Beautiful Selections: 150 Birds of Pantanal and Cerrado

Birds of Brazil, part two! My urge toward phylogenetic fairness pulled me to post about amphibians, insects or, best of all, bacteria... but the overwhelming photogenicity of the avifauna got the best of me. That, and I gotta give the people what they want. My first Brazilian bird blog, Cerrado: é para os Pássaros, it's for the Birds, has been viewed 1350 times, more than the next five posts combined.

Why do we love looking at birds so much? A simple answer might be that we're visually biased, and birds are both colorful and gregarious, not to mention macro-scaled, making them easy to see. 

In his 2017 book, The Evolution of Beauty, Richard Prum complicates that story. He suggests that avian beauty as perceived by humans is a result of sexual selection, the process in which a (usually) female bird chooses which male gets to mate with her based on her physical attraction to him. Birds and humans, according to Prum, happened to evolve parallel definitions of beauty, so while a male peacock tries to woo a peahen with his opulent tail, he also ends up wooing a species of brainy, naked primate. My question is, do beautiful humans catch the attention of birds?


Yellow-bellied elaenia. Seen at Quinta do Sol. I'll start with the flycatchers because they tend toward the subtle side of beautiful, and I'll work up to the flamboyantly gorgeous as the post goes on.

Lesser elaenia. Seen at Fazenda Colorado. Thanks to the identification wizardry of Maris Benites, I was finally able to add a couple elaenia species to my life list. 

Rufous casiornis. A bright ball of feathered rust. This species tricked me into thinking it was new, over and over. Nope, it was usually just another casiornis!

Vermilion flycatcher. Last time I showed you the streaky brown female and promised a shot of the male. Well, here he is, the prince!

White monjita. White may be the absence of all colors, or the mixture of all colors together, but either way it is stunning on a bird.

White-rumped monjita. White because much less striking when paired with a certain amount of grey.

Grey monjita. Or even more grey... but the red eye is a wicked touch.
Short-crested flycatcher. What do you see up there in the sky??
MAYBE a Swainson's flycatcher? That's Maris's best guess from the photo.

Brown-crested flycatcher. Ahh, what a nice rufous underside has your tail.

Cattle tyrant. A masked flycatcher of restaurant floors, lawns, and the backs of cows.

Variegated flycatcher. Black and white is the new yellow.

Streaked flycatcher. Like a winged zebra.

Social flycatcher. Standing guard on a rock-hard termite nest the same height as me.

Lesser kiskadee. Peering into a roadside pond in Pantanal.

Great kiskadee. An ever-present friend. I included his photo here so you could compare him with the rest of his clique. Notice how social flycatcher, lesser kiskadee, great kiskadee, and boat-billed flycatcher are all variations on a theme, with bill size being the main difference.

Boat-billed flycatcher. I had been sketching this species all summer, hoping for a glimpse!

Tropical kingbird. A southern cousin of our own western kingbird back home in Seattle.

Black-backed water tyrant. I wonder how water appears beautiful to this bird, who never seems to stray far from it.

Streamer-tailed tyrant. One of several flycatchers with an opulent tail-feather train. This one is distinguished by his white throat patch.

Fork-tailed flycatcher. It's not an optical illusion -- the tail is really that long!

Fork-tailed flycatcher with tail splayed. A view through branches, but it shows off the shape of the tail in flight.


Black-tailed tityra. How lonely a family after the mighty flycatchers.


Yellow-chevroned parakeet. In Cerrado, the parrot family can be roughly split into three groups: parakeets (small size, long tail); parrots (medium size, short tail); and macaws (large size, long tail.)

Monk parakeet. Nibbling acuri palm fruits on a feeding platform in Pantanal. Native fruits seem like a better way to feed native wildlife than birdseed, as long as enough are left for the other frugivores, like our friends the white-lipped peccary.

Nanday parakeet. Seen in Pantanal. If I were a bird, I think I'd dress in green and black.

Blaze-winged parakeet. Seen near Bonito. These guys look like they're wearing chain mail.

Peach-fronted parakeet. The most common species around Taboco and Quinta do Sol.

Yellow-faced parrot. A pair preening one another before sunset on Fazenda Colorado. This near-threatened species is found only in Brazilian Cerrado and neighboring Bolivia. 

