Seasonal insectivory by black-headed trogons, a tropical dry forest frugivore

Christina Riehl, Glenn S. Adelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Fruit-eating birds are important seed dispersers in tropical forests, but little is known about the extent to which they rely on insects or how their diets vary seasonally. We used field observations of focal adults to quantify the diets of adult and nestling Black-headed Trogons (Trogon melanocephalus) at nine nests in a lowland dry forest in Costa Rica. From May 2004 to August 2004, we documented 540 food deliveries to nests and 1080 food items consumed by adults. Adult and nestling trogons were largely insectivorous, feeding mainly on moth caterpillars (Lepidoptera). Fruit accounted for only 10.5% of items consumed by adults and 2.2% of items delivered to nestlings (6.1% and 0.6% of estimated dry mass, respectively). Adult and nestling diets differed significantly in both composition and prey size, with adults consuming more fruit and fewer large insects (Phasmatodea and Mantodea) than nestlings and eating more types of arthropods and fruit. Although both adults and nestlings relied heavily on moth larvae, adults preferentially consumed small caterpillars and delivered large ones to their nestlings. In addition, the proportion of large caterpillars delivered to nests remained constant throughout the nestling period, whereas the proportion of large caterpillars eaten by adults declined significantly with nestling age. Overall, arthropods delivered to nests averaged 70% heavier than those consumed by adults (estimated dry mass). Our results suggest that Black-headed Trogons time reproduction to coincide with arthropod rather than fruit abundance, a pattern that may be more common among omnivorous forest birds than previously recognized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-380
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Field Ornithology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Costa Rica
  • Foraging ecology
  • Insectivory
  • Santa Rosa National Park
  • Trogon melanocephalus


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