The Bearded Bellbird

Bearded Bellbird, calling; Trinidad

Earlier this year we spent five nights in a Trinidad rainforest. While there, we were introduced to the Bearded Bellbird, a unique bird with a booming voice.

 

Named for the beard-like feathers on his throat, Procnias averano occur in a few areas of northern South America. See map below. Only the males have the “beard.”

 

The rainforest path we were on, Trinidad

A frugivorous bird, they feed on fruit and berries. They live high in the canopy, where you rarely see them…but always hear them.

 

The call is unmistakable, and loud, and carries very far. We heard it all day long and sometimes into the early evening:  a loud, staccato croaking that echoes throughout the forest.

 

Males make the call, insistently informing other bellbirds of their territory. The species is polygamous, and during mating season the male attracts the female with an elaborate song and dance. The rest of the year, like when we were there, they just project the croaking calls. Mating season or not, they spend 87% of daylight hours in calling territories within the forest.

 

Also on the trail: Golden Tegu Lizard

Click here for the sound recording, taken in the same rainforest where I was, at Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad.

 

Sometimes the bellbird’s call is incessant, like in this recording. But I never tired of it.

 

There are so many alien sounds in a rainforest, and it is often a surprise when you finally locate the creature. Some of the tiniest frogs can sound like huge, menacing mammals; while an animal that can kick your guts out, like the Australian cassowary, may have no warning call.

 

Agouti, Trinidad, watching us on the trail

Our first day there we were on a guided hike, and the guide took us right to the bird. The Bellbird was perched about 15′ off the ground (4.5 m). A couple of times I flinched from the racket.

 

For as loud and abrupt as the call was, I had imagined a larger bird. He was about the size of a pigeon, but for the volume he was projecting I expected an eagle. He shouted his croak for so long that finally, after everyone in our small group had observed and photographed from all angles, we left.

 

He was such a cool bird that the next day, sans guide, Athena and I went searching for the bellbird again. We went back down the same trail, following the bellowing croaks.

Bearded Bellbird, Trinidad

Everything seems so simple when you have a guide. Without the guide we somehow got off the main trail, lost in a dense forest.

 

Sweaty and bug-bitten, we eventually got back to the main trail, continued the bellbird pursuit for about a half hour. Regardless of how strikingly loud the call was, we could not find the bird anywhere. We have both been birding all over the world for 25 years, doggedly locating silent birds, tiny birds, and camouflaged birds deep in the brush. To not locate the caller of this loud and direct sound was stupefying.

 

But then a more important sound preempted the bird: the lunch bell.

 

So we reluctantly left the unfound bellbird, later learning another incredible feature of this bird: ventriloquism.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Violacious Euphonia, also on the trail

Procnias averano (Beaded Bellbird) range. Courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology

 

 

 

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56 thoughts on “The Bearded Bellbird

  1. Listening to the bird call it sounds to me like something is being smacked hard. I could envision myself ducking for cover every time I heard it. all I can say if you two couldn’t find the bird on your own with all your experience then folks like us would just definitely be hopelessly lost in the jungle forever.
    Hoping life is bringing some routine and normalcy to you these days. We think of both of you often.

    • I like your description of the bird call, Sue, and I am chuckling as I think about it. I guess that’s why I flinched. As for the present time, routine still evades us, due to the magnitude of companies and surprises we encounter, but we did find an apt. rental starting next month. We will be there for 3-6 mos. and hope that will be our last move before returning home…this will help with normalcy. Thanks so much for your thoughts and kindness, both of you.

  2. You two surely are The Intrepid Duo. I am always grateful that I can see nature through your eyes as I sit in my cozy home. It sounded as if there were plenty of mosquitoes buzzing around on the sound recording, too! Blessings, dear ones.

    • I liked that you listened to the recording, Nan, and heard the mosquitoes. They are not as loud as the bellbird, but definitely easier to find because they’re everywhere! Always a joy to have you stop by, thank you, dear Nan.

  3. What a great post! The call was a delight to listen to for a half minute or so, but all day? Could drive you nuts! Very happy to learn about this bird, and very unlikely I’ll ever head into that territory (it was the part about being sweaty and bug-bitten. And lost!) You made it back in time for lunch, rather than being on a lunch menu, that’s always good.
    If we ever have another child – very unlikely – we’re going to name her Violacious Euphonia, then wait for Child Services to come calling…
    Sounds like you’re getting a bit of stability regarding a longer temporary home – that’s great to hear.
    Thanks for this one, Jet, and have a wonderful weekend.

    • Loved your visit and comment as always, pc. I had to write in there that I never tired of the call, because I am sure, as with you, others might…I never did. At the time I considered basing a mystery novel in that rainforest, and I had fun thoughts going on about the bellbird and its call. You got me smiling about naming a child Violacious Euphonia and Child Services calling. lol. Thanks, too, for your warm thoughts and concerns about our temporary living situation. There’s a little light glimmering at the other end of the tunnel now, going back home someday…. always a pleasure, pc.

