At least 112 different species of birds have been spotted in the area with the greatest variety seen in winter. The lagoons are particularly rich with a diversity of birds. A wonderful way to see them is by kayak or panga with a local guide. Zoe Kayak Tours offers four hour guided trips on Laguna de Potosi. You can get more information from Brian at 553-0496 (Ixtapa) or email him at Zoe5@aol.com or find Orlando at Enramada Gaviota in Barra de Potosi. You can also rent kayaks in Barra de Potosi and paddle yourself. The birds described below include a selection of the more common species.
Cinnamon Hummingbird (Amazilia rutila; Spanish: Colibri Canelo, Chuparrosa)
If you see a hummingbird at Playa Blanca, it is likely this one. The cinnamon is the most common of the nine hummingbird species spotted in the area. It is medium-sized, with a cinnamon-colored throat and underparts and is more bronze-green above. The promiscuous male attracts a female by flying back and forth like a swing. She lays two white eggs in a tiny cup of fern tree scales and seed down, covered with lichen and bound with spider webbing. The nest is built 3 to 16 feet above ground in a tree or shrub. Momma incubates the eggs for 13-15 days, and the young fly between 14 and 23 days. Both sexes are protective of feeding territories. You will often see Cinnamon hummers on a daily schedule of visiting Ixora bushes for nectar.
Great-Tailed Grackle (Quisicalus mexicanus; Spanish: Zanate)
This is a very common large blackbird throughout Mexico and increasingly throughout the United States. You are not likely to spend much time in the area without seeing at least one. The male is iridescent black with a purplish-blue sheen; yellow eyes; long, graduated, keel-shaped tail; and moderately long black legs. The female is dusky brown with darker wings and tail; yellow eye; buff eye stripe and throat; cinnamon buff to buffy brown on belly; long tail only slightly keeled; bill and legs black. Grackles are opportunistic foragers, taking advantage of whatever food sources they can find. They will follow plows for invertebrates and mice, wade into water to catch small fish, and sometimes kill and eat other birds at bird feeders. In this area grackles commonly forage in flocks. Sexes may forage in separate flocks. The mating display of males is showy; he fans his tail, fluffs up his body feathers, extends his wings, and makes a loud series of calls. The best dancers hold territories that contain nests of several females. Males will protect young from predators, but otherwise provide no parental care. Grackles engage in one peculiar behavior: anting. They allow ants to crawl on their body and secrete formic acid, possibly to rid the body of parasites. In addition to ants, they have been seen using walnut juice, lemons and limes, marigold blossoms, choke cherries, and mothballs in a similar fashion.
Inca Dove (Scardafella inca; Spanish: Coquita Común)
This small tropical ground dove is abundant in the area and its range includes the entire Pacific coast from the southwestern US to Costa Rica. Ironically, it does not occur in any of the lands ruled by the ancient Incas. Incas are about six inches long and slender with a grey-brown body. Its dark feather tips give it a scaled appearance. Its sound is a “coo-coo” sometimes depressingly described as sounding like “no hope”. The Inca Dove engages in an odd behavior, known as "pyramid roosting." To conserve heat, pairs or groups of Inca Doves may huddle together in the sunshine, with some sitting on the back of the others. The pyramid may be three layers high and include up to 12 birds.
Yellow-Winged Cacique (Cacicus melanicterus, Spanish: Cacique)
These birds are members of the
This bird also builds a notable nest which you may have seen. They are long—about two feet-- scrotum shaped bags suspended from the end of a branch. You often see them hanging over the roads dangling from the branch of a large parota or other tree. Nests contain 2-4 pale blue eggs.
The Yellow-Winged Cacique is a prize for birders since it is endemic to
Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster; Spanish: Bobo Vientre- Blanco or Moreno)
Reaching about 30 inches in length, the heads and backs of these sea birds are black and their bellies are white making them easy to identify. Their beaks are quite sharp and contain many jagged edges. They have short wings and long, tapered tails. This bird nests in large colonies and many roost on Los Moros, the group of grey stone islands on the horizon off Playa Blanca, where the females lay their two chalky blue eggs on the ground in a mound of broken shells and vegetation. Brown Boobies are spectacular divers, plunging into the ocean at high speed. They mainly eat small fish or squid which school near the surface and also may catch leaping fish while skimming the surface. Although they are powerful and agile fliers, they are particularly clumsy in takeoffs and landings; they use strong winds and high perches to assist their takeoffs. Brown Boobies, along with Brown Pelicans, Neotropic Comorants and Frigate Birds, are the most common birds prowling the surf looking for fish.
