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18 species of Gruiformes in Costa Rica

These birds, members of the order Gruiformes, are represented by 18 species in Costa Rica. Most live on or near water, swamps or marshes. They are poor fliers and prefer swimming or running. Many rails and crakes are furtive inhabitants of waterside grasses or rushes and, in most cases, are difficult to see even if they are present.

Exceptions include the gray-necked wood-rail (rascón cuelligris; Aramides cajanea), a large rail (38cm tall) with an olive back and tail; gray head, neck and upper breast; chestnut lower breast; black belly and thighs; red legs and eyes; and yellow bill - quite a palette! It forages with its short tail pumping, walking over muddy vegetated ground, probing the mud and leaf layer in search of frogs and fruits. It can be found near water below 1,400m throughout the country.

In the water you may see the purple gallinule (gallareta morada; Porphyrula martinica), a colorful and more common version of the common gallinule or moorhen(gallareta frentiroja; Gallinula chloropus), which is familiar in North Amarica, Eurasia, and Africa. The purple gallinule is violet-purple on the front, neck, and head; bronzy green and the back, and white under the tail. It has bright yellow legs, a red bill with a yellow tip, and a light blue frontal shield on its forehead. It is seen on many ponds below 1500m and is more frequently seen in Costa Rica than the common gallinule. The American coot (focha Americana; Fulica americana) is a dark gray to black waterbird with a white bill and frontal shield and white marks under the tail. This migrant is common from October to April.

The male sungrebe (pato cantil; Heliornis fulica) has the remarkable ability to carry its young suspended in a fold of skin under its wings. With a chick under each wing it can swim or even fly. this secrative and shy bird can be seen in several slowly flowing lowland rivers, including the canals of Tortuguero, which is one of the best places to look. It is a mainly brown waterbird with a wide tail tipped in white but has bold and distinctive black-and-white striping on the neck and head, and a red bill, which make identification easy.


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