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A Scientific Tidbit

April 28, 2020

Amidst the global pandemic, the Ecuadorian government has required all nonessential businesses to close causing Life Net Nature to shut down Reserva Las Tangaras to the public.

However, at the heart of Las Tangaras is scientific research. So, while the hospitality services we typically provide are suspended for the time being, we are still hard at work collecting data. As Henry mentioned in the last blog post, we’ve been writing up manuscripts using the large database and information that has been collected since RLT’s beginnings. Henry and I are eager to share our research with everyone and thought informative distractions would be well received.

While RLT is mostly known for having the largest Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek in Mindo, it is also home to a wide variety of species from common Beryl-spangled Tanagers and Ornate Flycatchers to rarer Purple-throated Woodstars and Rose-faced Parrots (pictured in order below).


Since 2005, dedicated banding expeditions have occurred at RLT resulting in a HUGE data set—as in 7,613 birds have been banded thanks to the efforts of Life Net Nature staff and volunteers. For two budding scientists, this made our hearts go pitter-patter knowing we had such a large comprehensive data set. The first manuscript we wrote was an avian inventory list detailing all of the species detected within RLT.

Begin sidebar I: such information can be used as important tools to monitor species range shifts which is particularly important for areas like the cloud forest that are susceptible to rapid ecological modifications due to climate change. Furthermore, the information collected while banding (i.e. body measurements, age, sex, parasite loads) can be used to glean knowledge about population demographics. It’s super important to gather this information to monitor species of conservation concern, but also just in general!


Henry carefully extracting a Scaly-throated Woodcreeper.

IMG-6741 (1)

After extraction, we use the Birds of Ecuador guide to properly ID all individuals before banding.

End sidebar I.

Combining banding information with monthly bird counts, we were able to establish an abundance ranking for each species. What this means is that we were able to determine how often a given species was seen, heard, or banded on the reserve and whether it was common, fairly common, uncommon, or rare. Through fifteen years of data collection, 363 species of birds have been recorded on RLT property, 21 of which are of immediate conservation concern. For context, there are 1,640 species currently known to occur in mainland Ecuador (excluding species from the Galápagos) meaning 22% of species in Ecuador (and 3.6% of species in the world) occur in our backyard! Incredible!


We hope this avian inventory list can provided another example of how small, privately owned reserves can be of great conservation help when managed to protect and promote wildlife.

Begin sidebar II: ever wonder what the result of accidentally purchasing $5 of apples looks like? Enjoy this picture of Henry with our surprise bounty.



End sidebar II.

One of the 21 species of conservation concern on RLT is the Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl (CFPO). As Henry previously mentioned, I have been writing about their natural history. Little is known about these owls given their secretive nature and geographic limitation. To put it into perspective, over the fifteen years of banding RLT has netted and banded three individuals… so a tricky study species at best. Luckily, one of those individuals was recaptured allowing us to infer that CFPOs can live up to five years of age. Additionally, this individual had a lizard in its mouth the two times it was captured.

Cloud Forest Pig. Owl On Log N

The fierce little CFPO determined to keep its lizard; photo courtesy of Dr. L. Vereen.

Given that other species of Pygmy-Owls (Glaucidium) are generalist feeders, we presume that reptiles make up a portion of the CFPO’s diet along with other prey items (i.e. small birds and mammals). It is important to note that these observations were made during the dry season. Therefore, it is feasible that they are a result of the seasonal activity of prey, and that CFPO alternate their primary prey based on what’s available (hence the generalist diet spiel). We cannot say for sure, but encourage further in depth studies to assess what makes up the diet of these cuties.

Speaking of further in-depth studies, we have been conducting targeted mist netting of CFPO to try and gather more information about their natural history and morphological traits. Unfortunately, we have been unsuccessful in capturing them, but have consistently heard a response to the callbacks–along with being screamed at twice by a Kinkajou for playing said callbacks.

While we continue our efforts to understand the natural world around us, we sincerely hope everyone remains safe and healthy during this time!

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