Three-wattled Bellbird Species Overview

Birding Panama

Let me introduce you to one of the most interesting birds of Bocas del Toro, Panama.

It´s name … Three- wattled Bellbird or, as we call it here, Campanero o Pájaro Campana (Procnias tricarunculata). This species is within the suboscine passerine family of Cotingas (Cotingidae). The English name comes from the three black skin wattles that the adult male has, one in the base of the upper mandible, the other two find on the corner of the gape. I guess the Spanish name is because the male Procnias produces one of the loudest of all animal vocalizations. Its main sound is a thunderous, electronic bell or gong-like note … so … “campanero” is a great name.

Three-wattled Bellbirds are only found from Southeastern Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica to Western Panamá. It has one of the most complex migration patterns registered for tropical species, including altitudinal movements. In Panama, from March to Mid-August, breeding season, it is found in the upper levels of the forest in the western foothills and highlands (from 3000 to 7000 feet). In nonbreeding season, September to February, it descends to the lowlands and foothills on the Western Caribbean Slope, which means you can enjoy them here at Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge.

Bocas del Toro Birding

It is one of the biggest fruit-eating (frugivorous) birds in Central America. It feeds on stone fruits that all contain a relatively high percentage of protein and fat and not much water within the fruit’s flesh. A big percentage of them are Lauracea and Rutacea, but it also eats other fruits.

Unlike other birds of the suboscine division, the Three-wattled Bellbird is capable of vocal learning. Vocal learning was supposed to have evolved in three clades of birds: parrots, hummingbirds and oscine passerines; and three clades of mammals: whales, bats and primates. However, behavioral data indicates that the Three-wattled Bellbird is capable of vocal learning, This data, in the form of a genetic study carried out in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, shows that the weak genetic variation shown between the four populations is not congruent with variation in vocal behavior of the four.

Panama Birdwatching

Three-wattled Bellbirds have a very particular display practice. They always choose an exposed perch above the canopy or a special broken-off branch, or visiting perch, beneath the canopy. The special branch has to have particular aspects to qualify as a “visiting perch”. The ideal specifications for the branch are:

  • 10 to 22 meters above the ground
  • 25-50 mm in diameter
  • 45 to 60 cm of the broken-off branch must be uncluttered by side branches
  • grows upward at an angle of 10 to 15 degrees above horizontal

As you can see, it is a very particular animal. It is very special in it´s perch requirements which makes it a natural wonder. This makes us feel very lucky to enjoy it´s presence in this little corner of the Earth.

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Three-wattled Bellbird and Stub-tailed Spadebill

Two of the most interesting species of birds that inhabit Tranquilo Bay´s trails, have been very active lately, during the past month almost every time I go to the trail, I got to see them or, at least, I heard them calling. I am talking about the Three-wattled Bellbird (Procnias tricarunculata) and the Stub-tailed Spadebill (Platyrinchus cancrominus).

Birding Panama

The unmistakable sound of the Three-wattled Bellbird surrounding you, almost “hitting” you, happens only part of the year because during the breeding season (March- mid August) they are on higher ground (2300 -7000 feet). L.S. Crandall gives this explanation of the calling behavior, which I consider very precise (Zoologica, 1948, pp.113-114,pl.1) “The mouth is open widely, until the lower mandible approximates a right angle to the upper … the body is then pumped rapidly up and down for about five seconds. This movement then ceases and with the body, legs and wings rigid, as violent convulsion of the throat and neck is followed by the sharp metallic bell.”

Three-wattled Bellbird Once you hear the sound, it is unforgettable, and the first thought is always the same … How does it make it? followed by .. Where is it? Because they like to be in open perches in the canopy so they are normally under cover of leaves if you look up from the bottom of the trees. Now it is a very good time to get delighted by their call and their beauty.

Panama Birdwatching In the case of the Stub-tailed Spadebill, it is a year round neighbor in the forested islands of Bocas del Toro Archipelago, and only here … because this species is subplanted by the Golden-crowned Spadebill in Bocas del Toro mainland.

Even living here within the Tranquilo Bay forest all year-long, he is a very secretive bird, you can hear them but the call doesn’t always repeat, it is not the case now because they are very active, calling and playing around. You can see these “little balls” hopping around one after the other, providing also a great opportunity to make some good photographic shots.

