A Travel Fearlessly Field Report: The Bare Throated Tiger Heron
This isn’t a travel related post but I felt the need to write about an incredibly unique experience I had. While spending a month in Costa Rica we discovered the nest of a bare throated tiger heron in one of the coconut trees next to our vacation home. Brandon, Stink and I had the opportunity to watch as the chicks incubated, hatched and grew during our stay. Since breeding and incubation information about the bare throated tiger heron is surprisingly scarce I feel it’s important to record my observations of our little bird family.
Background: We stayed at Casa Montezuma, a rental home between Montezuma and Cabuya, on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Our stay was from May 16 to June 13, 2017. For the purposes of this report I have designated “Day 1” as the first day of observing the nest which was May 17.
Today we discovered the bare throated tiger heron nest. It is roughly 30 feet from the ground as it’s best viewed from the third story observation deck of our house. We can see two large eggs in the nest. Tito (the property owner) informed us that guests witnessed a courtship dance between the parents about 2-3 weeks prior to our visit.
Observed Momma Heron behind the coconut tree, leaving the eggs exposed in the afternoon sun.
We’ve had a few thunderstorms and a troop of monkeys through our yard which threatened the heron nest but all is still well. Brandon observed Momma Heron leaving the nest once but aside from that she is always in the tree, either sitting on the eggs or standing just a few feet away.
Two nights ago I heard one heron calling from far away and Momma Heron responding. So is Dad around somewhere? Are they in fact switching off and we just can’t tell the difference?
It is sunny and HOT here in Montezuma. The sun is blazing on Momma Heron in the mid-afternoon. Here’s a photo of her stretching her wings over her nest. I can see some rapid breathing in her throat, this might also help cool her off.
There’s a new mystery item hanging out in the nest. I can’t figure out what it is.
Dad is around! Early this morning we saw a second tiger heron arrive with a large stick for the nest. I can only assume this is Daddy Heron. He flew off after a few minutes but we’ve been watching him for the past half hour as he hangs out in a nearby tree very close to the nest. There simply isn’t enough room for both parents to be in the nest at the same time. The two herons are identical so it will be almost impossible for me to tell them apart in my photos.
Days 14 through 18
Dad Heron visited once more to bring a stick but I still haven’t observed them switching so Momma Heron can eat. Momma Heron has been leaving the nest a few times a day now to fetch sticks from other trees in the yard, but always within sight of her nest. She’s either expanding the nest to accommodate fledgling herons or fortifying it after the bad rains we’ve been experiencing. It is only the beginning of the rainy season but we’ve been experiencing some abnormally bad thunderstorms for this time of the year.
The happiest days are when babies are born! Tiger Heron Baby #1 was born around mid-morning. White with bulging eyes and a wobbly head. He’s the ugliest little thing I’ve ever seen. By the evening he had dried off and feathers were very wispy. Observed Mom and Dad Heron swapping places. This confirms that both parents share the duties. I observed one of the parents regurgitating food into the nest for baby, then eating the larger chunks and regurgitating it again a few hours later.
Found Tiger Heron Baby #1’s empty egg shell on the ground beneath the coconut tree today. Posted a short video of it on the Travel Fearlessly Facebook page.
Tiger Heron Baby #2 is born in the late afternoon and I capture the entire thing on video.
Late at night there was a bad thunderstorm. Howling winds and torrential rains pounded our little house for almost 2 hours. When the rain finally started to let up, around 4 am, I rolled over in my bed and tried to go back to sleep.
That’s when I heard a blood curdling yell. At first I thought it was Stink or Brandon but it was neither. It had to be some sort of animal.
When the sun came up I went to the third story observation deck to check on the herons. The nest was still intact but when Parent Heron stood up I could only see one baby. It was obviously Baby Heron #1 due to its size and feathers. I watched them for over an hour, hoping that the other baby was just resting somewhere out of sight. There was no sign of it.
I searched the base of the tree for any indication that it had fallen out but there was none. I suspect that some predator must have grabbed Baby Heron #2 when the parent wasn’t on the nest. Momma/Daddy often stand on a nearby coconut frond to preen or relieve themselves, leaving the nest and the babies exposed. Baby Heron #1 is still doing great. I nicknamed him Gobo from Fraggle Rock.
Parent Heron is starting to encourage Gobo to eat larger pieces of food. Gobo tried to swallow a small lizard whole but was unsuccessful. Parent Heron regurgitated food for Gobo and then ate the lizard while Gobo watched.
Watched the parents switch baby-sitting duties at 8:30 this morning. Both parents are spending less time in the nest on top of Gobo, probably because he’s getting so big. He’s still attempting to eat larger pieces of meat.
The leaves from a nearby coconut tree are growing rapidly, making it harder to get clear shots of the nest from the observation deck.
Gobo is one week old today! He’s getting so big that his parents rarely sit on him anymore, preferring to stand in the nest or on a nearby branch. This afternoon I watched him pecking Parent Heron mercilessly on the face and neck. He’s ALWAYS hungry!
We departed Casa Montezuma and started our journey back home. Gobo is still doing well, spending some time in the nest by himself for a little while.
Day 72 (July 27th)
We got an update from the property owners. Gobo is still living in the coconut tree with his parents and is almost ready to fly. He had a close call the week before with a troop of monkeys but the parents arrived at the nest just in time to save him.
Received some updated photos of Gobo from a guest at Casa Montezuma. He looks almost like an adult now!
~3 1/2 Months Old (September 17th)
Another update from the property owners. It’s been a couple weeks since Gobo took his first real flight. Before that he had been hop-flying from tree to tree in the yard. He still returns to the nest almost every day. He can get food on his own but when he sees his parents return to the nest he dives back in and pretends to be a helpless chick. Apparently it works because they still bring him snacks. The nest is considerably bigger than when we visited.
~6 Months Old (December 22nd)
Received an update from a guest at Casa Montezuma. There is a bare throated tiger heron still living in the nest at the house. Tito thinks it is probably Gobo. He likes to wake everyone up at 4 am with a terrible racket. It appears the parents have left the nest for good.
~8 Months Old (February 2nd)
Received an update from the property manager. A tiger heron is building a nest on the palm trees in the yard, close to the original nest. It could be Gobo, his parents or another tiger heron. I like to think it’s Gobo. Hopefully Casa Montezuma will be hosting new babies again this year!
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