Let’s meet the crested guan in Costa Rica, a bird that’s big like a turkey, is not at all related to turkeys, and is known in Spanish as a turkey.
The crested guan (Penelope purpurascens) is known as the pava crestada, or more commonly, as the pava in Tico Spanish. The name translates to crested turkey or turkey in English. Taxonomically speaking, they aren’t closely related but both turkeys and crested guans are big, so good enough.
Growing up in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I found myself fascinated by the natural environment, even though those areas lacked the insane levels of biodiversity found in Costa Rica. There are fewer species of just about every classification of animal there, including birds. So, for me, back then the sighting of any particularly large bird was an exciting event.
If I spied a pheasant or turkey, you’d better believe I’d be telling people about it. I suppose this proclivity for large birds isn’t something I’ve grown out of because I still say a little mental ‘whoo hoo!’ when I see an outsized bird in Ticolandia. The crested guan falls squarely in the ‘whoo hoo’ that’s a big bird’ category for me. At approximately 34 inches tall and about 4 pounds, you’re not going to find many larger birds flying around Costa Rica.
Crested guans are simple yet still pretty. They’re mostly dark brown. A dark brown that’s so dark that it looks black in some lighting. They have specks of white on their chests, a black crest that looks like a little mohawk and a bright red flap of skin under their throat, for a splash of color.
Crested guans can be found throughout most of the country except where the elevation gets really high or where much of the forest has been cleared. Usually, if you’re going to spot one, you’ll find them perched in the treetops. Pairs or small groups feed on fruit and tender foliage in more mature forests. The literature says that they rarely venture to the ground, but they do so often enough that I record them fairly frequently with my camera traps.
Crested guans are absent from many of the properties where I have had camera trap projects along the coast in Guanacaste. I record them in areas with larger patches of more mature forests. Sometimes I’ll spot a few perched in the top branches of a towering tree while checking cameras, but more often than not my attention is caught by them fleeing my presence. When a bird that large spreads its wings and flies, that’s a lot of movement for me to notice. Also, their wings produce a deep, attention grabbing, whooshing noise as they take flight.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting this large bird in person, then take a look at the video below and meet the crested guan.
About the Author
Vincent Losasso, founder of Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects on facebook or instagram. You can also email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org