More than 1800 bird species have been recorded within Peru’s national territory, an extraordinary statistic only rivaled by neighboring Colombia, and each year more species are identified. To put this figure into perspective, it is practically twice the total number of bird species known to live within the massive territory of the continental United States. And of the bird species known to inhabit Peru’s national territory, 117 are classified as globally threatened, and 139 as endemic. Peru, then, is certainly an unmissable travel destination for anyone who enjoys birdwatching!
In southeastern Peru, in Tambopata National Reserve and our own Tambopata Ecolodge Private Conservation Area, at least 648 species of birds are known to inhabit the forests and wetlands we help to conserve. And even those visitors who are not expert birdwatchers can have fun identifying species by their plumage, calls and songs, with some expert help from our naturalist guides!
One bird many of those travelers who visit Tambopata are almost certain to hear or see is the black-capped donacobius. It is one of the most highly vocal avian denizens of the forest trail system we invite our eco-lodge guests to explore around the Lake Condenado wetland ecosystem, as part of our ecotourism programs.
The black-capped donacobius (Donacobius atricapilla) is found in wetlands as far north as Panama and as far south as Argentina. Once believed to be a type of wren or a member of the thrush family (it was even once called the “black-capped mockingthrush”, today the black-capped donacobius is classified as the only member of its own taxonomic category.
Black-capped donacobiuses can be spotted in protected Amazon forest wetland and oxbow lake ecosystems like those found in Tambopata. They are conspicuous birds. Around the same size as a song thrush (21-23 centimeters / 8-9 inches), as their name suggests both males and females have a black cap. Their eyes are an orange-yellow color, and they have a brown back, a rump tinged with red, a long black tail ending in broad white tips, and a buff-colored or yellowish underbelly.
Very often in the Amazon forests and wetlands they favor, black-capped donacobiuses can be most readily identified by their songs and calls. The black-capped donacobius mates for life, and pairs can be seen throughout the daylight hours, perched on the dense thickets of vegetation that grow around rainforest water sources. In a behavior known as cooperative breeding, adult offspring remain with their parents, assisting in the rearing of young from subsequent nesting periods, before finding their own mates. These pairs or family groups defend their territory from other members of the species.
To affirm their territory, mating pairs of black-capped donacobiuses engage in what are known as antiphonic duets, the series of calls that mark them out among the many sounds of the Amazon rainforest. Antiphonic duets are a complex behavior few birds are capable of producing, in which male and female birds take turns to produce distinct syllables, with great speed and precision.
As they prepare to sing, black-capped donacobiuses fan out and wag their tails, while inflating their throat pouches in order to vocalize. They have an extensive repertoire of vocalizations that make them easily distinguishable from other birds, ranging from loud whistles to bubbling and hissing notes. Sounds visitors should listen out for when searching for the black-capped donacobius include a harsh geesh-geesh, a more melodic chwee-chwee-chwee, woolt-woolt-woolt, and kéew-kéew-kéew.