them during cloudy days or against the light. The easiest way to identify one against the other is by the ratio of its beak length vs. the head length: The Yucatan Woodpecker’s beak is shorter that it’s head size, whilst the Golden-fronted Woodpecker’s beak has the same length or is longer than its head.

It used to be very common on the north shore of the Yucatan Peninsula, but its population got severely affected by the lethal yellowing disease of the coconut palm that depleted this beautiful plant. The coconut palm was the main habitat to the Woodpecker, providing them with food, shelter and nesting ground.

An interesting fact is that Woodpeckers cannot remain perched like other birds when they sleep or rest because of its adaptation for climbing. They have two forward and two backward toes and especial spines on the tail feathers that allow them to move forward in its traditional vertical position but prevent them to go backwards. Yucatan Woodpecker may clinch and remain on the same spot for quite a while.

Feeding: It feeds on beetle larvae and fruits. When eating papaya fruit it digs a hole and penetrates the fruit to feed more comfortable.

Breeding: little is known about the Yucatan Woodpecker’s nesting habits. Eggs are still not described, but they have been seen nesting on dead palm trees. Alternated incubation has been estimated to last for 12-14 days. Chicks are fed up to 21 days. T.C. Maxwell [Melanerpes 1998] reported to have found two fledglings after 21 days.

Conservation status: As the range is bigger than other endemic species it is considered common.


Garza Pico de Bote / Boat-billed Heron / Cochlearius cochlearius

The Boat-billed Heron is a master piece of evolution with many different adaptations, such as its broad beak and its nocturnal habit, which once gave it the chance to survive. The huge beak of the Boat-billed Heron is used for catching crabs, insects and fish, it is also adapted to crack open the crab shells. With the shrinking crab population due to pollution this beak adaptation is reverting back to the heron.

It inhabits year around in the mangrove forest, the hummock forest and sometimes the sinkholes. It is very sensitive to any kind of pollution, so that the bird is used as an indicator to monitor problems in the mangrove forest. E.g.: If water is polluted it causes the massive killing of crabs and due to the lack of food the Boat-billed Heron abandons the place; if the site becomes frequented by tour boats it also abandons it. Boat-billed Herons are night dwellers and they depend a lot on their good sight to find food but even more they depend on their loud vocalization to establish their territory and keep members of the group together through the thick mangrove forest.

Feeding: Boat-billed heron feed mainly on blue crabs, fiddler crabs, Spotted Mangrove crab and insects. In times when its regular food is scarce it may take plankton by filter feeding the water.

Breeding: They pair up in couples and share the nesting and feeding of the chicks but we don’t know if they keep their mates for the next breeding season. The courtship behavior, during the mating, is an array of soft calls and allopreening (mutual preening). They lay 3-4 greenish eggs, one every day. The incubation starts with the first egg laid, therefore hatching is unsynchronized. As they are hatched in intervals of a day the first hatched one attains more food at the beginning and, more likely, will demand more food to its parents because of its growth, leaving the others with less chance to get food and survive. In times when food is abundant the parents may rear the four chicks, but when food is scarce usually the smallest or weakest one may die.

Conservation status: Rare and threaten in some parts of the Gulf of Mexico, with a healthy and stable population in The Biosphere Reserve of Celestun. It is more abundant in Central and South America.


Garza Tigre (avetigre, hocó cuellinudo) / Bare-throated Tiger Heron / Trigrisoma mexicanum

The Bare-throated Tiger Heron is hatched with a bittern like plumage which resembles the color and streaks of tigers, pattern that helps to conceal the heron in the mangrove forest. As it grows the feathers are molted several times in order to get its adult plumage. Tiger herons are active during the day but may also be active at night. Bare-throated Tiger-Heron lives on the mangrove forest, fresh water springs, hummock forests and swamps.

Feeding: Tiger heron hunts patiently remaining for long periods on the same spot waiting for the fish to pass near by to spear it. It hunts fish, frogs, shrimps and baby crocodiles.