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis; Spanish: Pelicano Café)
This is the smallest of the eight species of pelicans, although it is a large bird in nearly every other regard. An adult is about four feet in length and has a wingspan of about seven feet. It can be distinguished from the less common white pelican by its brown body and its habit of diving for fish from the air. Groups often travel up or down the beach in single file, skimming low over the water's surface. Pelicans can live more than 30 years. Their nest location varies from a simple scrape on the ground on an island to a bulky stick nest in a low tree. These birds nest in colonies, usually on islands such as Los Morros. Their young are hatched in broods of about three, and each chick eats around 150 pounds of fish in the 8-10 month period they are cared for. The Brown Pelican is resident year round. American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) are also spotted locally in winter. They are very large, white, with black wing tips and a long wide orange bill. Unlike the Brown Pelican, the White pelican does not dive for its food; it feeds while swimming; eating about four pounds of fish a day.
Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga; Spanish: Anhinga)
The Anhinga, sometimes called Snakebird, Darter, American Darter, or Water Turkey, is a tropical water bird. Its name comes from the Brazilian Tupi language and means devil bird or snake bird. It is a dark-plumaged fish-eater with a very long neck, and often swims with only the neck above water. When swimming like this, the name snake bird is apt, since only the colored neck appears above water and the bird looks like a snake ready to strike. They have an average body length of about three feet and a wingspan of about four. Most of the male’s body is a glossy black green with the wings, the base of wings, and the tail being a glossy black blue. The upper back of the body and wings is spotted or streaked with white. The tip of the tail has white feathers. The back of the head and the neck have elongated feathers of gray or light purple and white. These head feathers and the strange neck make it easy to identify. The Anhinga's feathers are not waterproofed by oils like those of ducks and can get waterlogged, causing the bird to almost sink. However, this allows it to dive easily and search for fish under the water. It can stay down for significant periods. When necessary, the Anhinga will dry out its wings and feathers by perching for long periods with its wings spread, like a cormorant. If it is startled and attempts to fly while its wings are wet, it has great difficulty getting off the water and takes off by flapping vigorously while 'running' on the water. The lagoons are the best place to spot this bird.
Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens; Spanish: Fragata Magnifica)
These are the high soaring birds you see hovering above the beach riding the updrafts. They are large birds; males have wingspans of over 7 feet and no other bird has a higher wingspan to body weight ratio. This allows them to stay aloft for up to a week at a stretch, and they land only to roost or breed on cliff or trees. The males have iridescent black feathers and a red throat pouch which they inflate during breeding season; the females have white bellies. Frigatebirds cannot swim, can barely walk and cannot take off from a flat surface. They survive in part by being kleptoparasites; they are feathered pirates, harassing and stealing food from other birds. With their speed and maneuverability, they force boobies and shearwaters and other birds to drop or regurgitate their catch and then they pluck it out of the sky or off the top of the water. They are also adept at snatching the chicks of other seabirds and turtle hatchlings. On the more positive side, they are monogamous. Pairs lay a single egg each season and care for their hatchling longer than any other bird.
Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus; Spanish: Comoran Neotropical)
This is a bird you frequently will see swimming and diving in the surf. It has a long body and neck, purplish black plumage, a yellowish throat and a blunt yellowish bill. The average length is two feet and the typical wingspan is about three feet. The Neotropic Cormorant is the only cormorant known to plunge-dive into water to catch fish. Unlike gannets and boobies, it does not dive from great heights, restricting its dives to less than two feet above the water. Lamentably it is not particularly successful with this technique; catching a fish only once in every six to ten plunges. Whether diving or bobbing, it catches its fish under water, and then takes the prey to the surface where it swallows it head first. In Mexico, Neotropic Cormorants reportedly often fish cooperatively, forming a line across swift-flowing streams and striking the surface with their wings, causing fish to flee and the cormorants to dive and pursue them. You won’t see this behavior in the surf, but could encounter it in some of the local rivers.
