Coronado’s Dry Forest - Featured Species: Lesser Nighthawk (Chordeiles acutipennis)

This time we travelled to Eugene Eisenmann Reserve at Coronado’s Dry Forest searching for pictures, thanks to the warm hospitality of Coronado Es Vida. The reserve is about 45 hectares (111 acres), located beside Coronado’s suburban development, and it’s easily accessed from Coronado’s main road. It's a young forest with small trees, often measuring less than 10 meters (33 feet), and it’s Panama’s best conserved tropical dry forest.

Lesser Nighthawk (Chordeiles acutipennis)

Tropical dry forests

Tropical dry forests are ecosystems found in tropical and subtropical zones; these forests occur in climates that are warm year-round, and though they may receive several hundred centimeters of rain per year, they have long dry seasons which last several months and vary with geographic location.  Their soil is usually flat, brownish, clay-like, and they tend to merge into savannas. This kind of forests has almost disappeared because they are easy for humans to clear in order to form settlements. Though they have less biologic diversity than rainforests, tropical dry forests are home to a wide variety of wildlife, and are vital habitats for many plants and animals, as we will try to show with our pictures made on two short sallies.

In Panama, a large extension of dry forests known as Arco Seco (Dry Arch) existed before the arrival of Spanish conquistadores, but it was almost completely destroyed, being this reserve the largest one of the few areas left. 

Eugene Eisenmann


The reserve carries the name of Eugene “Gene” Eisenmann (1906 – 1981) an American-Panamanian lawyer and amateur ornithologist of German-Jewish ancestry, who became an expert on Neotropical birds. Eisenmann, born in Panama and, based throughout his adult life in New York City, returned to Panama almost annually in order to study the birdlife and visit his family. 

In 1956, he resigned from the legal profession to pursue his interest in studying the birds of Central America and the adjacent region, maintaining a long association with the Linnaean Society of New York (LSNY) as well as with the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), as a researcher, editor, publisher, and board member.

Panama’s endemic species (as recognized by BirdLife International) Azuero’s Parakeet (Pyrrhura eisenmanni) is also named after Eugene Eisenmann.

Our photos

As explained before, we made two short sallies to make pictures. We approached the reserve close to dusk to capture some bugs, and bugs we got. As a matter of fact, at some point we were attacked by flying termites, although they are harmless they get very obnoxious when they are walking all over your body, including under clothes. We also observed or heard diverse species of birds like Lance-tailed Manakins, Great Kiskadees, Whooping Motmot, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Rufous-capped Warbler, Garden Emerald hummingbird, Great-tailed Grackle (at the entrance), Barred Antshrike, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Gray-headed Chachalacas, Southern Lapwing, Red-legged Honeycreeper, and Streaked Saltator.

Plant Bug (Miridae) - instar

Leaf-footed Bug (Coreidae)

Cicada (Cicadidae)

Cicada (Cicadidae)

Jumping Spider (Salticidae)

Jumping Spider (Salticidae)

Jumping Spider (Lyssomanes viridis)

Stingless Bees (Meliponini)

Cicada (Cicadidae)

On the following day we returned to find larger animals, and we were able to capture some interesting species on photos. As usual, we observed other species that we couldn’t photograph, like: Black Vultures, a flock of Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring above the forest, two Common Black-Hawks including a juvenile one, Tropical Kingbirds, Panama Flycatcher, White-tipped Doves, Anis, Lesser Elaenia, Scrub Greenlet, Red-eyed Vireo, House Wren (at the entrance), and Clay-colored Thrushes eating dead cicadas on the ground. 

Lance-tailed Manakin (Chiroxiphia lanceolata)

Buttercup Tree, Silk Cottontree or Poro-poro (Cochlospermum vitifolium) - fruit

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Lesser Nighthawk (Chordeiles acutipennis)

Lesser Nighthawk (Chordeiles acutipennis)

Lesser Nighthawk (Chordeiles acutipennis)

Lesser Nighthawk (Chordeiles acutipennis)

The Lesser Nighthawk (Chordeiles acutipennis) is a little-studied, desert-dwelling bird of the United States of America's Southwest and Central and South America. Cryptically colored, it is mottled brown, buff, and black, with distinctive white crescents on its wing and throat. In North America it breeds in arid and semiarid habitat ranging from creosote/desert scrub to xerophilic low trees. During the day, individuals usually rest quietly on the open ground, where they blend in with the desert floor, but in the evening and early morning they can be seen flying low over the ground or skimming just above the tops of bushes, where they capture aerial insects in the scoop of their open mouth. Coincidentally, we found one of these birds on a semiarid eroded patch of open ground with rocks, it was so well blended with soil that we almost step on it.

It then started flitting gracefully and buoyantly over us, and a second individual then started doing the same thing. One of them perched a couple of times on tree branches, returning always to the same roosting spot on the ground. The other individual was not spotted anymore. We carefully inspected the area to detect eggs, to avoid stepping on them, but we didn’t find any. Individuals court on the wing, and females lay their 2-egg clutch on the ground, without the benefit of a nest. 

Lesser Nighthawks are apparently opportunistic feeders, taking whatever small flying insects are most abundant and easily captured, we suspect they had a nice source of food with all that flying termites that attacked us the day before. The male is the primary provider of food to the young, bringing them regurgitated insects.

They have brown iris, black bill, dark brown crown, and whitish eyebrow. Upperparts are spotted grayish brown and mottled blackish, gray and buff, with a white throat. Underparts buff-white, closely barred brownish. Wings are long, slender and pointed; at rest wing-tips usually close to tail tip. Outer flight feathers with a white band at tip. At rest this stain does not have a staggered appearance and the edge is rounded. Tail long and cleft. Gray legs. There are geographical differences between races. Males and females are slightly different.

Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) is similar but is larger, has wings and tail longer; at rest, wing-tips often project beyond tail, white band of wings often strongly staggered with sharply toothed distal edge; white band on outer flight feathers is more near of the base.

In Panama it is a common resident species of open habitats in lowland and foothills, although the populations living in the north appears to migrate in winter to tropical latitudes, like those living in the south of the continent, during the austral winter migrate northward.


Learn more about Coronado’s Dry Forest here: