A birdie with a beard

by Alfredo Trejos

Make it yourself (Issue IV/2021)


Even though it is rarely seen, it is unmistakable. The song of the bellbird is one of the loudest in the animal kingdom. Illustration: De Agostini via Getty Images

The bellbird lives in the high-altitude cloud forests of northwest Costa Rica. The male's plumage is shiny reddish brown and its head and throat are white. The female is olive green with a yellow underside. The three-lobed cotinga, as it is also called because of the three skin flaps on its bill, is rarely seen. But you often hear it. It lives in the canopies of the large kapok and fig trees, among the mistletoe. Its song is one of the loudest in the animal kingdom and can be heard over 800 metres away. Despite its name, the bird's voice is less reminiscent of ringing bells than of the sound of a harp struck in the distance: metallic and piercing, sometimes ghostly.

Its call consists of several parts, is almost like speech, even a conversation. And no two specimens ever have the same song. The birds have to learn their call first and they perfect their acoustic syntax throughout their lives - for courtship and reproduction. Careful choreographies are performed by the male with his partner, which ensure the preservation of the species. Courtship is a complex game in which the male gradually approaches the female. The two change positions in the branches several times. The branches that the male chooses for mating are meticulously measured beforehand. The female does not forgive inaccuracies. A bellbird that aims badly when landing will most likely not pass on its genes.

Translated by Jess Smee

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