Birding at Tranquilo Bay

Morning Birding Session

Birdwatching Panama

A few weeks ago I went for a short morning walk around Tranquilo Bay’s gardens, to check on some of the plants I had planted recently.  In the end, I had one of the most amazing birding days I have experienced on site. I had the good fortune to be outside when things started to get active.  So I had two wonderful hours of great bird watching.

Panama Birding

Some of the highlights were two Broad-winged Hawks, a young one attacking an adult one, in front of my eyes, three young Three-wattle Bellbirds, practicing their calls, and a Stub-tailed Spadebill, playing with me while I tried to capture its picture.   On the trail during my wonderful walk, I spotted a Green Iguana, climbing to the canopy of the forest, just to make my morning even better.

Wildlife Panama

Here is the list of what I saw and heard (H):

Magnificent Frigatebird
Cattle Egret
Little Blue Heron
Green Ibis
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Broad-winged Hawk
Double-toothed Kite
Gray-necked Wood-rail H
White-throated Crake H
Short-billed Pigeon
Pale-vented Pigeon
Red-lored Parrot
Blue-headed Parrot
Stripe-throated hermit
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Violet-crowned Woodnymph
Band-tailed Barbthroat
Blue-chested Hummingbird
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
Lineated Wookpecker
Western Slaty-Antshrike
Chestnut-backed Antbird
Dot-winged Antwren
White-flanked Antwren
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Dusky-caped Flycatcher
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Stub-tailed Spadebill
Three-wattled Bellbird
Red-capped Manakin
Golden-collared Manakin
Masked Tityra
Lesser Greenlet
Barn Swallow
Bay Wren H
House Wren
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Long-billed Gnatwren H
Gray Catbird H
Northern Waterthrush
Yellow Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Bananaquit
Blue-gray Tanager
Tawny-crested Tanager
Passerini´s Tanager
Green Honeycreeper
Plain-colored Tanager
Buff-throated Saltator
Variable Seedeater
Summer Tanager
Red-throated Ant Tanager
Blue-black Grosbeak
Montezuma Oropendola
White-vented Euphonia

Snowy Cotinga on the Yard List

Observation Deck

Male Three-wattled Bell Bird

Last Wednesday, I was on the dock with the boys and saw some strange behavior near the tower with a couple of Raptors.  It had rained and the sun had just cracked around 4:00 p. m.  The birds were really starting to move.  Then I heard the call of a Three-wattled Bellbird, and then another one.  These were the first calls of the year, and that was all I could take.  I left the dock quickly and went to get my binoculars to go to the tower.  Boty grabbed some bins and came with me and man was it good.  There was a termite hatch and everything was sallying up off high perches eating the little tidbits.  Boty and I saw Blue Dacnis, Great Kiskadee and Boat-billed flycatchers, Shinning and Green Honeycreepers and a Lineated Woodpecker to name a few.  With all the activity, the parrots began to fly, in a prolonged and raucous chorus.  The pair of raptors flying around strangely were Plumbeous Kites, they must have darted for the termites as well.  The Bellbirds never called again, but I did see one male in flight.  Boty couldn’t take it anymore after watching the boys swimming down at the dock with her binoculars.  So she left to go swim and that is when I struck gold.  First, I saw a white dot, same as always.  I studied before I put up my binoculars because I wanted to be sure, and I was.  Beautiful Snowy Cotinga male right here at Tranquilo Bay.  Only seconds after I put up my bins what looked like a female dropped out of the tree and I never saw her again.  Since it was a drop and flight and I didn’t get a second look, I am not 100% it was a female, but size and markings were right.  Furthermore, she was only a couple of feet from the male on the same clump of branches when she dropped.  Anyhow, the male hung around and I watched him in my bins for more than 20-minutes.  Flying back and forth from several perches in a small area always exposed or just inside the first row of leafs.  We have listed Snowy Cotinga on our tours, but this was the first time on-site.  I was so excited, what a great bird to add to our yard list right here at Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge.  The new observation tower has allowed us access to the canopy and it sure has paid off.

Bocas Canopy Tower

Male Snowy Cotinga