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Yet more amazing birds in Yucatán, from red-winged blackbirds to macaws

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.

Hello and welcome to a new installment in this special series covering the amazing birds of Yucatán.

One of the most enjoyable things about birding is how it helps us to slow down and just take in the world around us.

All too often we find ourselves glued to our screens and rushing neurotically from one task to another. Birding can be a great activity to help fight stress, as it encourages several of the same practices as meditation.

Mindfulness is key, turn your focus away from yourself and your own thoughts and towards the sights, sounds, and smells of the world around you. Try to be quiet, study the area around you, and be patient, your feathered friends will show themselves when they are ready. 

Today we start things off with a bird I had been well acquainted with during my time in Canada but did not even know existed in Yucatán until recently. 

Red-winged blackbird or tordo sargento

Male red-winged blackbirds tend to be stocky and broad. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

I had always associated the red-winged blackbird with southern Ontario and Canada’s maritime provinces, where they are commonly known as robbins. Then not too long ago I spotted one near my home in northern Mérida and was sure my mind was playing tricks on me. I snapped a few photos, went home, and confirmed that yes, much like I do, this bird calls both Canada and Yucatán home. The bird’s name is taken from the male’s black plumage, which is accented by a red spot on the wing, bordered by a yellow band. Females of the species look much different and are blackish-brown, paler below, and much smaller than their male counterparts. 

Northern Jacana or jacana centroamericana

Because it sometimes appears to be walking on water, the Northern Jacana is sometimes nicknamed the Jesus bird. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

This slender bird can be found on marshes and has extremely long toes for walking on floating plants. They feed mostly on mollusks, small fish, insects, and aquatic seeds. The northern jacana has a dark brown body with a black head and neck. In addition, its bill has yellow patches and its forehead has a yellow wattle. Females of the species are around twice the size of males and average 145 grams. Chicks tend to be covered with paters of orange, brown, black, and some white. 

Montezuma Oropendola or zacua mayor

The Montezuma Oropendola is omnivorous, feeding primarily on arthropods and small vertebrates, but also consuming fruits and seeds. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

This wonderful bird borrows its name from Aztec royalty and can be found in the thick jungles of southern Campeche and Quintana Roo, as well as Belize and Guatemala. It has a yellow and black tail, chestnut black wings, a bicolored bill, and pale cheek patches. This species is known for building large and elaborate hanging nests that can be up to 180 centimeters long. The nests are made from woven fibers, sticks and are padded on the inside with moss or other soft organic materials.

Northern cardinal or cardenal rojo

If you want to attract cardinals to your garden, try putting out sunflower seeds in your bird feeder. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

This bright red bird can be spotted all the way from Canada down to Guatemala and has recently been introduced to the Caribbean and Hawaii. Its habitat includes woodlands, shrublands, and wetlands, but is no stranger to gardens. Male cardinals are closely associated with the color red, but also have a distinctive black mask and perky crest. The male sings in a loud, clear whistle from the top of a tree or another high location to defend his territory. Females are a reddish olive color. Both sexes have a beak that is cone-shaped and strong. Cardinals are prized as pets in some regions, but their sale as caged birds was banned in the United States in the early 20th century. 

Squirrel cuckoo or cuco yardilla 

The squirrel cuckoo is plentiful in most of its range and is quite tolerant of human disturbance, as long as wooded land remains. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The squirrel cuckoo is a large species of cuckoo found in wooded habitats from northern Mexico to some areas of South America. This species gets its name from its habit of running along branches and leaping like a squirrel. It normally flies only short distances. There are a number of subspecies with plumage variations, the specimen in the photo here was photographed in Calakmul in southern Campeche. They have extremely long tails and feed on large insects such as cicadas, wasps. spiders and caterpillars — as well as the occasional small lizard. 

Muscovy duck or pato criollo

Muscovy ducks have been bred since pre-Columbian times and are heavier and less able to fly long distances than the wild subspecies. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The Muscovy is a large duck native to the Americas. Larger males can be up to 76 centimeters long and weigh up to 7 kilograms, while females tend to be a good deal smaller. Muscovy ducks have long claws and a wide flat tail. The true Muscovy duck — from which domestic varieties originate — is black with white wing patches. They also have pronounced caruncles at the base of the bill and a low erectile crest of feathers. As for why exactly they are named after the Russian capital, there are several theories, but no one is quite sure. 

Snail kite or gavilán caracolero

Snail kites are often misidentified as eagles and are plentiful in the area surrounding Bacalar Lagoon in the southeast of Quintana Roo, near the Belize border. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The snail kite is a bird of prey and member of the Accipitridae family, which also includes eagles, hawks, and vultures. Females tend to be slightly larger than males, but both have a dark, deeply hooked beak which evolved to facilitate its eating of snails. Adult males have dark-gray plumage with darker flight feathers. Females have dark brown underparts and heavily streak pale underparts.

Scarlet macaw or Guacamaya bandera

The wingspan of the scarlet macaw is about 3 feet and a grand sight to behold. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Scarlet macaws are a red, yellow, and blue parrot found in Central and South America, as well as in several Mexican states including Campeche, Chiapas, and Tabasco. They are quite large, averaging 81 centimeters, and have a pointed, graduated tail. Their plumage is mostly scarlet, but the rump and tail covers are a light blue. The undersides of the wing and tail feathers are a dark red, though some individuals may have green in the wings also. They have bare white skin around their eyes which are light yellow in adults and dark in juveniles. They are prized for their great beauty, which also makes them a target for poachers. All species of Macaw are monogamous and extremely long-lived, with some specimens making it well into their 70s.

More birds of Yucatán: Check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this special series.

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