To Have or Not To Have a Beak

All the following low light pictures were snapped during a fairly hefty shower, late in the afternoon. Which is my sly way of saying, well, the picture quality stinks, but I’ll post them anyway.

Earlier this week we had a brief visit from a German friend, with whom I had gone to school at the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen almost 40 years ago. During his visit he saw some Montezuma oropendolas (Psarocolius montezuma) in the mighty guanacaste tree across the street from our house. And a toucan and a black spiny-tailed iguana, but all of them were quite far and we couldn’t see any markings or other details.  



Hence these pictures of a small flock of oropendolas having a snack in a much closer guarumo, or, as he knows them, Cecropia.

As murky as the pics are, they still show the facial details and coloration of the bird’s plumage. From our vantage point in my front yard, the oropendolas appeared more like uniformly black birds with bright yellow tail feathers.

For the toucan and the iguana he’ll have to search through earlier posts.


Here, I clicked a second too late to catch one of the oropendolas distinctive nosedive bows, better seen here, including professional recordings of their marvelous vocalisations. 

Guarumo trees (Cecropia obtusifolia) provide not only tasty snacks, but also excellent shelter during the rainy season.  

This fellow demonstrates very nicely how many of the birds around here first harvest large pieces of fruit with their beak, then they grab it with one foot, to enjoy the treat in small bites. Unfortunately, since the focus is narrowed to the fleshy part along the maxillary edge, you have to take my word for it. 
Tail feathers, primary & secondary flight feathers
The following day another flock of birds chose the foggy late afternoon to settled in the guarumo for a quick snack stop. A noisy group of several generations of the southern variety of Brown jays (Psilorhinus or Cyanocorax morio). I identified two separate juveniles by their beak & gape flange pattern, who shared the tree with several adult jays.



Adult Brown jay



Senior jay with a broken feather. I might be projecting, though, the bird’s grayish hue could just as well be its pre-molt appearance.  



And then there was this jay. At first I only noticed its mottled, bleached crown feathers. 


But something else was out of place. The beak didn’t look right, maybe it wasn’t a jay? Only when I magnified the images way past a reasonable size, did I see the problem. 




Despite the picture’s fuzziness it became clear that this bird had lost the major portion of its maxillary bone structure. One wonders, if the unusual color pattern might be owing to an underlying illness, which also altered the bone tissue? But it takes jays four years on average to show the uniform black of their bare parts (beak, feet & eye ring), so this one had to have been healthy enough to mature for several years. Therefore an accident seems more likely to have caused the beak damage. Maybe the white crown feathers are a sign of a funky molt pattern, or fungus … 
















The bird seemed healthy enough, as it groomed its belly feathers and climbed through the tree with speedy agility in search of fruit. 

  
It showed the same feeding behavior as the intact jays and the oropendolas, which came through yesterday. All of them first pick large pieces of fruit, then anchor them with one foot and eat the fruit in bits and pieces.

Teenager & granddad at the dinner buffet:

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