Bat Falcon, Trinidad
By Rafael A. Gálvez
June 10, 2012. Asa Wright Nature Center and Lodge, Northern Range, Trinidad.
Falco rufigularis: A small and intrepid Neotropical falcon that takes most of its prey on the wing. Though it does consume bats, these typically compose no more than 15% of its diet. It hunts primarily hummingbirds, tanagers and swifts by agile aerial pursuits, though insects such as dragonflies and lepidopterans are also taken in substantial quantities. Rodents and other ground dwellers are taken on occasion. It is the falcon with the highest rate of reversed sexual dimorphism, with females up to 30% larger than males.
A Bat Falcon perched on a snag overlooking the Asa Wright estate house, and most members of my Caligo Ventures group had already seen it from the spectacular veranda by the time I got there that morning.
It was a raining and mist could be seen over the Arima Valley below, climbing the forested slopes of the surrounding mountains. The wet falcon kept mostly in a tucked posture, perched above eye level and facing down the slope.
The colors of some birds appear saturated when wet and their feathers become stringy, hugging the body and giving it an unusual contour. This morning, the sky washed with a thick atmosphere that flattened distances, and the falcon appeared dark and silhouetted.
I must confess that Bat Falcon was high up on my Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) wish list, and I was thrilled to see this bird regardless of lighting conditions. The proximity lent by my trusty scope – Leica Televid series – fixed this.
I decided to truncate breakfast and stayed with the bird some 40 minutes. We were soon to depart on a full day’s journey, and as we learned the hard way, the tour bus waited for no one. I managed to do a couple of watercolor sketches and several quick pencil and ink renderings. All the renderings in this post were done based on field observations of this bird from the Asa Wright veranda.
My first impression was that of a small bull-headed falcon in the vein of a stocky Eurasian Hobby. Superficially, the combination of a heavily patterned breast against rufous thighs and vent add to this. And the aerobatics of the Bat Falcon have a similar reputation as the hobbies, in terms of speed and agility. However, authorities consider the species a closer relative of the Aplomado Falcon, and particularly of the Orange-breasted Falcon, with which they share general similarities in appearance, vocalization and behavior.
As I quickly sketched, I noticed that this bird had brownish primary feathers, indicating a certain amount of wear, and a warmer cast to the greater coverts compared to the bluer upper parts. In the case of most North American falcons, wing molt begins once the birds are nesting. Females tend to molt primaries while incubating and males when nestlings are being reared. I also noticed the tail feathers in a bit of disarray and falling short of the folded wing tips. Most male Bat Falcons have wing tips shorter or equal to tail length while the wing tips of females may surpass tail length. However, rain causes feathers to appear out of the ordinary, and I might have been interpreting this bird more than is prudent.
Rain seemed to be slowing by the time I left this Bat Falcon. Now its appearance was changing; its feathers fluffed and its posture enlivened as it commenced preening.
Sketching in the field
I use a telescope and binoculars for most of my field sketches and paintings. During this trip I carried an assortment of paper, none larger than 14” x 10”, and a couple of small sketchbooks. Because of the wet conditions throughout the trip, particularly in Trinidad’s Northern Range, the paper was always moist or wet, especially after hikes in the rain.
- Top image: This was a composite rendered over a watercolor gesture done on site. Pencil and color details were added later that day and the following morning, using sketches from other renderings as reference.
- Middle image: Most of the watercolor was done on site. Details were added later.
- Bottom image: Pencil and ink rendering done on site. Watercolor added that night.
To find out more about trips to Trinidad & Tobago contact Caligo Ventures.