Return of Bird of the Week: Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush


Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush Female, Costa Rica

The Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush is a fairly common, American Robin-sized thrush found in Central America. Birds of the World says that it is found in “Dense dark undergrowth of primary humid evergreen forest (cloudforest).” That’s completely consistent with WC’s experience with the species. When you combine that behavior with the low light performance of Olympus cameras you get, well, pretty lousy photos. The Olympus E-1 through the E-5, as WC has written before, were wretched at acquiring focus in low light conditions, and generated mostly noise when they managed to acquire focus. It’s why WC no longer uses them. The result, though, is fairly lousy photos of a lot of birds. Like these.

This species is slightly sexually dimorphic. The female’s head is dark gray; the male’s black head explains the species’ common name.

Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush Male, Panama

(This male popped up right in front of WC, right at the focus limit of the Olympus E-5 with a 300mm lens. This is a full frame image. You can see the feet and the tail were clipped in WC’s efforts to focus on the eye. WC got four images like this, stepped back a pace to get a better composition . . . and the bird vanished and never reappeared.)

Despite the name, this species isn’t related to the Old World’s Common Nightingale. It gets the name because European naturalists, all from Europe, fancied it sounded a bit like the Common Nightingale and, like that species, the Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush vocalizes into the evening. As a result of that fancy, there are eight or so different species of “Nightingale-Thrushes” in the New World.

This is a montane species, found on both the Atlantic and Pacific slopes of the central mountain ranges along Central America, from central Mexico to western Panama, ranging as high as 1,500 meters. Like most thrushes, it a generalist and opportunist, eating insects, worms and fruit. Like so many New World species, it is poorly studied. Almost nothing is known about its reproduction, for example.

Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush Female, Costa Rica

There are four subspecies. These photos are all of fumosus, the southernmost.

While there are local instance of extirpation – including in the central valley of Costa Rica – overall the species’ populations seems to be stable. Because of that and its wide distributions, the IUCN rates it as a species of Least Concern.

It does have a lovely song.

For more bird photographs, please visit Frozen Feather Images.