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Wild Costa Rica:

the unlucky gentleman

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Published on Friday, March 15, 2024
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

The "Galan sin suerte" (unlucky gentleman), also known as Jabirú (Jabirú mycteria), is the largest endemic to Costa Rica.

Two things are said to have influenced the locals' choice of naming for the bird. First, its plumage resembles a gentleman dressed in a white suit with a bow tie or red collar and black hat. The second reason is that they are frequently spotted alone collecting food on the mangrove borders, leading some to believe that he has been unsuccessful in getting a wife.

That argument contradicts what specialists have said: unlike many other storks, these species are frequently sighted in couples throughout the nonbreeding season, indicating a lifetime pair commitment.

The term "Jabirú" refers to a swelled neck and is derived from the Tupi-Guaraní language, which is extensively spoken among South American indigenous communities.

The Jabirú has one of the biggest wingspans in South and Central America after the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) and the Great albatrosses (Diomedea exulans). 

The mature male Jabirú measures about 5 feet long, 9.2 feet across the wings and weighs 9 kg. The gender disparity is significant, arguably the largest of any stork, with males around 25% bigger than females. 

The bird's beak is black, large, slightly upturned, and ends in a sharp tip. The plumage is predominantly white, but the head and upper neck are featherless and black, with a featherless red stretchy patch near the base.

While the Jabirú may appear to be an awkward bird on the ground, it is actually a strong and skillful flight.

The bird lives near rivers and ponds and ingests an abundance of frogs, fish, snakes, snails, insects, and other invertebrates. It will even swallow new carrion and dead fish, such as those that die during dry seasons, therefore contributing to the quality of isolated bodies of water. 

In America, the Jabirú's habitat ranges from the south of the U.S. to the north of Argentina.

The bird's habitat in Costa Rica is extremely limited since it can only live in wetland regions in the northern provinces of Guanacaste, Heredia, Alajuela and Limón.

This charming massive bird is on the verge of extinction after being classified as an endangered species by the National System of Conservation Areas (Sinac), the government agency in charge of managing all of Costa Rica's national parks and wildlife reserves.

Experts report that less than 200 adult Jabirú birds and 10 nests have been recorded in Costa Rica.

What makes this number even more concerning is that they are migratory birds, so many of the specimens counted in Costa Rica may have just passed by.

The stork's primary vulnerabilities include forest fires and productive activities such as tourism, agriculture, and livestock.

Jabirú, who live in couples, are easily disturbed by human activity. The presence of people near their feeding area or nests can induce them to abandon their nests at any stage of reproduction, whether building the nest, incubating eggs or feeding their chicks.

The bird begins its season of reproduction in September. They are solitary nesters, constructing large nest platforms that are reused in subsequent seasons. Both males and females build a stick nest on top of big trees such as Ceiba (Ceiba pentandra), which may grow to 240 feet tall.  

The parents take turns incubating the clutch of two to five white eggs and are known to be more territorial than usual when it comes to other jabirus during the mating season. The eggs hatch after about two months, which normally occurs between November and January.

Although the young are around 110 days old, they frequently spend an additional three months under the care of their parents. Because of the extended time spent brooding, partners have trouble reproducing in subsequent years.

The Jabirú Commission, responsible for creating guides and campaigns to conserve storks, aims to develop ways to secure the species' future.

Experts are requesting permission from authorities to restrict tourist access in government-protected places like the Palo Verde National Park and the Mata Redonda Wildlife Refuge, both in Guanacaste Province, where Jabirús birds have been observed.

This aims to avoid the predicament that occurs when just a few uncommon specimens exist, making a rare bird appealing to birdwatchers looking for an encounter with the Jabirú.

Experts advise visitors to protected areas located in the north of the country to take precautions to prevent upsetting the birds and forcing them to abandon their nests.

Among these guidelines include keeping a minimum distance of 500 meters from a bird or nest, being silent while entering a protected region, avoiding traveling with groups of more than five people, and utilizing special photography cameras to take long-distance photos.

Another rare species found in Costa Rica is the Pectinereis strickrotti, a new species of deep-sea worm discovered living near a methane seep of the country's Pacific Coast.

The Wild Costa Rica page is a space for readers to discover more about the fascinating species that make the "pura vida" land one of the world's countries with the richest natural diversity.

What should authorities do to safeguard the Jabirú?
We would like to know your thoughts on this story. Send your comments to news@amcostarica.com


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