Monday, January 28, 2013

Costa Rica's Vultures.... so prevalent they could be the National Bird!

Travel anywhere in Costa Rica and you're bound to see several species of Vultures soaring high overhead. Known in Spanish as "Zopilotes", whether it is the Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus), the Turkey Vulture (Carthartes aura), or the surprisingly majestic King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa), there is no way you can spend a day in Costa Rica without spotting large flocks of these ghastly yet at times elegant birds.

Black Vulture
Field marks: Large, heavy-bodied, carrion-eating, black bird, with short tail and broad plank-like wings tipped with white. Wingspan: 5' Length: 2'-2'4" W-L ratio: 2.3:1 Weight: 4.5-6 lbs

Turkey Vulture
Field marks: Large, dark brown, heavy-bodied and small-headed, carrion-eating bird, with a longish tail and two-toned underwings. Wings held above the horizontal in a strong “V.” Wingspan: 5'6" Length: 2'2"-2'8" W-L ratio: 2.4:1 Weight: 3.5-5 lbs

Black and Turkey Vulture Factoids:
• Black & Turkey Vultures belong to the family Cathartidae, a group of 7 species of New World Vultures.
• Black Vultures, rarely flap in flight using broad plank-like wings that allow them to soar in small wind thermals.
• Black Vultures search for carrion exclusively by sight, often following Turkey Vulture’s to take advantage of these bird's acute sense of smell to find food.
• Black & Turkey Vultures sometimes take live prey.
• Black & Turkey Vultures usually roost together in family units.
• Black Vultures nest on the ground and on the floors of abandoned buildings.
• The range of Black Vultures has been expanding northwards since the 1950s.
• Most scientists now believe Turkey vultures and Black vultures are more closely related to storks than to other raptors.
• Turkey Vultures get their name from their red, featherless heads resembling Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo).
• Turkey Vultures may be more closely related to storks than other raptors.
• Turkey Vultures are the most migratory of all of the New World Vultures.
• The Turkey Vulture’s plumage is dark brown, not black.
• When flying, Turkey Vultures, hold their wings in a “V” above their backs, creating a slight dihedral that stabilizes their flight.
• Turkey Vultures often roost in groups of several hundred birds.
• Turkey Vultures communicate vocally in hisses and grunts.
• Nestling Turkey Vultures projectile vomit to defend themselves.
• Turkey Vultures have weak feet, and are unable to carry off their carrion.

This is so exciting, please tell me more Vulture Facts!
Along with the Turkey Vulture, the Black Vulture is one of the most abundant New World vultures. Prevalent in North America, vultures also breed throughout Central
America and much of South America. Black Vultures are typically found in open or partly forested habitats, often in close proximity to human activity. Traditional communal roost sites can consist of 100's of birds, some of these sites are used for decades at a time, often occupied year-round, especially in areas of temperate climates such as Costa Rica. Roosts are thought to play an important role in the social lives of vultures as a place for juveniles and adults to interact and as a staging area for foraging groups to assemble. Turkey Vultures and Crested Caracaras often roost together with Black Vultures.

Black Vultures have featherless dark gray to black heads and necks and are ugly as hell. They appear completely black when perched, however obvious white patches near
the wingtips are clearly visible when in flight and you will see these hideous birds everywhere. The gray legs and toes often are stained whitish with excrement, oh my.....isn't that nice. Adult Black Vultures have dark bills with bone-colored tips and their heads and the upper half of their necks are dark gray and covered with wrinkles (hey, wait! I think I'm starting to look like a vulture myself!). Unlike Turkey Vultures, an easy distinction between the two species is Black Vultures hold their wings flat when soaring, rock less, and flap more frequently. The Turkey Vulture are masters at soaring above the canopy, rarely flapping their wings and holding them in a “V” shape, while rocking side-to-side, skillfully using the shifting wind thermals to do the work for them.

Breeding Habits
Unlike the Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures prefer open and forested habitats, typically avoiding urban and suburban areas. In the Americas, both species breed in farmlands, rangelands, forests, and low-elevation mountains. Generally, it only eats the skin and harder parts of the tissue of its meal. Vultures are monogamous and pairs
are believed to mate for life, now isn't that romantic? In fact, family members associate more closely with each other than with other individuals over their lifetime. I guess carrion is like comfort food and brings families together! Vultures do not build a nest, instead laying their eggs in rocky crevices, caves, tree cavities, hollow logs, and such. Vultures though gawky on the ground, perform
incredible aerial displays during courtship, with males circling the females with their necks extended, exhaling loudly and making chasing and diving maneuvers. A successful courtship eventually results in two eggs, which are then incubated for 32-45 days. This romantic couple works together incubating the young, with both parents also sharing the feeding of regurgitated food to their young as often as 20 times a day. Gosh, this romance just keeps getting better! The happy little family generally remains in close contact until the next breeding season, at which time the parents chase their offspring away from the nest site.....their done, time to move on. After leaving their parents, juveniles enter a wandering stage while learning how to search for carcasses on their own. I wonder what the learning curve on that one is?