Breeding: Tiger Heron calls at dawn and their quok-quok, resounds on the deep mangrove forest, which is heard by other Tiger Herons. These calls help them to establish their territories and to find their mates. Once the Tiger-Herons pairs they built the nest high up on trees where the female lays 2-3 9cm long eggs. Chicks hatch with white down feathers and grow very rapidly. Within three weeks the chicks are capable of short flight; by the second month they are completely independent but will use their mother territory for fishing and frequently go up to the nest to sleep. The parents may start another brood when chicks are still in their territory. Nevertheless juveniles have been seen as helpers at the nest, feeding their young brothers. This helps them to learn the nesting behavior.

Conservation status: Rare and scattered. They established defined long term territories where they usually nest and hunt.

Colibrí Cola Hendida / Mexican Sheartail / Doricha eliza

The Mexican Sheartail inhabits the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and presumably inhabits a patch of tropical forest inland Veracruz. The Mexican Sheartail is considered a quasi endemic species, due to its disjointed population in Veracruz and Yucatan States.
The Mexican Sheartail is very territorial and defends is place from other birds such as orioles, mockingbirds and other hummingbirds. Mexican Sheartail establishes its territory by flying high up in circles.

Feeding: Mexican Sheartail has a long and de-curved beak that allows it to collect nectar from different types of flowers. It feeds on tiny insects as well.

Breeding: During the courtship, the male flies high up and dives down very close to the female almost hitting her. As the male flies against the sunlight and towards the female, its iridescent throat reflects different very bright colors getting her attention. Once mated the female builds the nest using tiny pieces of leave litter and gluing them with spider web. Then she lays a single egg, which she will incubate. She raises the chick all by herself. Chick hatch very tiny with no feathers and no developed eyes therefore it is completely dependant on its mother.

Conservation status: Abundant and common on the coastal dune.

Chipe Manglero / Mangrove Warbler / Dendroica petechia (erithacorides)

The Mangrove Warbler is another isolated population of the Yellow Warbler (a migratory species). The male of the Mangrove Warbler differs from the Yellow Warbler by its red head and the females of Mangrove Warblers are grayish instead of greenish yellow as in the Yellow Warbler’s females.
Some authorities considered this bird as a subspecies of the Yellow Warbler; therefore its third name represents the subspecies which is in [brackets].

Feeding: Feeds along the mangrove forest in search of worms and insects. It also has been seen feeding on flowers of the black mangrove.

Breeding: Breeds on the mangrove forest where they built a nest out of twigs in which the female lays 3 eggs. The survival rate compared to Yellow Warbler is low, but their breeding season is longer thus they may nest two times during the season (March to August). One of its predators is the vine snake which usually steals the eggs from the nest when the parents are away feeding. Usually this event occurs at the beginning of the laying when parents leave the nest without attendance, but females are able to lay other eggs.

Conservation status: Abundant population but highly specialized on the mangrove forest.

Mosquero Yucateco / Yucatan Flycatcher / Myiarchus yucatanicus

Yucatan Flycatcher is a member of the myarchus family of flycatchers that is very difficult to identify. Their close related species are Brown-crested Flycatcher and Dusky-capped Flycatcher. Yucatan Flycatcher has bigger eyes, pale grayish nape similar to its back, while Dusky capped flycatcher has a darker head than the back and also has reddish wing and tail feathers. Their vocalization is similar making it also difficult to identify by voice.

Feeding: Yucatan Flycatcher feeds with a hawking behavior. It flies out of the branch catches the spotted insect and returns to the same perch. Its food is mostly insects but may eat other things such as seeds and fruit when insects are not available.

Breeding: Yucatan Flycatcher nest on tree cavities laying 2-3 eggs during the last months of the dry season (May- June). When chicks hatch it is the beginning of the rainy season and food is easier to obtain. Sometimes the Bronzed Cowbird parasites the nest by dumping one of its eggs in the flycatcher’s nest. The Bronzed Cowbird’s egg will be incubated by the Yucatan Flycatcher and even more, the Yucatan Flycatcher will have the job of raising up the parasite chick. Within very few days this chick will grow fast demanding more food to its host leaving the offspring of the Yucatan Flycatcher to starve to death. It is very rare for Yucatan Flycatchers, or other birds, to be able to rear both, offspring and parasite.

