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Notice, Connect, Find Joy: Costa Rica-US Migratory Birds (transcript)

Find the video transcript, full credits, and extra resources for helping you identify and protect migratory birds in your community.

Gabriel Vargas (Costa Rica), Kat Peters (Indiana), Katrina Martich (Texas), and David Norman (Costa Rica) talk about migratory birds in the video premiered on Facebook May 8, World Migratory Bird Day.

Kat: Thank you for joining us, and welcome to a celebration of World Migratory Bird Day: Notice, Connect, Find Joy: Costa Rica-US Migratory Birds. I’m Kat Peters, and for my blog, New Backwater, I have been teaming up with Katrina Martich to bring my subscribers her thoughtful practices on noticing and connecting with nature around you. We send out a PDF file once a month, and our first ones have been on “Air” and “Water.”

As we were talking about the intersection of our work, we fell upon World Migratory Bird Day (called a World Big Day by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) as a great chance to celebrate our relationship with nature, as well as our relationship with people and nature in other parts of the world.

So Katrina and I called up a few friends from Costa Rica, David Norman and Gabriel Vargas, to talk about migratory birds, and to share the joys and pitfalls of learning about birds with other people. We’re all educators, but come from different academic backgrounds. Katrina is an environmental engineer that now works with faith communities to care for creation. David has a background in wildlife management, and has published field guides with his own art about reptiles and amphibians in several Latin American counties. and Gabo studied sociology, and also has provided the original guitar music for this video. I have master’s degrees in Education and Rural Development. But we all have a love of birds, and have found that seeing birds in the wild, and with our friends, has given us a lot of joy.

One topic we didn't have time to share about in the video was the importance of a good field guide. David Norman has two field guides that he published: one to the reptiles and amphibians of Santa Rosa and Palo Verde National Parks, and one to the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Paraguayan Chaco.

I’m going to let you eavesdrop a little on our conversations from these past few months. We want you to be able to go out this spring (in North America) and identify 5 migratory bird species that we’ll show you. We think that if you are able to identify migratory birds in your community, you’ll start to notice other things around you, connect with other parts of the world, and find joy in discovering something beautiful.

Noticing birds around us

Gabriel: But just like being here in my house in the middle of the city. Now every morning I wake up and I’m hearing the birds, and I’m noticing them. I’m like, ok, that’s a rufous-collared sparrow. And you know this is the time of the year, or pretty soon here is the time when the thrushes, the yigüirros, the national bird here in Costa Rica, they’re going to start singing during their mating season. And it’s beautiful, and at the same time it’s very annoying because they start at like 4 in the morning.

Yiguirro, national bird of Costa Rica

But at least I know what’s happening, and that gives it a completely different meaning. It’s not just the annoyance of being awakened, or the beauty of hearing the song, but it’s a combination of a lot of things of just knowing what is happening. And that in of itself is just very pretty.

Katrina: I loved something you said, and it was with regards to hearing the birds singing. And you said, “I started noticing.”

Gabriel: Yeah.

Katrina: And that’s just so exciting to hear, when people say they start noticing the place where they live. That’s the start of a whole new level of relationship with a place.

What are migratory birds?

Kat: As stated on the website of World Migratory Bird Day, “migratory birds fly hundreds and thousands of miles to find the best ecological conditions and habitats for feeding, breeding and raising their young. When conditions at breeding sites become unfavorable, it is time to fly to regions where conditions are better.”

I really started being interested in migratory birds when I realized that a rose-breasted grosbeak that I had seen in South Dakota, where I’m from, might have also been the one I saw in Costa Rica when I lived there.

Rose-breasted grosbeak, or picogrueso pechirrosado in Spanish.

Kat: The combo of the rose breast patch, the deep black on the head and back, the heavy finch style beak and the size (between a sparrow and a robin) will I.D. the male. As for the brownish, somewhat streaked female, look for the very conspicuous White stripes on the head combined with the heavy bill. It is larger than nearly all similar sparrows and its bill is thicker/heavier. Although this species goes into gardens and pretty altered hábitats, it seems to like more the forest edges and secondary forests. (at both ends of its range). Interesting tidbits: its song is like a robin’s, only in Roger Tory Peterson’s words “given with more feeling.” The bird’s nice music has unfortunately resulted in it getting trapped in many countries where it goes during the northern Winter to be sold for the cage bird trade, which is still going strong in Central America today.

Whose birds are they?

David: It’s always funny living down here, you know, because I mean you’re up in the States and everybody says, “yeah, our birds that live half their life you know down in Nicaragua.” And then the Nicaraguans would say “Oh yeah our birds, our Nicaraguan birds, that then live six months up in, you know, Indiana or United States. So I guess it’s a national perspective on that.

I really wished we had, you know, the standardized names for our songbirds, thinking about it objectively, they could be much better names.

Gabriel: But some of those can be confusing, because the first time I saw a rose throated beccard, the Costa Rican population doesn’t have any rose on their throats, but apparently the northern ones do have that, and that’s why they’re named like that.

Yellow warbler, or reinita amarilla in Spanish…

Kat:– … is distinct from other species because it is pretty much all yellow, its a tad smaller than a canary or small sparrow, and if you get a good look you see the cinnamon streaks on the breast. Here is a fun fact: for urban Central Americans this the warbler that they see the most. It lives in disturbed hábitats both in its breeding áreas up north and its “Winter” áreas further south; places like backyards and partially deforested áreas, as long as there are some trees. In Central America there are subpopulations of this species that live almost exclusively in the mangroves, and have different plumage As a bird extremely dependent on insects it is being affected by the world collapse in insect populations, due to human population, consumption habits, pesticides, artificial lightening, etc.

Here is the US you can look for yellow warblers in brush and trees near water. To find them, look for a lemon flitting through the branches.

Birds connect us to other parts of the world

Katrina: Because birds do connect us. And we are not just connected by the bird, but we are connected to the land and the people as well. We just don’t know it. You know, the person who is watching the rose-breasted grosbeak, doesn’t necessarily understand that the coffee she’s buying may affect the birds she loves seeing at her feeder.

David: We take our students and we see that there’s quite a big difference – I mean it sort of hits you in the face – the difference between the lack of native trees and the lack of an understory in the coffee that’s right next to my house where I live. At best you could call it partial shade. But it is a very different habitat for wildlife and migratory birds than some of these shade coffee farms in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Baltimore oriole, or the cacique veranero in Costa Rica…

Kat: …lives in disturbed habitats with trees in them in both the north and the south.

The combination of the orange body and black head separates the male from any other bird. For the female the combo of yellow-orange body and distinct White wing bars does the trick.

In Costa Rica young male orioles arrive mid-September to feed on the bananas at feeders in yards, and from October to March the black feathers sprout on the head to the degree that when they leave in mid April their heads are totally black. Also, the males only emit their breeding songs a couple of weeks or so before heading north, and the songs are not complete but it seems that maybe they are beginning to practice for what they will do in the upper Mississippi valley up north. A last note, this is definitely a species that will have much less winter habitat if the owners of coffee farms make the switch to sun-loving caturra coffee, as opposed to the shade tree coffee groves of the past.

Thank you for participating on social media!

We asked people to share some bird stories or questions with us on social media as we were preparing this project. People shared stories of confusion about identifying birds, or difficulty (and injury!) when out looking for birds, and connecting with other people while seeing birds. In fact, nearly 75% of respondents told us that they love birds because someone in their family (like a parent or grandparent), taught them or shared their enthusiasm for birds. We hope our enthusiasm is contagious for you, too! Thank you to everyone who participated by