  4. What a fascinating sound the Bearded Bellbird makes – like an electronic itch or scratch! A nice looking bird too, but what about the name of the other bird you feature – the Violacious Euphonia. That has got to be the most spectacular name for a bird I have ever heard lol What with the ventriloquism of the Bellbird and the imitations of the Violacious Euphonia (I just had to look it up), you wouldn’t know whether you were coming or going in trailing them. And I love the lizard, what a beauty 🙂

    • What a delight to see that both the bearded bellbird and the violaceous euphonia caught your interest, Alastair. And I thought you would enjoy the sounds of the bellbird. I have heard many birds in this world, but nothing quite like that, and I like your “electronic” description. How fun to talk sound with a sound technician. The lizard, I agree, was a beauty. Most of them we saw were about .30 m, and in the direct sunlight were rich with golden color. Thank you, Alastair, so much. I’m heading over your way right now, to see what you’ve been up to.

    • Hi Bertie, great to have you stop by. All that time the bird was throwing his voice, and we didn’t know it! Tricky little devil. Thank you for your continued concern and interest in our living situation, things will be easier when we don’t have to keep changing towns and dwellings. Thank you Bertie, I appreciate your presence and friendship.

  5. Loved this post and the sharp calls of the bearded bellbirds. Glad you made it back to the main trail without being even alive!
    I noticed ion the recording that the author changed it from “call” to song’. I wonder what the difference is.

  6. The sound of the bird is very different. These bird captures are really special! Beautiful yellow color of ventriloquism! Athena did a great job of capture it in photo.
    25 year of experience, we are lucky to have you here to guide us.
    Thank you, Jet!

  7. Thanks for your post about the bellbird. What a strange sound it makes. I do love it’s coloring and funny little beard. Also, god news about the new rental. You certainly deserve a normal routine.

    • I like the beautiful coloring of the bellbird, too, Sharon. We have a chickadee here in northern California with that same coloring and it’s a favorite of mine. As for the “beard,” it is as wonderful as the call. I’m glad you enjoyed the bellbird. And yes, looking forward to three months in the same unit. Always a delight, my friend, thanks for your visit.

    • You raise a good question about tropical birds and fish being so colorful, Eliza. In both cases it is about protection. For birds they blend into the always-green trees more readily, avoiding predators. Fish have the bright colors, also for protection (but there’s more to it). I like this question, and I’m guessing it stems from your gardening artistry. Hope you are having a bright day!

    • We didn’t even know we were lost until we came upon the end of the trail. It looked like there had been some kind of cave-in and all of a sudden the trail ended and there was no safe way to go, except back the way we came from. Good thing I like rainforest adventures. My thanks to you, as always.

  8. Great post Jet! I haven’t been to Trinidad ever. I’ve seen photos of these birds in Bird Guides only. I enjoyed your narration very much. 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Frank, for your visit and warm comment…much appreciated. The reason we went back the second time to see the bellbird, is because Athena wanted better photos. I am certain you can relate to that.

  9. What a marvelous adventure. There certainly IS something so unmistakable about the buzz of a mosquito. I almost swatted while listening to the recording! 😀

    I’m so glad you’ll be able to settle into a space to call your own while your home gets put back together again! You’ve been so brave and upbeat, but I imagine there have been difficult spots. Wishing you both the best while you get some normalcy back into your days and life!

    • I enjoyed your comment and visit, Gunta, as always. The whining mosquito really does have a distinct sound all its own…I am glad you took a moment to hear both the bellbird and the mosquitoes. Thanks, too, for your encouraging words about our living situation. You are absolutely right, there have been many difficult spots. Every day is difficult, but as it goes in life, we move on. Always a joy to hear from you, thank you Gunta.

    • I like your description of the bellbird’s sound, Steve, it does sound so big and banging. Hard to imagine, even when you’re looking at it, that the racket is coming from a little bird mouth. Many thanks.

  10. Anyone who doesn’t come away after reading and listening to your post with a heightened awareness
    of our world is just not paying attention. You provide us with greater insights into the life of the bellbirds here to for unknown world, one almost hidden away from sight. It’s been an absolute pleasure Jet

    • How utterly pleasing to know that my posts offer new awareness to you, dear Eddie. Your kind and gentle words are much appreciated this morning. You cannot know how inspiring and uplifting you have been to me today and many other days too. Thank you.

    • I love this message, Mary, thank you. The bellbirds are a loquacious species, and really fun to be around. I’m glad you could join me. And now, I’m off to see what you’ve been up to, how fun.

  11. Another wonderful post, Jet. I’m very appreciative that you post the links to bird calls. They always amaze me. Haha! So, the ventriloquist fooled you?

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