Wings: The incredible birds of Curação
"We even managed to see an egg they had laid in a very well protected space in among cactus spines..."
Luciano and I both grew up in cities full of background noise. Emergency vehicle sirens going off. Traffic horns beeping and honking, the roar of vehicles charging up and down the roads. The sounds of construction machinery. Now we’ve stopped in this isolated marina on the edge of a rippling lagoon surrounded by mangroves.
Here you would expect…silence. Not quite. As we take our daily walks we are beset by the sounds of birdsong. And as we look out across the ponds, up into the trees, perched on cacti and far up into the sky, we’ve seen some amazingly diverse birds. According to natural history broadcaster Jeffrey Boswall, the purpose of birdsong is either to attract a mate or to defend territory.
As we’ve started to notice them, we’ve wanted to go back and see them again. I never thought I’d see myself as a bird watcher, but slowing down and noticing what’s around you, repetition in the same area feels like a form of mindfulness.
So here are some of the birds we’ve seen here and some interesting facts about them.
Birds of Prey
Crested Caracara (known locally as the Warawara)
The Warawara is mostly a scavenger, although it will also hunt feeble prey, such as juveniles or injured animals. It is actually a type of falcon. On our walks we sadly spotted an iguana on the verge that looked like it had been hit by a car. It was dead. Two days later we saw it completely stripped with only the skeleton remaining. We suspect that it was eaten by the Warawara, as they are very common around here. They have very distinct orange faces and yellow legs and look slightly like an eagle. In flight you can see the white band across their feathers. According to Birdwatchingcuração, despite their size, they are ‘bullied’ by smaller birds, such as the tropical mockingbird, which are uncomfortable with its presence near them during nesting season. So they get chased away from their perches when they are just trying to have a rest from digesting roadkill.
We’ve seen these in flight and are amazed by how high they fly! They fly so high that you can’t even see them any more. This is despite their size - they have a wingspan of six feet. Apparently they can fly up to 2,500 meters. We haven’t seen them close up enough to determine if they are male, which have a red pouch on their throat which can be inflated like a balloon to attract females or female, which have a white throat. However, they are distinguishable by the shape of their wings, which make an elongated ‘w’ shape. The Magnificent Frigatebird can stay airborne for up to two months, even sleeping in the air by taking advantage of air currents and thermals. These are at their strongest in the late afternoon, which explains why we’ve seen them most often at that time. They even eat in midair, by forcing other birds to regurgitate what they’ve just eaten, so they don’t even need to land to catch food. Info from Birdwatchinghq and allaboutbirds.
Apparently its back is supposed to be grey-green in colour, but I think maroon is the more dominant colour overall. Nevertheless, despite the stupid name, these are really intelligent birds that use tools to help them catch fish. They feed by waiting for a fish to swim by. In order to tempt the fish to swim closer, they drop an insect or feather or other item into the water so that the fish swim close to them and then they pounce! Info from Birdwatchinghq.
This bird is LOUD! Play the video below to listen to it. These waders used to be rare in Curação until about 10 years ago, but have now decided that the golf courses of Curação are the ideal place to lay their eggs. (Yes, really). So the reason for their incessant yelling may be related to them trying to lure us away from their nest. Info from Birdwatching Curação website and Facebook page
Venezuelan Troupial and Yellow Oriole
The Venezuelan Troupial is pretty impressive with its colourful bright orange plumage. You can listen to its call in the video below and the returning call of another one. The Yellow Oriole is known as the trupial kachó in papiamento. This translates as ‘dog troupial,’ as according to the Korsou ta dushi website, it can bark like a dog. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to record it making this sound. Unless what we think is the barking of dogs is actually the sound of this bird? The mind boggles. We did manage to get a photo of it though!
In the Papiamento language, the Tropical Mockingbird has the dushi sounding name of Chuchubi. Click to learn more about the meaning of Dushi. These birds are really common in the marina and most of the birdsong we hear is probably from these birds. We even managed to see an egg they had laid in a very well protected space in among cactus spines. Both parents were there, circling around the cactus arms. Both parents will feed the chicks and the father plays a greater role in building and defending the nest. Info from Birdwatching Curação
The females are usually duller in colour. Interestingly their saffron colour gets more intense with age. Info from Finchinfo.
Brown Throated Parakeets
The throat might be a dull brown, but the rest of these exotic looking birds are brightly coloured - mostly green but with yellow faces and blue wing feathers. They like to eat fruits and flowers, although they will sometimes deign to eat leaves as well. Info from Birdwatching Curação. The Brown Throated Parakeet is one of only two subspecies that only exists in Curação. Datazonebirdlife.org
We’ve seen plenty of hummingbirds, although they are difficult to get on camera as they move so fast! Hummingbirds are the only type of bird in the world that can fly backwards. They have no sense of smell and are attracted to flowers by their bright colours. We’ve seen the pretty ruby-topaz hummingbird for the first time here. The video below shows the rapid wing movements of the blue-tailed emerald hummingbird. In papiamento this is known as the blenchi and there is a children’s song called Blenchi ta chupa flor in papiamento which translates as the blenchi sucks the flower. It’s a popular carnival costume for children. Info from 1000 awesome things about Curação. You can listen to the song sung by noted Curaçõan musician Izaline Calister here.
It’s been good to slow down and really notice our surroundings. When you’re often on the move, you can forget to observe closely what’s around you, especially returning to the same spaces over again. Birds add so much to our lives that we don’t even notice. On a sensory level they often look gorgeous and sing beautifully. They stimulate our imaginations; who hasn’t dreamed of soaring like a bird?
And they are also essential for our survival, as pollinators and as natural pest control. When the practices of Soviet pseudoagriculturalist Trofim Lysenko (known as Lysenkoism) were applied, it led to devastating famines in both the Soviet Union and China. One of his key tenets of increasing crop yields was the massacre of birds, so that they didn’t eat crops. This led to huge insect infestations of crops, many of which were wiped out.
Nowadays, the biggest threats to birds globally are the partially overlapping habitat loss and climate change. According to Datazonebirdlife.org the biggest threats to birds in Curação are development and the lack of enforcement of the protection of native bird species. On the plus side, the reduction in the amount of land being used for agriculture has been greatly beneficial for its 215 species of bird. Curação has also made almost one third of its land area a designated conservation area.
So get out and listen to the birds in your neighbourhood and try and find out some interesting facts about these amazing creatures of the air.
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