Belize Birding: Groove-billed Ani

Anna FasoliBirdingLeave a Comment

Groove-billed Anis are fairly common in Cattle Landing, Belize. I see them nearly every day at our count site, and birding along forest edges, roads, and fields in the morning almost always turns up a group of them. You can usually hear them before you seen them (click to hear call). They are common in lowlands and can be found throughout Belize. You can find them in Florida but I had not yet seen one there, so this was a new species for me. Here is the first one I saw, hiding in a tree. I took this photo while I was simultaneously eating a choco-banana.

My lifer Groove-billed Ani peeking over the bush, getting his lifer Anna Fasoli

My lifer Groove-billed Ani peeking over the bush, getting his lifer Anna Fasoli

Groove-billed Ani clinging to a tree; note the feather -wear on its tail

Groove-billed Ani clinging to a tree; note the feather -wear on its tail

Groove-billed Anis superficially look like grackles in that they are a medium-sized black (colored) bird.  In addition, they have a softer and less direct flight. They travel in groups of two or more and they appear to be quite social, and also very expressive. They have a huge unmistakable beak, with a series of long grooves in it, leading into a featherless mask (Smooth-billed Anis have a more arched beak). They also have a long grackle-like tail, which they use for balance when they fly to a new perch. They don’t typically sit out on the open, but prefer perches that have good cover. They stay low on branches when confronted with a threat (or a birder with a camera), and watch you through the cover without moving, like Velociraptors. In this case, this bird just crouched low on the branch and hoped I would leave. When I didn’t, he joined his friends in the bush, and they all watched without making a sound, silently plotting against me, until I left.

Groove-billed Anis think that if they don't move, you can't see them.

Groove-billed Anis think that if they don’t move, you can’t see them.

Another Groove-billed Ani creeping on the count site

Another Groove-billed Ani creeping on the count site

A pair of Groove-billed Anis plotting something. What, I do not know.

A pair of Groove-billed Anis plotting something. What, I do not know.

Does anyone have any idea why Groove-billed Anis have grooves in their bills?