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Maguari Stork in Costa Rica – new species for Central America!

Maguari Stork - Ciconia maguari
Maguari Stork - Ciconia maguari

One of the biggest thrills in birding is to chance upon a bird that has wandered far out of its normal range. In Central America, the majority of these accidental species have come from North America, but there have also been a number of sightings of vagrants from South America.  The most recent addition to the list of South American birds that have strayed to Central America is the Maguari Stork (Ciconia maguari). On September 16, 2013, five lucky birders found a lone individual standing in a pond at the Chomes shrimp farm on the shores of Costa Rica’s Gulf of Nicoya. This is the first report of the species in Costa Rica and Central America. Apparently, the species has wandered off the South America continent at least twice before (Trinidad, and Falkland Islands). Despite a rapid mobilization of Costa Rican birders (thanks in part to a prompt posting of the sighting in eBird) the bird has yet to be seen again. Perhaps it continues to wander over Central America and will soon show up as a first record for some other country. Read on to learn more about the Maguari Stork and see a quick listing of other South American vagrants recently found in Central America.

Of the three storks found in the Americas, the Maguari Stork is the lone representative of the genus Ciconia, to which the well-known White Stork of Europe belongs. The two other American storks, the Wood Stork and the Jabiru, belong to the genus Mycteria and Jabiru, respectively. Compared to these last two species, the Maguari Stork is intermediate in size, and most notably, has a feathered head and neck and pinkish-orange legs (Wood Stork and Jabiru have bare skin on head and neck and dull-colored legs). However, the Maguari Stork has similar habits and is often found in company of the other two species (the Costa Rican bird eventually flew over to join a large flock of Wood Storks).

Maguari Storks are carnivorous, eating a wide range of small vertebrates and invertebrates which they grab with their stout bill. They have an extensive range in South America and are found in wetlands, savannas and agricultural lands in the lowlands east of the Andes. The nearest populations to Central America would be in Venezuela or Colombia, about 1000 miles east of where the bird was found in Costa Rica. They are able to soar to great heights and typically must move from area to area as water levels fluctuate, so it is not surprising that a species such as this has wandered so far from home.

Besides the Maguari Stork, over the last 5 years or so there have been some interesting reports of vagrants from South America showing up in Central America. These would include Comb Duck and White-cheeked Pintail in Costa Rica (at Cocos Island, from the Galapagos population); Whistling Heron in Panama; Peruvian Pelican in El Salvador; Gray-hooded Gull in Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala; Kelp Gull in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and El Salvador; Large-billed Tern in Nicaragua; Inca Tern in Panama; and Crowned Slaty Flycatcher in Panama.  Details for most of these spectacular records are available through eBird, by mapping each species from the Explore Data page.

There have been a few other South American species recently reported, such as Bicolored Wren and Long-winged Harrier in Panama that may represent range expansion, rather than vagrancy. Other recent sightings may pertain to previously overlooked populations, such as Slender-billed Kite and Dusky Pigeon in Panama, and Gray-bellied Hawk in Costa Rica; or species that regularly disperse/migrate to Central America, such as Oilbird and Swallow-tailed Gull in Costa Rica.

Contributed by James Zook