Groove-billed Ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris) is an insectivore bird. It gleans parasitic insects off of cattle. In Costa Rica, its local name is “Tijo or Tinco”, in some parts of Colombia they call it “Garrapatero”, which means tick eater. Photo by Daniel S. Karp.

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What birds eat and whether they live in a forest or not were the most relevant characteristics that helped explain why people liked or disliked Costa Rican birds. We found that for example, people prefer birds that eat fruits and nectar, like hummingbirds, over insectivores (like Groove-billed Ani, shown in the first picture) or scavengers/carnivores (like the Crested Caracara, shown in the second picture). We also found that forest-dwelling birds were more liked compared to birds that live in agricultural fields. By asking more than 400 people in Costa Rica about all 199 bird species present in the North-western part of the country (excluding the migrants), we evaluated which characteristics of the birds made them prone to be liked or disliked. We talked to birdwatchers, and farmers/urbanites. Specifically, we analysed birds’ songs, their plumage colour and patterns, their sizes, their diets, among other things. Our results show that people do prefer certain birds over others. Aside from diet and forest-affiliation, we also found that birds plumage helped explain, for example, why some birds were perceived beautiful while others were seen as ugly. Our results suggest that some educational campaigns are needed to raise awareness of the unique ecological roles that some birds play, particularly for insectivores and scavengers that are the most endangered and also disliked. Insectivores help us by eating pest insects that become really damaging in agricultural crops, whereas scavengers clean up the environment by feeding on dead animals. Scavengers also diminish human risk of getting ill from pathogens that grow on dead wildlife.

Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway) is often found in pastures and farmland, and it stalks over the ground seeking small dead animals or attacking live ones like snakes, frogs, and rodents. In Costa Rica, it gets the local name of “Querque or Quebrantahuesos”, which means the one who breaks bones. Photo by Daniel S. Karp.