Relatioships in nature

Many of us have heard the name of a bird with the word “ant” in it: Antbird, Antwren Antshrike, just to mention some.  I imagine the first thought of a non-birder, is that they feed on ants, but the truth is different.  It’s related to a wonderful strategy that some of these birds, with the Ant word in their name, have evolved to take advantage of a particular group of ants: the Army Ants.

Panama Wildlife

Army ants moving through the forest.

Army ants are extremely successful in their hunting strategies.  They disperse all over an area of the tropical forest, and “cover” everything (ground, trunks, branches), and all the living creatures that encounter them try to avoid them, as fast as they can  (jumping, flying…), it’s a race for their lives. During the moments of craziness i’s when the antbirds show up and “collect” whatever they can, before these specimens fall into the army ants’ control. Obviously some other birds, without the “Ant” word on their name follow or take advantage of the army ants swarms too.

Birding Panama

Chestnut-backed Antbird (Poliocrania exsul), a common forest understory species, that is heard more often than seen, can be an opportunistically species that follows the army ants, while the swarm passes through its territory.

This is one more example of the importance of every single creature has within the ecosystems, a little disturbance can cause the reduction of an insect population, or the absence of it can easily be link with the drop of a bird or a mammal population in the same area.

Chestnut-backed Antbird

Birding Panama

One of the common resident birds here at Tranquilo Bay is the Chesnut-backed Antbird (Myrmeciza exsul). It is one of the most common ant-bird of the tropical zone forest, which lives from sea level up to 2000 feet (600-700 meters). Its range is good size, reaching from the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua, both coasts of Costa Rica and south to Western Ecuador and Northern Colombia.

In Panama, this species has some color variation throughout the isthmus and four subspecies are recognized. The subspecies found at Tranquilo Bay (Bocas del Toro and eastward through northern Veraguas to eastern Colon) is Myrmeciza exsul exsul.

They are almost always found close to the ground, generally in pairs moving relatively close together, on the undergrowth of the forest floor.

While hiking Tranquilo Bay’s trails you will often hear a double note whistle followed by the same call but in a slightly different tone. The first one is the male calling and the “changed tone” call is the female answering.  These calls and the movement on the forest floor are the best way to find them due to the lack of light in the places they like to inhabit and their own dark coloration.

The Chestnut-backed Antbird can show up anywhere in the forest, but the best close-up views, are usually obtained on the path that joins the cabanas to the main building of the lodge. It surprises you, if they are not calling and you walk on this path, because the male will make a purring sound while he moves away from you. An amazing forest bird found on a comfortable cement path.