At first glance, it may seem that this crested guan (Penelope purpurascens) is simply the perfectly-situated subject of a portrait session in a studio. However, it’s actually doing much more than posing (it’s in the middle of a very important meal), and it’s a long way from a studio. Perched on the branch of a cecropia tree in Costa Rica’s Los Angeles Cloud Forest Reserve, this turkey-sized bird is feasting on the tree’s finger-shaped fruits. Later, it will deposit the seeds in ready-to-grow packets of fertilizer, helping to regenerate the forest. Because they feed on a wide variety of fruits and berries, including figs, papayas, and nutmeg fruits, crested guans and their relatives are considered to be among the most important seed dispersers in the cloud forest.

They are also among the most vulnerable. Like other large fruit-eating birds, crested guans are highly prized as a food source and are often a primary target for hunters. Their reproductive capacity makes them especially sensitive to this pressure—the females typically lay only two eggs per year, and the chicks don’t reach sexual maturity until they are at least three years old. Because these birds are often among the first species to disappear from a forest, scientists use them as an indicator species to assess the sustainability of hunting practices and quotas.

In the Los Angeles Cloud Forest Reserve, the birds have found a safe haven. When photographer Tim Hunt first came across this canopy dweller, it was silhouetted against a white blanket of clouds. Then, for just a few seconds, a beam of sunlight broke through the clouds and illuminated the bird, allowing him to capture this painterly picture of one of the forest’s most fruitful gardeners.

Los Angeles Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica

Tim Hunt

Tim Hunt is an award-winning nature photographer who is passionate about connecting people to nature and inspiring a commitment to conservation. Based in the U.K., he is a regular contributor to Meet Your Neighbours, a worldwide photographic initiative dedicated to introducing people to the wildlife in their own backyards, which in Tim’s case means his Worcestershire garden.

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