Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon in NW-Ecuador confirmed

sbffIn July-August 2010 we made a trip to the Chocó lowlands in the province of Esmeraldas. During the first week of the trip we stayed at the Tigrillo Lodge, Playa del Oro. A good number of trails provide great birding inside pristine lowland forest and on 30 July we birded the "Cascada" trail together with local guide Segundo. At about 11:00am we heard an unfamiliar call from the canopy. First we thought it was a Laughing Falcon Herpethoteres cachinnans but it didn’t feel right. We tried to locate the bird which was persistently calling from the canopy. After playback the bird flew in and landed in front of us. It was perched in a tree about 10m above the ground and kept calling continuously. Surprisingly, it was not a Laughing Falcon but a Forest-falcon Micrastur sp. We were puzzled at first, because it did not look like any Forest-falcon that we would have expected to occur in the area. An immature dark morph Collared Forest-falcon Micrastur semitorquatus was our first guess, but size, plumage and call just did not seem to fit. It was a medium-sized Micrastur with uniform dark grey upperparts and no signs of a collar. The underparts were whitish buff with a scaly breast pattern formed by clear dark chevrons and dark feather fringes. The dark uppertail showed four thin whitish horizontal bands. With the field guide of the Birds of Ecuador at hand, the observed characters seemed to fit best on an immature Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon Micrastur mirandollei. However, the field guide mentioned that this species was found only in the Eastern lowlands. Luckily, we managed to document the mystery Forest-falcon and got some sound recordings (click here) and photos of the bird. Study of literature and expertise of colleagues were needed to resolve this mystery.

Once back in Quito, Jonas Nilsson was the first to confirm the bird on the photos as Slaty-backed Forest Falcon. He had recorded calls of a Micrastur sp. in Feb 1997 near San Lorenzo and the calls on his tape-recording were considered likely to be this species by the late Paul Coopmans. After e-mailing the photos and the calls of our bird to other ornithologists, the identification seemed straightforward as everybody agreed.

Slaty-backed Forest Falcon is a rare bird but widespread in the Amazonian lowlands and also in the Pacific (Chocó) lowlands of Colombia. Therefore, it was very likely to occur in far NW-Ecuador. Massive deforestation and loose of suitable habitat together with general rarity and shy behavior of this species seem likely factors for it being overlooked in NW-Ecuador. Our sighting involves the first fully documented record of this species for the Ecuadorian Chocó.

Bert de Bruin and Dušan M. Brinkhuizen

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Aves Ecuador by Dušan M. Brinkhuizen