Birder's Guide

MAY 2014

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Undulated Antpitta. Abra Patricia Owlet Lodge, Peru. Photo © Nick Athanas Chestnut-naped Antpitta. Rio Blanco Lodge, Colombia. Photo © Glyn Dawson Yellow-breasted Antpitta. Paz de las Aves, Ecuador. Photo © Nick Athanas Rufous Antpitta. Yanacocha Reserve, Ecuador. Photo © Nick Athanas 25 May 2014 | Birder's Guide to Conservation & Community commensal feeding habits are refected, as with the antbirds and the antwrens, by the "ant" in their name. They follow swarms of army ants, exploiting the feed- ing opportunities the ants drum up, and are therefore inclined to take advantage of food provided by other animals. Another more accepted and published hypothesis is that the larger antpittas, at least, feed on the giant earthworms that are relatively common throughout the subtropical and montane cloudforests of the Andes. These things can top four feet long and two inches thick. Yummy, and not just for ant- pittas—the other day I saw a Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan eating a squashed giant earthworm off the road! The most widely known among them is probably the cosmopolitan Cattle Egret. Much more obscure but more relevant to the Andes is the Banded Ground-Cuck- oo, which is said to follow peccaries. It is worth noting that these endangered ground-cuckoos were being successfully monitored (and fed!) at a location only about 10 miles from Refugio Paz de las Aves for much of 2012 and 2013. (How- ever, the recent news from Un Poco del Chocó is that the ground-cuckoos have been further afeld.) An alternative hypothesis, offered by Robert Ridgely and Guy Tudor in their Field Guide to the Songbirds of South Ameri- ca: The Passerines (2009), is that antpittas' berries, and some dairy cattle. And then there's the bird business run by Ángel, with help from his brother, Rodrigo, and their wives, María Flor and Diana. What began in October 2005 as the chance to see one Giant Antpitta that Ángel chris- tened "María" now includes several sought-after and hard-to-fnd birds, in- cluding Ochre-breasted, Yellow-breasted, Moustached, and Giant antpittas, Orange- breasted and Scaled fruiteaters, Velvet- purple Coronet, Empress Brilliant, Dark- backed Wood-Quail, Ocellated Tapaculo, and other assorted surprises—depending on your luck and the season. How is it that the notoriously-hard-to- see antpittas can be habituated to come when called to a virtual birders' circus? First, my sense is that Ángel and company are working on the birds' schedules and not vice versa. There are a few hypothe- ses, like this radically and sublimely mor- phological observation by an area farmer: "They kind of look like little chickens and chickens respond to scattered feed." Or as offered by Harold F. Greeney, in Neotropi- cal Biology and Conservation (May–August 2012), the more complex hypothesis that perhaps some of the antpittas are com- mensal feeders that sometimes follow mammals through the forest, exploiting the insects scared up by the disturbance. The idea here is that antpittas are predis- posed to key into mammalian movement and noises, and so are relatively easy to habituate. Maybe this isn't too off-the-wall. There are, after all, other birds with commen- sal feeding relationships with mammals. Only a decade ago, birders could only dream of sharing time and space with a Giant Antpitta. Now, it's a sure thing at Refugio Paz de las Aves. Photo © Glyn Dawson 3-Antpitta2.indd 25 5/22/14 7:37 PM

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