American Coot (Fulica americana: Spanish: Gallareta)
These are not the retired gringos sitting in the shade at the enramadas. About 16 inches long, these common birds inhabit wetlands and open water bodies from Canada to northern South America. They are more numerous in winter, Adults have a short thick white bill and white frontal shield, which usually has a reddish-brown spot near the top of the bill between the eyes. The body is grey with the head and neck darker than the rest of the body. Their legs are yellowish, with scalloped toes rather than webbed feet. Their chicks have black bodies with bright red head and beak and orange plumes around the neck. These chunky birds require a great deal of effort to become airborne, pedaling across the water with their feet before lifting off. The way their heads bob when they walk or swim has earned them the name "marsh hen" or "mud hen". They are frequently seen swimming in open water. They can dive for food but can also forage on land. American Coots are omnivorous; eating plant material, arthropods, fish, and other aquatic animals. They nest in a well-concealed location in tall reeds.
Least Grebe (Tachybaptus dominicus; Spanish: Zambullidor Menor/Enano)
At nine inches long, the Least Grebe is the smallest member of the grebe family, and it is the only member of its genus found in the New World. Like all grebes, its legs are set far back on its body and it cannot walk well, though it is an excellent swimmer and diver. Small and plump, with a fairly short, sharply-pointed beak, it typically appears quite dark all over but its bright yellow eyes are a sure mark of identification. The breeding adult is brownish grey above with a darker blackish crown and throat. It has a brownish chest and pale under parts. It shows a white wing patch in flight. Non-breeding birds are paler with a whitish throat, and immatures are paler and greyer than adults. Least Grebes are found in a wide variety of wetland habitats, including freshwater ponds, lakes, and marshes, slow-flowing streams and rivers, roadside ditches, and mangrove swamps. In general, they prefer bodies of water with significant amounts of vegetative cover, particularly along the edges. They eat a variety of aquatic life, including small fish, crustaceans, frogs and aquatic insects. Like all grebes, they pursue much of their prey underwater. During active feeding bouts, a Least Grebe spends an average of 12.5 seconds beneath the surface on each dive, with surface pauses ranging from 2–24 seconds. The breeding call has been likened to a horse whinnying.
Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja, Spanish: Espatula Rosada)
Seeing this unusual bird is a treat for accomplished birders and we are fortunate in having regular sightings in the Barra de Potosi lagoon. The Roseate Spoonbill stands about 30 inches tall and has a heron-shaped body. The legs and eyes are red, and the feet and knees are blackish. The body is pink and so it sometimes is mistaken for a flamingo. During breeding, their plumage can be a bright red or magenta color on their wing shoulders. Wing span is 3-4 feet. The tail is a tawny orange color. On the upper breast there is a prominent patch of stiff curly feathers in red surrounded by pink and buff (a yellowish-orange). The head is bare and varies in color from a pale green to a greenish gray. It has a black skin area around the ear and nape of the neck. They have a long spatula shaped bill, or banjo bill, about 6 inches in length. It narrows in the center and widens to about 2 inches at the tip. Immature birds have white plumage with varying tints of pink. Small fish such as minnows and killifish make up about 85 percent of their diet with shrimp, mollusks, aquatic bugs, and vegetable material making up the difference. Nerves extend to the tip of the bill making it extremely sensitive. When prey comes in contact with the mandible it stimulates the nerves and the bill snaps shut. They usually feed in water no higher than their knees, and are able to breathe through the nostril slits located high on the base of the bill. They sweep their bill from side to side, an inch from the bottom, in wide semicircles, with the mandibles slightly open. This sweeping motion with their flat bill creates mini-whirlpools. Small animals in the muddy bottom are lifted into the water during one sweep of the bill and are grasped during the next sweep. A series of papillae on the outside edge of both mandibles assist in transferring the food to the throat.