Feeding Habits
Black Vultures are dirty little opportunistic aerial scavengers. Feeding on carrion of all types and sizes, unlike the Turkey Vultures, this species does not have a keen sense of smell and relies entirely on visuals to locate food. Black Vultures
typically fly at higher altitudes than Turkey Vultures and monitor the behavior of predators and other scavengers in order to find their food. They frequently follow successful Turkey Vultures to carcasses, then aggressively chase them away and taking it as their own. Large numbers of Black Vultures quickly
gather at food sources preferring fresh carcasses, but consuming decaying meat as well. Occasionally Black Vultures capture live prey, most of which are young, weak, or small sickly mammals or birds. Black Vultures also scavenge through trash, feed on vegetable matter including sweet potatoes, pumpkins, coconuts, and in Costa Rica, the fruit of oil palms. Because Turkey Vultures find food using their sense of smell as well as by sight, they are able to locate carcasses on the forest floor beneath dense forest canopies and are better able to rely on fresh food, but will resort to decaying meat when necessary. Generally, the King Vulture actually prefers to eat the skin and harder parts of the tissue for its meal.

Less Common Vultures of Costa Rica
The King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) is a colorful large bird found in Central and South America. This vulture lives predominantly in tropical lowland forests stretching
from southern Mexico to northern Argentina, and does not frequent the coastal zones as much as the other vulture species. Large with a predominantly white body, the King Vulture has gray to black ruff, flight, and tail feathers. The head and neck are bald, with the skin color varying, including vivid colors of yellow, orange, blue, purple and red. The King Vulture has a very noticeable yellow fleshy caruncle on its beak. This vulture is a hearty scavenger with an exceptionally strong beak and it often is the one to make the initial cut into a fresh carcass. King Vultures have been known to live for up to 30 years in captivity, I'm hoping at a zoo and not as someone's ghastly avian pet!

Ecology and behavior
The King Vulture can soar effortlessly for hours, only flapping its wings on occasion. While in flight, they hold their wings flat only slightly raising the tips, holding their small heads low, they often appear headless while in flight. These vultures have also been observed engaging in tandem flight which is thought to be a
part of their courtship behavior. Only one or two birds generally descend to feed at a carcass, although up to ten or so may gather if there is a significant amount of food. One of the truly most disgusting features of this species of vulture, is it's said to use urohidrosis, (defecating on its legs) to lower its body temperature. How pleasant, glad to know that. The King Vulture actually lacks a voice box, (wish my husband did sometimes), although it can make low croaking noises and wheezing sounds while in courtship and bill-snapping noises when threatened. The only natural predators for the King Vulture are snakes, which will prey upon the vulture's eggs and young or large cats such as jaguars, which may surprise and kill an adult vulture while feeding at a carcass. Predators? Defecating on the legs? Gross, I'm not hanging out with these guys!

The reproductive behavior of the King Vulture in the wild is poorly known. From
mostly captivity they have learned that King Vultures mate for life and generally lay a single unmarked white egg in a nest in the hollow of a tree. To ward against potential predators, the vultures keep their nests foul-smelling. The parents share incubating and brooding duties until the chick is about a week old, with the chicks later taking their first flights at about three months of age.
Because of its large size and beauty, the King Vulture is an attraction at zoos around the world and is a popular photo opportunity when spotted around Costa Rica.

So there you have it! Most everything you ever wanted or didn't want to know about Vultures! Those majestic birds you've been watching fly around your Costa Rica Hotel or Costa Rica Vacation Rental Home each day, may actually have been disgusting flesh eating Vultures! Ew, that's gross! If truth be told though, these birds can actually be quite friendly and comical acting. Some have no fear to waddle right up to your feet if you leave them some fresh food. Besides, there is no arguing that these beasts serve their purpose in the food chain and natural ecology by providing a natural cleaning up of disgusting road kill. So people!! Let's embrace this important species and thank Mother Nature for the vultures!
Okay, so maybe we aren't quite ready to make them the National Bird yet, but have you ever seen Costa Rica's National Bird? Beyond it's beautiful song, it's not particularly impressive! Pura vida!!

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Calling all Cookie Monsters…Costa Rica’s most Famous Cookie Company!

If you’ve ever traveled in Costa Rica, you likely are familiar with Pozuelo products. Perhaps you didn’t even realize it, but if you’ve eaten cookies, crackers, small cakes or other dessert treats off store shelves, then you have surely been eating products of the famous Pozuelo Group! Easily one of the most respected brands in Costa Rica, Riviana Pozuelo has been an integral part of “snacking” in Costa Rica for an amazing 95 years!!

