San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Clay-Colored Robin’s Song ‘Calls the Rains’

All those sleepless nights! All that raucous singing! And here’s the result. This clay-colored robin chick recently fledged outside my kitchen window in downtown San José and posed for his first photos with and without mom.

His scientific name is decidedly unattractive: Turdus grayi. (Some grumpy, rudely awakened sleepers might think it quite apt.) But his Spanish name rolls off the tongue: yigüirro. By whatever name, the chick has the distinction of joining the ranks of Costa Rica’s national bird.

Why, with all the gorgeous birds flying around Costa Rica, did the powers that be choose this homely, very common – and very noisy – bird?

Precisely because of its song. As Alexander Skutch wrote in “A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica,” the song is “a long-continued (!) caroling of varied phrases, mostly rich and melodious, containing slurred whistles, warbles, short trills, and now and then dry, piercing notes… the song is said by local people to ‘call the rains,’ and has earned the yigüirro its status as Costa Rica’s national bird.”

For those of you who still aren’t convinced that the new life – both of robins and the rain-replenished earth – was worth the constant “caroling,” usually starting around 4 a.m., you can take consolation in knowing that the clay-colored robin’s song is rarely heard outside the breeding season.


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