Blue-fronted parrot. Seen on a marsupial transect with Cyntia. This parrot, perched above his mate, nearly blended in with the philodendron epiphyte behind him. Nature is full of such beautiful greens.

Red-and-green macaw. Similar to the scarlet macaw, which lives in the Amazon and only reaches the northern edge of Pantanal.

Blue-and-yellow macaw. This pair has built their nest in the top of a broken-off bocaiuva palm.

Hyacinth macaw. The blue and yellow face looks like it was formed out of playdough.

Golden-collared macaw. Not all macaws are colorful giants! There is also a group of green macaws. On first glance they might look like parrots, but notice that long tail. (Parrot tails are radically stubby.) These cryptic macaws are my favorite parrot-family bird because they're stealthy about how cool they are.


White-collared thrush. This thrush's first record in southwestern Cerrado was so recent, it doesn't appear in the regional book. We glimpsed this bird in the forest of Fazenda Colorado, the cattle ranch I visited on my second day in Brazil. I hope her forest isn't converted to pasture before we can learn more of its secrets.

Pale-breasted thrush. Singing and slouching in the same bushes as the white-collared thrush, above.

Rufous-bellied thrush. A look-alike to the American robin, who also acts alike. I found this one hopping through a playing field in Campo Grande.

Creamy-bellied thrush. Pecking for worms in the same playing field.


Rufous hornero. As I mentioned in my last pot, this bird is affectionately called "João de barro," meaning "clay John." I have since learned that there are many John birds in Portuguese, from "twig John" (who builds a clunky nest out of sticks) to "painted John" (who looks like a can of orange paint was dumped on him).

The clay nest of the rufous hornero, giving him the Portuguese name "clay John," the Spanish name "hornero" (baker), the Latin name "Furnarius" (oven), and the English family name "ovenbird."

Buff-fronted foliage gleaner. Who doesn't love to glean some foliage now and again?

Great rufous woodcreeper. This group of birds acts similarly to the North American creepers, but woodcreepers are restricted to the neotropics. They belong in the ovenbird family, but they nest in tree cavities instead of building ovens.

Narrow-billed woodcreeper. Woodcreepers are methodical. They fly to the bottom of a tree and work their way up in a spiral, flicking off bark and snagging bugs to eat. When they reach the top, the fly down to the bottom of the next tree.

Red-billed scythebill. I nearly cried when I saw this bird! A dream come true. I didn't really believe the bill could be so delicate and curved until I saw the bird myself. It was an exceptional moment: six giant otters were squeaking in the pond below the tree as I took this photo.

Straight-billed woodcreeper. Along the banks of the Rio Paraguay in Pantanal.


White-lined tanager. A white mandible makes this tanager stand apart from black birds.

Swallow tanager. The male is bright blue and the female is leafy green.

Sayaca tanager. After many sightings, I've finally learned to notice the subtle grey-blue tint.

Palm tanager. Common, plain, and bold like the sayaca tanager, but more of a yellowish smog color.

Burnished buff tanager. Since buff literally means "dull yellow" and burnished means "polished," maybe this name cancels out to mean... yellow?

Silver-beaked tanager. Another tanager with a lower mandible like a tile of ivory (on the male only).
Bananaquit. Sometimes placed in the tanager family, sometimes labeled incertae sedis (Latin for "who the hell knows?") I love this bird for its sharp beak, nectar addiction and, most of all, its perfect name.


White-tipped dove. Okay, this species and the next are my nemeses. Can you tell them apart?!

Gray-fronted dove. One difference between this species and the previous one is that the gray-fronted dove has a less-gray forehead... But only Maris could tell the shades apart.

Picazuro pigeon. A hefty purplish bird that likes to strut in Pantanal mud.

Pale-vented pigeon. A staple of bare tree-tops in Cerrado dusk.

Scaled dove. A dragon in miniature.
Picui ground dove. Preferred diet: dropped corn around horse stalls.


Saffron-billed sparrow. Not a good shot, but a fun scavenger hunt. This bird's zebra-striped head and firey bill make it identifiable from a glimpse.

Double-collared seedeater. This individual is a young male with an incomplete black throat-patch. I watched a pair (you guessed it) eat seeds for an hour on Seu Claudio's farm.

