Three-wattled bellbird (Procnias tricarunculatus)

Synonyms: Procnias tricarunculata
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyCotingidae
GenusProcnias (1)
SizeMale length: 30 cm (2)
Female length: 25 cm (2)
Male weight: 210 g (2)
Female weight: 145 g (2)
Top facts

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A highly unusual and distinctive bird, the male three-wattled bellbird is capable of producing the loudest bird call on earth, a thunderous bell-like sound which can be heard over a kilometre away (3) (4). With its prominent wattles and unmistakable vocalisations, the male is the more easily distinguished of the two sexes. The head, neck and chest are white, while the rest of the body is a bright chestnut-rufous, and three long, fleshy, black-grey wattles hang from the corners of the mouth and the upper part of the beak. In contrast, the female is olive green and lacks the characteristic wattles of the male, and has yellowish underparts which are streaked in the same olive green as the rest of the body. Immature male birds look decidedly similar to the female until the three wattles begin to appear at around 6 to 12 months of age (2) (5) (6) (7).

The three-wattled bellbird is endemic to Central America, with its range extending from Western Panama, through Costa Rica and into Nicaragua. It is thought that there may also be small populations in the Sierra de Agalta, Honduras (2) (4) (5) (7).

The three-wattled bellbird has a complex migratory cycle, and as a result it uses several different habitat types throughout the year (4). All populations nest in highland areas, in middle-elevation montane moist forests between 1,000 and 2,300 metres, and migrate down to lowlands and the Atlantic forest during the non-breeding season (2) (5) (8).

Studies have shown that the calling songs of males are strikingly different between the different Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua populations of the three-wattled bellbird (4) (9), and it is the population in the Monteverde area of Costa Rica that produces the most familiar of the calls, a loud, characteristic ‘bock’ or ‘bong’ (3) (7) (10) (11). During the breeding season, males call continuously from exposed perches, typically a broken branch with few or no leaves, high up in the canopy of tall trees (6) (10) (11). When a visiting bellbird enters the territory of the male, landing on a ‘visiting perch’ (which is usually another broken branch beneath the canopy), the male will continue to call and display, sometimes exhibiting a ‘wattle-shaking’ behaviour, where the wattles are extended to full length and shaken silently from side to side. Regardless of whether the visiting bellbird is male or female, the male will also face the visitor, at the broken-off end of the perch, and begin calling loudly into its ear, a behaviour which usually results in the departure of the visiting bird from the territory (7). Breeding is thought to occur between March to late June or early July, in montane forest, although relatively little is known about the nesting period, or the remainder of the courtship ritual (2) (7) (8).

The three-wattled bellbird feeds mainly on the fruits of the Lauraceae family (a group of flowering plants), often consuming more than 30 large fruits in a day (10) (11). It has an extraordinarily wide gape, which is thought to be an adaptation to accommodate its fruit-eating lifestyle (7) (11).

Habitat loss is reported to be the most serious threat to the three-wattled bellbird. Although its breeding habitat is thought to be sufficiently protected throughout the majority of its range, significant deforestation and habitat fragmentation occurs in all of the lowland forests in which the bird spends the remainder of the year. In the Monteverde region of Costa Rica, for example, it is estimated that between 35 to 75 percent of the lower montane zones have been deforested (8), while lowlands throughout most of the range of the three-wattled bellbird are severely threatened, as they are particularly prone to logging and the conversion of natural forest to banana plantations and cattle-ranches (2) (5). Most areas used by the three-wattled bellbird during the non-breeding season are unprotected (2) (4) (5) (8).

The three-wattled bellbird occurs in a number of reserves in Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua and Honduras. BirdLife International has proposed several measures for the conservation of the species, including undertaking surveys in Honduras to confirm its breeding status, range and numbers, and carrying out further study throughout its known range on its ecology and seasonal movements (5). Scientists and conservationists also agree that it is necessary to designate new protected areas, particularly in the already threatened lowland habitats, and to ensure that its breeding habitat in the highlands is not endangered by unnecessary habitat destruction (2) (4) (5).

To find out more about conservation in Costa Rica, see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
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  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Sargatal, J. (2004) Handbook of Birds of the World. Volume 9: Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. 
  3. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  4. Saranathan, V., Hamilton, D., Powell, G.V.N., Kroodsma, D.E. and Prum, R.O. (2007) Genetic evidence supports song learning in the three-wattled bellbird Procnias tricarunculata (Cotingidae). Molecular Ecology, 16: 3689-3702.
  5. BirdLife International (August, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=4525&m=0
  6. Neotropical Birds Online (August, 2010)
    http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/home
  7. Snow, B.K. (1977) Territorial behaviour and courtship of the male three-wattled bellbird. The Auk, 94(4): 623-645.  
  8. Powell, G.V.N. and Bjork, R.D. (2004) Habitat linkages and the conservation of tropical biodiversity as indicated by seasonal migrations of three-wattled bellbirds. Conservation Biology, 18(2): 500-509.
  9. Marler, P. and Slabberkoorn, H. (2004) Nature’s Music: The Science of Birdsong, Volume 1. Elsevier, USA.
  10. Nadkami, N. and Wheelwright, N. (2000) Monteverde: Ecology and Conservation of a Tropical Cloud Forest. Oxford University Press, New York.
  11. Stap, D. (2005) Birdsong: A Natural History. Oxford University Press, New York.