Spring Boxing Camp for Tropical Birds Wanting to Sharpen Their Bills

It all started thanks to one bird, a persistent, some might say obsessive, harmless looking gray tanager with a bone to pick with an apparent rival. Daily, without fail, he challenged the gray-blue intruder of the same species with sharp-billed pecks and flamboyant, rising displays of fluttering wings and stinging, knife-edged cries that let his foe know he was anything but welcome. Meanwhile, his mate, perched on a nearby bamboo orchid gazed in admiration at his fearlessness.

Our fearless hero and founder of our local avian training camp
This was no ordinary foe he faced, however. To his frustrated surprise, this other bird seemed to know all his tricks, all his moves. Every peck was matched precisely, every display duplicated as if to mock our gray-blue hero. Still, he would not abate, he would not back down in the face of his opponent's impudence and bad manners.

Of course, little did his feeble bird-brain realize that he would not, could not, overcome his challenger for it was none other than himself. Or, rather, his refection in our mirrored window!
A few months ago, we replaced a sliding pane section of the picture window in our bedroom with a fixed pane, because we rarely opened that window and it would leak rain if a storm was blowing strongly northward. The new glass had a slightly higher reflectivity, which fortunately didn't lead to more bird hits, but it did attract that tanager, who made it his duty to spend at least an hour every morning and sometimes in the late afternoons to fight off his reflected twin.

Naturally, this behavior was amusing at first, then annoying and finally just background noise. What made it particularly interesting was that after a week or so, other bird species would hang out in the nearby branches to watch the "fight" or perhaps they were trying to figure out what these antics were all about.

It wasn't long before other birds would take a go at their phantom rivals. First, the male red-rumped tanagers (Sarjentos) took their turns, then a pair of golden-headed tanagers, and so on. The different species always took turns just as if they'd taken a number.

Close-up of Tropical Pirula in Costa Rica
Tropical Pirula

Then, there was a surprise visit by a small guy we'd never seen before, a Tropical Pirula, which is quite common on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, but unusual in the Pacific mountains. He's still here after several months and is one of our favorites.

Because, the window is essentially a one-way mirror, we could take some nice close-ups of our visitors. Socks, our cat, also has a fascinating, if not completely fulfilling, experience coming unrealistically close to the would-be avian champions.

Cat watching Pirula from other side of the glass
Pirula unaware of deadly prandial lust only centimeters away
Today, we had another treat, a pair of Yellow-Billed Caciques, which we've never seen before, either, landed on the sill to check out their reflections. These also are much more common on the Caribbean coast. The female quickly retreated to the bamboo orchid, but the male peered a while longer and gave out the most beautiful call, ostensibly to announce his pleasure at his own or his fictional rival's appearance.

It's not unusual for one of our local hummingbirds to make a stop as well. They never perch, of course, but instead hover for several seconds gazing at the glass as if to make sure they've combed their feathers properly. All in all, besides stopping the rain from getting in, we've certainly received an immense amount of pleasure from our local avian training camp.


  1. This is hysterical! Love Costa Rica's amazing birds. I've never seen a Tropical Pirula before- looks spectacular.

    1. I like the Pirulas too. We're lucky they are hanging out here this season. The Pico de Platas were a real treat. Only saw them the one morning.


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