Saturday, July 21, 2012

Family Bonding - The Ani

I was recently in Ecuador and while I certainly expected to add a few birds to my life list while touring the jungle, I hadn’t expected to discover my first Groove-billed Ani (Crotophagasulcirostris) while strolling my son in an urban park in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city. 

I spotted my first Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani) in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Florida back in 1993 and have not seen one since. Anis are slightly larger than a Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata), members of the Cuckoo family and look like a cross between a crow and a parrot. Their distinctively stout bill clearly separates this tropical black bird from anything similar.

During our stay in Ecuador, my wife, son and I stayed with my in-laws in Guayaquil, a sprawling 125 square mile city on the banks of Guayas River. Their modest, three bedroom home in the heart of the city played host to grandparents, aunts, uncles, dozens of cousins and many friends during our stay. The size of this close-knit “family” seemed as expansive as the city and it was clear that not only was every friend and family member welcome in this home, each of their homes were a welcome extension of the family compound. (I believe the 85+ cousins were raised together and are genuinely close.)
© Pete Corradino
Taking no exception to this, but finding it somewhat unfamiliar, I would clear my head on a daily basis by strolling my son down the street to the local park where I discovered my second ani. The locals playing basketball eyed me suspiciously as I photographed the birds. To most people I suspect, the anis are just birds. Upon closer inspection of the photos I realized that not only were the birds anis, but they were Groove-billed Anis with distinct ridges along the bill.

Groove-bills nest in Texas and are occasional visitors to Florida and other states. They are also found throughout Central America and along the coast from Columbia down to Peru. Both species of anis are unique in that they are communal breeders. Only three percent of bird species exhibit such behavior. Essentially one to five monogamous pairs of anis defend a territory and build a single nest in which the females lay their eggs. Each member is involved in incubation of the eggs and care of the young, but this does not exclude all competition. Occasionally females will push eggs out of the nest that are not their own to assure the successful hatching of theirs.

I spotted two pairs of anis in the park during strolls with my son, an only child. As I wheeled him back to his grandparent’s home I considered the effort required for two people to raise one child versus many parents helping raise many kids. With such a loving family, I can’t imagine any cousins have ever been kicked out of the nest. 

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