Conservation status: Healthy population but threatened by a high risk of parasitism with the appearing of the Shiny Cowbird one of the worst parasite bird.

Golondrina Yucateca / Ridgway´s Rough-winged Swallow / Stelgildopteryx ridgwayi

The Ridgeway’s Rough-winged Swallow is a remnant subspecies of the Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Ridgway’s Rough-winged Swallow population was left behind probably during their migration path throughout an ice age or any geological episode. As it has been isolated for a long time it has evolved independently with different features which lead to some form of speciation (on the course of becoming another species).
During the winter it is common in the Yucatan to observe the two of them, Northern & Ridgway’s Rough-winged Swallows, making it difficult to identify them. The easiest way to identify the Ridgeway’s Rough-winged Swallow is to look for 2 white spots at the forehead and a dark tip on the vent “under tail”. Some authorities considered Ridgway’s Rough-winged Swallow as a proper species but this is not yet recognized by the AOU (American Ornithologist Union).

Feeding: Feeds on insects as mosquitoes, water bugs, flies, and butterflies and also has been seen feeding on Gumbo-limbo fruit

Breeding: Little is known about the breeding behavior although reports from Celestun were 4 eggs on a twig nest, on a column of abandon house. It also has been seeing nesting on caves (calcetohk) wells on Maxcanu. Nests were built communally with cave swallow.

Conservation status: Common in Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo States in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize.

Calandria Yucateca (turpial) / Orange Oriole / Icterus auratus

The Orange oriole is an endemic species of the Yucatan Peninsula. The Yucatan holds a great variety of orioles which complicates its identification. Hooded Oriole, Altamira Oriole, Yellow-backed Oriole are very similar to Orange Oriole. A good way to identify Orange Oriole from the others is its two distinctive features: a yellow back and white wing bars. Hooded Oriole and Altamira Oriole have black backs; Yellow-backed Oriole has no white wing bars.

Feeding: Orioles pierce at the base of the flower to obtain the nectar; they also peck at the unions of leaves and branches of the Cecropia Tree (Cecropia obtusifolia) to get the sugary secretion designated to the Aztec ants. They also eat oranges, honey dew and insects.

Breeding: Orange Oriole has been seen nesting with other members of its family as Hooded Orioles and Black-cowled Orioles, but also with the Black-catbird of the mimidae family. Nesting communally provides the group with more eyes watching for predators and the possibility to locate food by following the others. The nest is made with fibers from the agaves and palm-trees, which they interweave to make a hand size cup where they lay 2-4 eggs.

Conservation status: Common and abundant through the Yucatan Peninsula.

Martín Pescador Enano / American Pygmy Kingfisher / Chloroceryle aenea

The American Pygmy Kingfisher is the smallest Kingfisher of the whole American continent. It has a close related species known as the Green & Rufus Kingfisher both are said to be sister species of one and other because their very close similarities. The Pygmy Kingfisher inhabits the Yucatan Peninsula and Central America and the Green & Rufus Kingfisher inhabits South America. American Pygmy Kingfisher dwells in the mangrove forest, swamps, hummock forest and freshwater springs. Its head and beak are about the same length as body and tail.

Feeding: Perches on mangrove roots and branches just above the water where it usually remains rocking its head back and forth. When it seizes a fish it plunges into the water and brings the fish out. If the fish is too big, the bird kills it by banging it on a branch side to side to death. This procedure, at the same time, softens the flesh before eating. Kingfisher feed on Mexican Cichlid fish (Cichlasoma urophthalmus); Sailfin Mollies (Poecilia velifera) , guppies and some insects.

Breeding: Males call for females with their rattle and chirping sounds for courtship and remain on the branches flapping its wings as they call. During the courtship there are more than two males or females involved. Females presumably lay eggs on sand banks and termite nest close to the water.

Conservation status: Common resident on the mangrove forest.

Loro Yucateco / Yucatan Parrot / Amazona xantholora

The Yucatan Parrot is an endemic an endangered inhabitant of the Yucatan Peninsula (Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala). The Yucatan Parrot is close related to the White-Fronted Parrot which looks very much alike - the two of them can be confused even when standing still. To make an easy identification, the Yucatan Parrot has a yellow lore (therefore it is also named the Yellow-lored Parrot), presents a dark eared patch and the male has a red shoulder.

