Published On: Wed, Nov 11th, 2015

BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA, YUCATAN AND BEYOND – SALTATOR WITH A SIDE OF GREENS: GRAYISH SALTATOR

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Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired,” zoologist, photographer, and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 56 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her column, published on the 7th and 21st of each month, features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and beyond. Contact: all4birdies@gmail.com  All rights reserved, ©Cherie Pittillo

 

Grayish Saltator, Saltator coerulescens, saltador Chucho Paez (Spanish), tzapiim (Mayan)

The first time a friend here identified a songbird with the common name of the Grayish Saltator to me, I laughed. Since I’m from the southern US, “tater” is slang for “potato”. Images of salt crystals sparkling on a plain, baked potato danced in my head. That may be appropriate, as “saltator” is Latin for “dancer” or “leaper.” Surely, a southern chef named this bird, but, no, a Frenchman did. When he saw the bird hop on the ground, it looked too heavy to do so.

Surprise, surprise. This bird appears hefty, but it only weighs the same as a fast food hash brown, that two-ounce potato pancake. I’m beginning to see a vegetable relationship here. In my opinion, the Grayish Saltator is the vegan of the bird world. Most sources state it eats fruits, berries, and buds. I wonder if that includes spuds buds. It may also snag slow-moving insects. After a ton of research, I found two studies done in the tropics, which discussed its diet includes foliage and other vegetation.

What a relief! Because for several years, I’ve observed it munching on a variety of leaves, vines, shrubs, seeds, berries, and buds in my backyard view.

Grayish Saltator with a side of greens

Grayish Saltator with a side of greens

Adult Grayish Saltator feeds on vine leaf in Cecropia tree.

Adult Grayish Saltator feeds on vine leaf in Cecropia tree.

Young Grayish Saltator feeds on morning glory leaf

Young Grayish Saltator feeds on morning glory leaf

And even tender tendrils…

Tender is the tendril for the adult Grayish Saltator

Tender is the tendril for the adult Grayish Saltator

In the above photos, various colors adorn the plumage. With its white, Andy Rooney-like eyebrows, white throat, grayish back and wings and belly tinged with brown, (dare I say, “Hash brown”?), the adult looks drab.

Grayish Saltator adult

Grayish Saltator adult

A younger bird has a lemony blush on its throat and eyebrows with several olive shades on its body.

Young Grayish Saltator (C) CHERIE PITTILLO

Young Grayish Saltator (C) CHERIE PITTILLO

However, I didn’t find any descriptions of polka dot decorations.

Young Grayish Saltator with polka dot plumage

Young Grayish Saltator with polka dot plumage

To give you insight into this column, I research the web, several bird books, and a paid subscription to Birds of North America by the Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology. Most sources exactly copied the minimal information on Wikipedia. To my disappointment, I found a little information on this common resident in the Yucatan state, which ranges from Mexico to Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. Its larger cousin, the Black-headed Saltator also lives here and ranges down to Panama. Do researchers choose those species to research that are pests to humans and/or those with stunning plumage? Maybe studies do exist, and I didn’t find or have access to them.

Black-headed Saltator

Black-headed Saltator

Slightly smaller than the American Robin, or here, the Clay-colored Thrush, the Grayish Saltator lives in shrubs, gardens, towns, scrub, forest edges, rain forests, and semi-open areas. For the past three months, I’ve seen several at a time in my neighborhood. They may be the parents with their offspring. Are the chicks called, “tater tots”?

Since I saw a saltator chase two migrating Eastern Kingbirds, it’s not a couch potato. However, I don’t know the extent of its aggression.

Grayish Saltator (left) chases Eastern Kingbird while another kingbird watches.

Grayish Saltator (left) chases Eastern Kingbird while another kingbird watches.

It seemed to sing a victory song.

Grayish Saltator sings victory song after chasing Eastern Kingbird

Grayish Saltator sings victory song after chasing Eastern Kingbird

I daresay most of us in Merida have heard this musical bird, a permanent resident of the peninsula. Link to song in El Salvador: http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/17065

One interpretation of its song from El Salvador is ¡dichoso fui!, Spanish for “I was blessed!”

I especially enjoyed hearing its song this month as I had a brief stay in a hospital. Rain and clouds accentuated my visit there. When I looked out the picture window in my room, I only spotted three birds. On my departure, the rain stopped as I stepped outdoors to go to the pharmacy. I breathed in fresh air and then heard the musical notes of this songster. My face softened as I lowered my head and relaxed my shoulders. I smiled my lopsided smile to myself as I gravitated toward that sound. I wanted to see this musician. There in the tree next to the pharmacy sat this rain-soaked happiness, which continued to sing, “All is right. All will be fine.”

I gave thanks.

I was blessed.

DISCLAIMER: References do not agree on details about this species. Here are my resources: Sal a Pajarear Yucatan Guia de Aves, The Birds of South America, The Oscine Passerines, Vol. 1,  A Guide to the Birds of Venezuela. A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, Birds and Reserves of the Yucatan Peninsula, A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, http://macaulaylibrary.org/ a website from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://avibase.bsc-eoc.org/species.jsp?lang=EN&avibaseid=47BA6FAF20A9E687&sec=wiki

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