An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter of November 24, 2008
written in Yokdzonot, Yucatán, México

Rufous-browed Peppershrike, CYCLARHIS GUJANENSIS


For a long time I've been trying for a picture of a Rufous-browed Peppershrike, CYCLARHIS GUJANENSIS, because it's one of those "emblematic species" of the New World tropics, being fairly common from central Mexico to central Argentina. Therefore, it was almost an anticlimax the other day when a peppershrike plopped down right in front of me and seemed to wait until my camera did its whirring and grinding. As he lingered he seemed highly nervous, constantly jerking his head back and forth. Though I got a dozen shots before he moved on, in every picture his head was turned away from a good profile, as you can see at the top of the page.

That bird was in bad shape. One eye was swollen shut, his beak was gummed up, and he had to test everything he stumbled upon for its edibility, maybe because he couldn't see well. He rushed from one item to another, first taking a dry, curled leaf into his beak, dropping that, then a gravel, dropping that, then a flake of tree bark, on and on, never finding anything he could swallow while I watched. Poor bird. Probably he was in a hawk's talons or a snake's belly within an hour after I left him.

I also hear Rufous-browed Peppershrikes more than see them. They call with a loud, rich, sad-seeming, descending REE TREEU TREEU TREEU... a little reminiscent of a Canyon Wren's call.

One reason peppershrikes are fairly common is that they do well not only in forests but also in disturbed, weedy habitats such as brushy roadsides, abandoned cornfields and the like. Howell in A Guide to The Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America points out that in eastern Mexico, except for the Yucatan, the species suffered a population collapse during the 60s and 70s, for unknown reasons.

Peppershrikes are members of the Vireo Family, despite their beaks being proportionally much more massive than a typical vireo's, and the birds themselves being a bit larger.