Where: Ezeiza International Airport, Buenos Aires, Argentina
obert Louis Stevenson once reflected, “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
If there’s an REI store that doesn’t have that quote on the wall somewhere, I want to know about it. It’s a mantra for hikers and road trippers everywhere. It’s the entire point of Lord of the Rings.
But having recently endured “The Great Southwest Airlines Holiday Debacle of ’22,” I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t always work that way. The going part. The moving part. Stevenson died before they invented airport layovers.
Even when everything goes smoothly, airport layovers are an “exercise” in sedentariness. Which isn’t to say birdlessness. On the contrary, airport layovers sometimes result in life birds; that’s happened to me more than once. For those of us on eBird consecutive days streaks, airport layovers can be lifesavers. And even though it doesn’t involve a whole lot of going and moving, pretty much by definition, I’ve come to view the experience of the airport layover—at least if you’re a birder—as perfectly consonant with Stevenson’s theorem.
On a recent airport layover in Buenos Aires, I had 20+ hours to while away. Not gonna lie: I got in a bit of sleep, plus some Q. T. on the laptop. But I also spent much of the time on the grounds of an airport hotel along the busy Autopista Teniente General Pablo Riccheri. Did I say busy? Yeah:
That eruption of sound is one of the many calls of the rufous hornero, a bird wonderfully exotic yet familiar. Exotic: It’s a Furnariid, that exemplarily neotropical and outrageously speciose family without so much as a single accepted record for the ABA Area. Familiar: Spend any amount of time—any amount at all—in a big city in much of southern South America, and you will unquestionably make the acquaintance of one or a dozen horneros. Make that two dozen. They are legion.
Many Furnariids are disembodied voices in the jungle, heard far more often than they are seen. But not the rufous hornero. They are right out in the open in busy city centers:
Did you catch the response by another bird? In addition to counter-vocalizing, as in that short video, horneros often just talk right over each other. What they do doesn’t qualify as antiphonal singing; indeed, I’m hard pressed to call it singing at all. But it sure is something! To wit:
I mean, if you were a predator, would you bother shimmying or slithering all the way up there just to snag a hornero egg? Me neither.
I think I’ve gotten the point across, yeah? I really like horneros! My favorite birds are the common ones that allow careful study of their behavioral ecology. If I had my druthers, state and provincial and even national birds would be easily observed birds like the rufous hornero.
The hornero is the national bird of Argentina. I legit wasn’t aware of that fact when I was out there by the autopista… I just knew it was a worthy bird, an excellent bird, the sort of bird I might lose myself in the study of for an hour or more, the very best sort of bird.
Ted Floyd is the longtime Editor of Birding magazine, and he is broadly involved in other programs and initiatives with the ABA. Ted has written 200+ magazine articles and 5 books, including How to Know the Birds (National Geographic, 2019). He is a frequent speaker at birding festivals and has served on several nonprofit boards. Join Ted here for his semimonthly spot, “How to Know the Birds,” celebrating common birds and the uncommonly interesting things they do.
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