Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bird of the month: Black-capped Donacobius

The Black-capped Donacobius (Donacobius atricapilla) is an enigmatic resident of marshy areas and grassy river banks in eastern Panama and most of South America (to northern Argentina). Its real affinities are unclear, being classified as a mockingbird, a wren, incertae sedis (meaning "not classified at all!") and, lately, as the sole member of its own family (Donacobiidae), probably related to an Old World group of warblers! The thing is that this fascinating bird resembles all of them. It is sized and shaped as a mockingbird, but performs loud duets while calling, like some wrens species. Also like some wrens, it is a cooperative breeder, meaning that individuals other than the breeding pair help them to feed the youngs and to protect their territory. Probably we saw one of these "helpers" during our last trip to central Darien province (eastern Panama) where we saw a pair of these splendid birds making the duetted performance accompanied always by a third individual (top photo). Seeing a pair of these birds duetting is an extraordinaire experience, with their loud calls reminiscent of a car alarm (seriously!) and their asynchronic, but rhytmical movements while exposing the patch of orange skin at the sides of their necks. Unlike any wren, they make cup-like nests among the reeds. Panama is the extreme end of its world range, and I have to say that we are very fortunate to have such a beauty as part of our avifauna. For these, and many others reasons is why we choose the Black-capped Donacobius as our bird of the month!

This post was submitted to Bird Photography Weekly # 140. Check it out!

Literature consulted:

1. Angehr GR, Dean R. The Birds of Panama. A field guide. First edition 2010.

2. Remsen JV, et al. A classification of the birds species of South America. Version: 31-march-2011. American Ornithologists Union.

3. Roberson D. Birds Families of the World: Donacobius page. 10th edition.

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