Feeding: Yucatan Parrots make a long travel from their roosting spots to their feeding ground in search for fruits, seed and insects. The sharp hook beak is able to crack open any seed to get the nut, but it is also used to peel off the bark and wood to find insects larvae. Parrots also feed on the fleshy fruits of chico-zapotes and fig trees, which are found in the hummock forest.

A cool fact about the parrot is its ability to eat upside down and do many things using its legs and beak. E.g. they can hold a fruit in one leg and nibble at it until finished.

Breeding: Yucatan Parrot males may look a couple of years for its mate. Once found they will remain together for the end of their lives. The couple makes a whole in a tree or in a termite nest, where the female lays 4-5 eggs.

Conservation status: It’s a very threaten species because human development is considerably shrinking their habitat, but worse, being a famous talkative pet, it is viciously hunted. Three or more parrots are killed to get hold of one. Please don’t buy parrots as pets - it stimulates the black market and contributes to the extinction of this beautiful species.

Rascón Cuello Gris (chilacoa colinegra, chiricote) / Gray Necked wood-Rail / Aramides cajanea

The multicolor Gray Necked Wood Rail is a common inhabitant of the Peninsula that wanders through the mangrove forest, the low deciduous forest, the hammock forest and sometimes may be found anywhere unexpectedly. Usually the Gray-necked Woodrail is seen alone, only during the breeding season one may see pairs.

Feeding: Forages by scampering the forest floor in search of crabs, insects, worms, fruits and seeds.

Breeding: Builds a nest out of grass, reeds, and branches. It places the nest above the water to avoid predation. It lays 3 to 5 eggs which are incubated synchronized 19-20 days. Afterwards the male is in charge of protecting the young.

Conservation status: Fairly common and abundant.

Rascón Cuello Rufo (chilacoa costera) / Rufus-necked Wood-Rail / Aramides axillaries

The Rufus Necked Wood Rail is a shy inhabitant exclusively of the mangrove forest. It is active at dawn and dusk when the tide is usually at its peak in the Celestun estuary. During the winter months November through March, the estuary tides become severely affected by the cold fronts that come from the North. This tidal effect pushes the water out from the estuary exposing the mangrove roots and providing more space for the rails to forage.

Feeding: It follows tides during the morning and afternoon in search for tiny fish, worms and insects brought by the tide. It returns everyday to the same feeding place.

Breeding: Lays 3-5 eggs on a nest made by twigs. Incubation starts as the last egg has been laid, thus hatching occurs synchronized. Chicks are born precocial being able to stand up within a few hours.

Conservation status: Rare and endangered population estimated under 10,000 individuals.

Pavo Ocelado / Ocellated Turkey / Argyocharis ocellata

There are only two species of turkeys in the whole world. The wild turkey or thanks giving Turkey which inhabits North America and the Ocellated Turkey which is an endemic species of the Yucatan Peninsula. Ocellated Turkey inhabits the low areas of the state of Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo as well as the high lands of Guatemala, and north Belize.

Feeding: Usually it is found in flocks feeding on fruits as the chico zapote, ramon and fig trees and sometimes incurs into milpas (corn fields) in search of seeds and insects. In times, when food becomes scarce on the ground, it may be seen feeding on the mid-story vegetation picking fruits from branches.

Breeding: The courtship behavior is quite similar to its cousin the wild turkey. Males begin to call around March and throughout May. The gobbling is done in open spaces, where gobblers circle around a female making her to stand at the center. Either they flabbergast her or she flees in horror. If the female is ready, the male treads at her back and they copulate. Ocellated Turkey’s hen lays about 12 eggs which she alone incubates during 27-28 days. Chicks hatch precocial, but may remain on the nest for one day.

Conservation status: Abundant through Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Guatemala and Belize but extirpated from Tabasco and parts of Chiapas where it once was common. It is considered a threaten species due to its small range and its delicious flesh, which is very sought after by illegal Hunters.

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