The Orange-bellied Trogon, like many Costa Rica and Panama birds, bats and forest mammals, eats the fruit-covered seeds of the Trumpet Tree.
By Rex Graham
Many other spectacularly colored Central American birds also feed on the fruit, including the Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Red-crowned Woodpecker, White-throated Robin, Silver-throated Tanager, and Black-and-yellow Tanager.
The green head and back of the 10-inch-long (26 cm) Orange-bellied Trogon is separated by a white line of feathers from its orange belly. The pattern is the same, except for a reddish belly, in the Collared Trogon. (The Orange-bellied is considered a morph of the Collared Trogon.)
Orange-bellied Trogon Plumage
The visual contrasts in plumage colors, black-and-white barred tail and its melodious kyow-kyow calls make the Orange-belled and Collared Trogons highly prized targets of birders in Central America.
The Trogons eat a wide variety of large insects and their larvae, and fruit.
The Trumpet Tree (Cecropia peltata) favored by Trogons is an ornamental favorite in Tropical and Subtropical countries. It requires high rainfall, grows quickly and produces symmetrical spoked arrays of long leaves.
One healthy tree in full sunlight can produce up to an estimate 7 million pulp-coated seeds in its 30-year lifespan. The seeds that pass through the gut of a bird, bat or mammal and fall to the ground are much more viable than those that fall to the ground.
Cecropia Trees Benefit from Birds
“Cecropia is one of the most abundant and widespread genera of second-growth trees in tropical America,” wrote biologists from Florida State University in the journal Ecology. “Its broad dispersal probably is a direct result of widespread avian feeding on the fruits and the outstanding viability of the seeds after having passed through the digestive tract.”
Unfortunately, the Trumpet Tree has been nominated as among 100 of the world’s worst invasive plant species. It is sold in Australia as an ornamental tree.
“This species is thought to have the potential to invade rainforest ecosystems in northern Queensland, possibly causing serious damage to our natural forests,” states a fact sheet published by the Queensland government.
Queensland understandably doesn’t want its native rainforest trees displaced by this Cecropia, but in Central America it seems to fulfill a vital role in regeneration of forests, and birds like the Orange-bellied Trogon play an essential role in that regeneration process.