Double-collared seedeater. This is the female. Note the bicolored bill, with black upper beak and yellow lower.

Red-crested finch. Just so you can see at least one finch-family species with "finch" in its name!

Saffron finch. Oh good, another one with an easy name. (But not in Portuguese! It's called canário-da-terra, or canary of the land. Not to be confused with the warbler, below...)

Purple-throated euphonia. The cute factor of this banana-colored ball is acknowledged by its Portuguese name, "fim-fim."


Flavescent warbler. Known in Portuguese as canário-do-mato, or canary of the woods, but it's not related to domestic canaries (which are actually finches from the Macaronesian Islands, who knew?) I watched a pair of these warblers gather bamboo to build a nest.


Plush-crested jay. I think neon blue eyebrows are about to be in style.

Purplish jay. From what I can tell, this bird takes on the crow role in Cerrado. When it spies a feeble researcher below, it caws out a warning to everything in earshot.


Chalk-browed mockingbird. A fellow happy in human disturbance.


Brown-chested martin. That polka-dot belly!

Southern rough-winged swallows. Almost like northern rough-winged swallows, but more... southern.

Gray-breasted martin. These youngsters yelled and squawked, demanding food from one another in vain while their parents were out insecting. I guess sibling squabbles are not limited to humans.


White woodpecker. Known for floppy wingbeats, important seed dispersal, and occasional wasp-nest raids. Badass.

Green-barred woodpecker. I can't help it, I love a bird who knows the value of green.

Crimson-crested woodpecker. A similar species to the lineated woodpecker of my first post, but with more red on the cheek and a kickin' mohawk. This species is harder to see locally, so we were lucky to view one from our front porch.

Duca and I discover that we have added a new woodpecker species to the list!
Little woodpecker. A male with a red hat.


Black-collared hawk. A Halloween raptor.

Crane hawk. Or, as Duca calls it, the "seriema hawk," for its long red legs.
Had to include this photo of a crane hawk doing the strangest thing... Wedging its long legs into a gap in a tree trunk! Apparently it uses its legs to yank prey out of holes. Not the most graceful hunting strategy, but it works.

Snail kite. A juvenile mastering the patience of one who waits for snails.

Roadside hawk. It was a revelation to see one of these birds perched in a secropia along the Paraguay River. Before they conquered highways margins, maybe the specialized in riverbanks. 

Savannah hawk. Red like clay.


American kestrel. A fierce little falcon of North and South America.

Southern caracara. A juvenile, milk-chocolate brown and dashing.

Laughing falcon. I watched a pair of these laugh at each other for nearly an hour.

Aplomado falcon. Peeking out on Fazenda Colorado. I would have liked to include the bat falcon, but they are black streaks in the sky.


Ferruginous pygmy owl. This owl's sound is so menacing to songbirds, it's often used to draw out target species in which it provokes a mobbing response.
Great horned owl. The same species that hoots outside my window in Walla Walla, and a lifer for Duca.

Burrowing owl. Attitude.

A burrowing owl perches on fortified fence of a military compound in Campo Grande.


Turkey vulture. The first to rip flesh from a dead carcass and open it up for the rest of the scavengers, what a dear.

Black vulture. Crowding around a dead caiman that may have been hit by a car. (Thanks to Russ for braving the ticks and investigating.)

King vulture. The king arrives last to a carcass, often scaring away the turkey and black vultures who opened up the hide.


Crested oropendola. A large, rambunctious bird that weaves hanging nests.

Bay-winged cowbird. On the paler side of black.

Orange-backed troupial. Fittingly, I met one that likes to nest in an orange tree. Known as "painted John" in Portuguese.

Chopi blackbird. Notice the pointed neck feathers and groove in lower bill.

Solitary cacique. He's mad that he didn't get any colorful markings. Or any friends. :(

Unicolored blackbird. He makes even the solitary cacique feel special.

Giant cowbird. Compare to the horse's face to see how large these are.

Shiny cowbird. The blue iridescence is mesmerizing.

Screaming cowbird? They all start to look the same after a while...


White-faced whistling duck. One morning, I set out with the sole goal of photographing this species in sunrise light. Now and then, nature cooperates.

Black-bellied whistling duck. The three stooges of Pantanal.

Muscovy duck. I learned in 4-H that these are the only domesticated ducks not descended from a mallard. Cool to see a wild muscovy!

Brazilian teal. Not a picky duck; any puddle will do.


Purple gallinule. A glorified purple chicken.

Why did the gray-necked wood rail cross the road?


Wattled jacanas. I caught this pair at the moment when they were defending their floating island of vegetation against a curious limpkin.


Least grebe. A forlorn sight, this sleek diver in the pond on a wide open range.


Sungrebe. A striking but shy bird. The only other species in its family are the finfoots of Africa and India.


Bare-faced ibis. "All the better to stick my head into the mud with!"

Roseate spoonbill. A wannabe ibis with a utensil for a face.

Plumbeous ibis. Nicknamed the curicaca pantaniero in Portuguese. What stood out most about this gray fluffer was its knobtastic knee on each stout, scaly leg.


Greater rhea. A flock of females under the watchful eye of their bustle-tailed male.


White-eared puffbird. Puffy to the max. Even that bill looks vaguely puffy.

Chaco puffbird. That giant head though.


Toco toucan in a papaya tree.

Chestnut-eared aracari with an eye of topaz.


Yellow-billed cardinal. Black and white with a flash of tropical.

Crested cardinal. Who needs a yellow beak when you have hair like this?


A greater yellowlegs in front of a less orthodox cousin, the wattled jacana.

Collared plover. A sweet little bird fond of desiccating mud.

Pectoral sandpiper. In a semi-abandoned farm on the bank of the Paraguay River.


Amazon kingfisher. Playing "pterodactyl," a popular game among kingfishers.

Ringed kingfisher. A matte blue to the Amazon's oily green.


Fork-tailed woodnymph caught in a cobweb. At first I thought a spider might have set the trap on purpose (like this praying mantis featured in the New York Times), but then I learned that hummingbirds steal spider silk to build their tiny, expandable nests. Maybe the dust on this web made it more perilous than the woodnymph knew.

Gilded sapphire. A jewel that sparkles only in the sun.


Planalto antshrike. This is the male.

Planalto antshrike. And this, the female.
Barred antshrike. One day, I whooped as loud as I could to locate my friends on the side of a mountain. This bird burst out of the bushes right at me! So if you want to find a barred antshrike, try whooping instead of pishing?


Wood stork. A behemoth I first met in Florida.

Maguari stork. The only one I saw, standing alone in the rain, preening.

Jabiru, or tuyuyu in Portuguese. This bird is famous for always smiling, even leering. Many of the trash cans in Campo Grande were models of this gregarious dinosaur.


Black-throated saltator. Currently classified under cardinals, but I'm taking the side of genetics and giving these guys their own family for now.
Grayish saltator. Just as described in the book, this bird was munching on the flowers of a yellow ipe like they were candy.


Helmeted manakin. Soldadinho in Portuguese. This bird mewls like a baby among its many sounds. It had Renata and I convinced there was a puma watching us.


Blue-throated piping guan. I marvel every time this hunk of bird takes flight.
Chaco chachalaca. "The voice of the Pantanal."


Guira cuckoo. Preferred habitat: wire fences of cattle pastures.
Squirrel cuckoo. I prefer the Portuguese: alma de gato, soul of the cat.


Horned screamer. I learned where the name comes from when I saw screamers standing on treetops and fields, squawking like a metronome as if the world depended on it.

Southern screamer. This beaut was a teenager surrounded by three siblings, mom, and dad.


A black-crowned night heron pretends to be a fish.

Rufescent tiger heron. At one point Russ asked, "What's that sound?" Used to being fooled by ruminants, I laughed: "It's a cow, Dad!" Nope, it was this heron. Turns out the Portuguese name soco-boi, bull heron, because I am not the only one to think it sounds exactly like a cow.

Cocoi heron. A frosty version of Seattle's great blue.

Terror Birds (I mean Seriemas)

Red-legged seriema. Not terrifying, but just take a glance at its closest relative, the extinct Terror Birds.

A seriema stands peacefully over its nest next to a pale-vented pigeon as lavendar dusk settles over Cerrado.