Tag Archive | research

Successful tagging of Three-wattled Bellbirds in Honduras

Michael Loukides

Male Three-wattled Bellbird (photo by Michael Loukides) released under a CC-NC-SA licence.

I just received in an email a press release for the Zoo Conservation Outreach Group describing recent successes in fieldwork on Three-wattled Bellbirds (Procnias tricarunculatus) in Honduras. This project aims to use satellite tags to study the migratory movements of these endangered frugivores in the Sierra de Agalta cloud forests of Honduras. I have no doubt that Isidro Zuniga, our Honduran colleague during our last field season in Honduras was greatly involved in this research.

The big mystery surrounding these odd  birds (Family Cotingidae) is their complex migratory movements between cloud forests in the region. Each of these cloud forests is like an individual island of habitat in a great sea of lower level pine forests and agriculturally-dominated valleys. The birds are very evident from July to September in the Sierra de Agalta cloud forest, but then disappear for the balance of the year. The team on the ground in Honduras, led by Dr. Robin Bjork, has managed to outfit four of these birds with satellite tags which are transmitting data already.

The data generated by these tagged birds should be very interesting to say the least, and will help identify key habitat for conservation efforts.

Three-wattled Bellbird.ZCOG.2014.02

A bird in the hand is worth quite a bit! Male Three-wattled Bellbird outfitted with 5 g satellite tag.

Three-wattled Bellbird.ZCOG.2014.01

Getting started!


So after getting settled in Gualaco and taking care of some red tape, Catherine and I, along with Isidro Zuniga will be headed out to the field tomorrow. We expect to be doing a bit of mapping, and getting familiar with the territory, after which we will attempt to do a call-playback survey for caracaras.

I managed to score some sweet GIS layers from the ICF guys in Tegucigalpa, and from what I am seeing, the caracaras being followed last year are in a belt of forest with very limited human habitation. Apparently they are seen occasionally all around, even as far as just east of Gualaco, but their stronghold seems to be where the people are not. Of course, we have no data of our own yet, but soon we shall see!

I am hoping the terrain will be workable, the caracaras amenable and the weather enjoyable! Wish us luck!

Going to Honduras!


Things have been rather quiet here at Ibycter lately, with less in the way of Weekend Expedition posts and no Cheapskate Tuesday posts for a while. The reason for this is that Catherine and I are getting ready to make a trip to Honduras to do a preliminary conservation study on Red-throated Caracaras. 

If you remember from back in June, the Honduran Conservation Coalition found and monitored a nest site in the Olancho Department, and they believe there is still a sizable population of caracaras nearby. I have wanted to work on Red-throated Caracara conservation biology for a long time, as no formal study has been done on the conservation of these birds in Central America. They are in steep decline across the region, and have disappeared from Mexico and Guatemala.

I was invited by Mark Bonta to come and do some research on these birds, and so, because I had funding from the National Birds of Prey Trust to do conservation research, I informed them of a change in venue to the heart of the region where caracaras are declining. We have since secured some more funds from the Zoo Conservation Outreach Group, as well as a private donor, and so we will be going to implement the start of the project.

This project will see us engaging the local volunteers and researchers to help us determine home range sizes and habitat occupancy of caracaras in the forests near Gualaco. We will  do radio tracking of birds from various caracara groups in the area, and will hopefully be able to get a preliminary estimate of home range size. We will also do call-playback surveys of the forests in order to determine the numbers of groups occupying the area. A third objective is to make further documentation of nesting behavior and food habits of the caracaras, as this is relatively unknown for the region.

Anyway, we ship off Monday, and will arrive in Tegucigalpa on Tuesday. After that we will be guided around the region and introduced to the stakeholders and collaborators. This is my very first field research conducted outside the bounds of a research camp, so making sure that everything is in order is a bit stressful.

We hope, however to continue to blog both here, at Catherine’s SpiderBytes blog and also at the ESC blog about all the cool stuff we encounter and the process of doing exploratory field research.

A group of Golden Eagles hunting elk?


I am always a fan of raptors, and have a special place in my heart for social and predation behaviour. Here is a story that combines all three! In the latest issue of Journal of Raptor Research, a remarkable observation of a large group of Golden Eagles harassing elk on a steep ridge is reported (but paywalled).

Matt O’Connell and Michael Kochert witnessed and filmed the astonishing sight of at least 8 eagles repeatedly stooping at a group of elk, either trying to drive them off a cliff, or perhaps just playing around.

Golden Eagles are known to prey on ungulatessometimes by driving them off cliffs, but the authors are cautious at definitively stating the motivation of these birds. I would suggest that the hypothesis of play and that of predation are not mutually exclusive. I could certainly see a great selective advantage for these carnivorous birds to engage in “play” that sometimes results in the grisly death of a large ungulate.

If you would like to see the video, here it is below. What do you think?



Bergo, G. 1987. Eagles as predators on livestock and deer. Fauna Norvegica Series C, Cinclus10:95–102.

Deblinger, R.D. and A.W. Alldredge. 1996. Golden Eagle predation on pronghorns in Wyoming’s Great Divide Basin. Journal of Raptor Research 30:157–159.

Erwins, P.J. 1987. Golden Eagles attacking deer and sheep. Scottish Birds 14:209–210.

Zettergreen, B. 2006. Golden Eagle attacks and kills yearling mountain goat. Wildlife Afield3:27–28.