Procnias tricarunculatusthree-wattled bellbird

Geographic Range

Three-wattled bellbirds are found from eastern Honduras to western Panama (Stap 2000).


Three-wattled bellbirds breed in the highlands and migrate to the lowlands after breeding season. The lowlands, which they prefer, are suited for crops and are not protected by Costa Rican law. The highlands, which are more protected, consist of pine and deciduous forests, rainforests, and the bushy edges of forests (Ridgely 1976; Burton and Burton 1989).

Physical Description

The adult male is around 30.5 cm long. It has a chestnut brown body with a white head, neck, and chest. He has three worm-like wattles, one hanging from each side of the mouth, and one from the base of the bill. These are usually 5.1 to 7.6 cm long and a dark gray/black color. Immature males resemble the adult female but with short wattles.

The adult female is around 2.5 cm inches long and is mostly olive-green with a yellow underside streaked with dark olive-green. The female has no wattles (Ridgely 1976; Stap 2000).


Procnias tricarunculatus breeds in the highlands (where it lives from March through September). After the breeding season it migrates to the lowlands (October through March). Much of the specific details of reproduction in P. tricarunculatus remains unstudied (Ridgely 1976).


Procnias tricarunculatus is a very secretive bird. In fact, the main way they are discovered is by their distinctive call. They call from among the high canopy, which is quite difficult to see from the ground-dweller's perspective. The bird leans forward and opens its mouth so wide that the lower beak practically touches its chest. The sound it emits is more like a bonk than a bell, as its common name, "bellbird" implies. It has been observed that if an intruder lands on the same branch, the first bird will drive him toward the edge of the perch, lean over, and call so loudly that the intruder is frequently knocked off the branch. The vocalization made by the male P. tricarunculatus is probably the loudest call in the bird world and can be heard up to a half-mile away (Ridgely 1976; Stap 2000).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Procnias tricarunculatus, like all bellbird species, is mostly frugivorous. Their favorite food is the wild avocado, of the Lauraceae tree. The trees and the birds rely heavily on each other for survival. The trees provide food for the species and in return, the birds are the primary disperser of their seeds (Stap 2000).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The three-wattled bellbird is very important to the survival of the Lauraceae tree. The bird, in fact, has been called by Daniel Wenny "far and away the most effective disperser of Lauraceae seeds." While eating, the bird flies back and forth between its favorite perches, spreading the seeds along the forest floor, away from the parent tree. Coincidently, their perches are often broken branches, allowing sunlight to reach the seeds and increase the chances of growth. This relationship is important for the overall health of Costa Rican forests specifically (Stap 2000).

Conservation Status

Procnias tricarunculatus was once thought much more common than they actually are. This is because of their complex migratory patterns, with the same population being seen in different places. This bird is actually very threatened, due partly to hunting, and more importantly to deforestation. Even in Costa Rica, which has a well developed system of national parks and biological reserves, almost half of the country's forests have been cut down since 1940 (Wetmore 1972; Stap 2000).


Amanda Kading (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


uses sight to communicate


Burton, M., R. Burton (general editors). 1989. The Marshall Cavendish International Wildlife Encyclopedia. New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.

Ridgely, R. 1976. Birds of Panama. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Stap, D. 2000. Bonk, Bonk -- It's a Three-Wattled Bellbird. Audubon, 102: 98-103.

Wetmore, A. 1972. The Birds of the Republic of Panama. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.