Great Egret (Casmerodius albus; Spanish: Garza/Garceta Grande)
The Great Egret also known as the Great White Egret is a large bird with all white plumage that can reach over three feet in height. It is only slightly smaller than the Great Blue Heron. Apart from size, the Great Egret can be distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet. It also has a slow flight, with its neck retracted. This helps to distinguish them from cranes, storks and spoonbills, which extend their necks. The Great Egret feeds in shallow water or drier habitats, spearing fish, frogs or insects with its long, sharp bill. It will often wait motionless for prey or slowly stalk its victim. It is a common species both in the lagoons of Playa Blanca and the rest of its large range.
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula; Spanish: Garza Nivea; Garceta Nivosa)
This small white heron has a slim black bill and long black legs with yellow feet. The area of the upper bill in front of the eyes is yellow, but turns red during the breeding season, when the adults also gain recurved plumes on the back, making for a "shaggy" effect. The juvenile looks similar to the adult, but the base of the bill is paler, and a green or yellow line runs down the back of the legs. They nest in colonies, often with other waders, usually on platforms of sticks in trees or shrubs. Their flat, shallow nests are made of sticks and lined with fine twigs and rushes. Three to four greenish-blue, oval eggs are incubated by both adults. The young leave the nest in 20 to 25 days and hop about on branches near the nest before finally departing. The birds eat fish, crustaceans and insects. They stalk prey in shallow water, often running or shuffling their feet, flushing prey into view, as well "dip-fishing" by flying with their feet just over the water. Snowy Egrets may also stand still and wait to ambush prey, or hunt for insects stirred up by domestic animals in open fields. At one time, the beautiful plumes of the Snowy Egret were in great demand by market hunters as decorations for women's hats. This reduced the population of the species to dangerously low levels. Now that it is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, this bird's population has rebounded.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias; Spanish: Garzon Cenizon/ Azulado)
This is the largest North American heron with a head-to-tail length of three to four feet and a wingspan of almost six feet. It is blue-gray overall, with black flight feathers, red-brown thighs, and a paired red-brown and black stripe up the flanks; the neck is rusty-gray, with black and white streaking down the front; the head is paler, with a nearly white face, and a pair of black plumes running from just above the eye to the back of the head. The bill is dull yellowish, becoming orange briefly at the start of the breeding season. Great Blue Herons can be found in a range of habitats, in fresh and saltwater marshes, mangroves and along shorelines but they always live and nest near bodies of water. They are regulars in the local lagoons. Their primary food is small fish, though they also eat shellfish, insects, rodents, amphibians, reptiles and small birds. They are generally solitary feeders. Individuals usually forage while standing in water, but will also forage in fields or drop from the air or a perch into water. As large wading birds, Great Blue Herons are able to feed in deeper waters than other waders, and thus are able to exploit a niche not open to most other heron species. They feed during both the night and the day, but especially around dawn and dusk. Herons locate their food by sight and generally swallow it whole. Greedy herons have been known to choke on prey that is too large.
Long-Billed Curlew (Numenius americanus; Spanish: Zarapito Piquilargo) and Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus; Spanish: Zarapito Trinador)
These are two species of curlews, an ancient lineage of wading bird who have been in Mexico a long time; fossils of a late Pleistocene version have been found in San Josecito Cave here. Both are a medium sized shore birds. The Long-Billed Curlew is immediately recognizable by its very long slender down-curved bill. The bill of the Whimbrel also curves down, but the bill is not as long and adults are a bit smaller than the Long-Billed (45 cm versus 55 cm). The plumage of both species is mainly brown and they both energetically work the beach, running up and down the sand searching for crabs in the spent waves.
Willet (Tringa semipalmata; Spanish: Playero Pihuihui; Piguilo)
Willets are shorebirds in the sandpiper family. They are slightly smaller ( 35 cm) than the curlews with whom they share the beach. Adults have gray legs and a long, straight, dark and stout bill. The body is dark gray above and light underneath. The tail is white with a dark band at the end. They are easy to recognize when they go aloft; when they fly you can see the bold black and white pattern of the wings; black at the leading and back edge with a broad white band between. Willets migrate to Playa Blanca from freshwater prairie marshes in western North America and spend winter and spring along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the southern United States, Central and South America. They nest on the ground and in addition to feeding on crabs along the beach, they forage in mudflats and shallow water.