History of the Cookie:
One of the first widely known “foods” worldwide are commonly known as “cookies”. Starting as a kind of long lived flat bread, this food item was most often distributed to crews of ships, as well as groups of soldiers whether out on the high seas or fighting on the battlefield. These days, the term “cookie” can refer to a wide range of food products consisting of a wide variety of shapes and flavors, and most often produced in private homes, bakeries or in larger industrial factory operations. The technical definition of “cookies” (also sometimes referred to as “biscuits”) states according to the Dictionary of Nutrition and Food Technology that "cookies” are products containing very little moisture, consisting of flour and being rich in fat and sugar. (Yummy!) A further reference in the Spanish Dictionary lists the “cookie” as deriving from a 1636 French word "galette" (galleta in Spanish) in which they are considered to be an unleavened bread product.

In more primitive times, the use of raw forms of flour enabled ancient tribes and nomads to prepare a hardened dough that although not particularly palatable, was travel friendly and easily stored with no refrigeration or special preservation measures. Before that, the grains had simply been finely ground and eaten by mixing with water or milk, and forming a kind of porridge. Upon the discovery of fire, “man” used this doughy mixture to form the first unleavened bread, shaping it into small cakes or round cookies, spreading it on hot flat stones, then covering them during the cooking process, resulting in what we would consider equivalent to our most basic cookies or crackers of today. Frankly, the new ability to “cook” the biscuits drastically transformed this food’s overall quality, quantity, durability and most importantly, it’s taste, forever guaranteeing the cookie’s place in food history!

Who is Riviana Pozuelo anyway?
One of the leading companies in Costa Rica, their success is the result of the extensive efforts by a well trained staff of employees whose goal is to produce daily world-class biscuits or cookies. Their human resource strategy has created a company culture based on productivity and high standards of customer service and consumer satisfaction. DCR Pozuelo Cookie Company S.A. is a subsidiary of Grupo Nacional de Chocolates S.A., focusing on the production and marketing of cookies and crackers for domestic consumption in Costa Rica and increasingly more and more for export worldwide. Located in one of the most recognized industrial zones in Costa Rica called La Uruca, folks can “smell” the company as they drive through this area located on the outskirts of the capital city of San Jose. Pozuelo also has regional warehouses located throughout the country and for many years this company has been exporting a high percentage of their production throughout Central America, Panama, the Caribbean and the Latin American communities in the United States.

Commitment to Quality:
Since the inception of this prestigious company, Pozuelo has worked to provide their customers the best cookies, crackers and snack foods, always meeting the highest standards of national and international quality. Based on this commitment, Cookie Company DCR Pozuelo, S.A. obtained the ISO-9002 : 94 quality standard in August 1999, after several years of dedicated work and production changes by it’s employees. The certification was given by INTECO (Standards Institute of Costa Rica) and AENOR (Spanish Association for Standardization), two internationally recognized entities. Subsequently, the development of the new version of ISO standards, the DCR Pozuelo Cookie Company in 2002 obtained recertification with an even higher international quality standard of ISO-9001: 2000.

Business History:
With the idea to offer a product of unparalleled flavor and texture, in the year 1919, businessman Felipe Pozuelo, a Spanish national, founded a biscuit factory in the small town of San Jose, Costa Rica. Thus was born the "Cookie & Confectionery
Factory Felipe Pozuelo and Sons Ltd". Originally only a small building located on the well known street of Paseo Colon in front of the Hospital San Juan de Dios, in 1949, due to growth and the need to meet the high demand for their products, the owners were forced to expand their infrastructure and factory machinery. To that end, acquired in 1960, land situated at the perimeter of the capital city in La Uruca, became the new home to Pozuelo Cookie & Confectionery and their offices and production factory remain in this same location to this day. In 1964, the company was sold to Grace & Co. and six years later, in 1970, was acquired by the U.S. company Riviana Foods, Inc., out of Houston, Texas. Since that adquisition, all products made by the Company are now marked with the label "Riviana Pozuelo". With that well needed cash infusion, this food company has continued to expand it’s services, product line, while working with its subsidiary, Grupo Nacional de Chocolates S.A., they continue invest in food companies based in Colombia and have expanded to become a part of the conglomerate known as Grupo Empresarial Antioquia.

Company Activities:
Riviana Pozuelo is a company which over the years has been characterized by its great interest in broadening channels of communication and relationships with its customers. To do this, Pozuelo created a series of Educational Events, with team leaders in charge of giving visitors a tour of their factory, as well as having a team of Special Events Coordinators to develop different activities in the market further engaging customers and consumers, while enabling the company to reward their customers for their loyalty and preference for their products. Some of the activities are designed as a collaboration to increase sales overall. Examples of this include the “Ruta del Sabor” and “Cookie Week”. Other events like the Tour Chiky ® and "Growing Together Cremito ®, focuses on bringing fun and learning to their valued consumers.

Educational Events:
Riviana Pozuelo invites teachers to bring their students for educational tours of the cookie and cracker factory to learn the process of production of their many delicious sweet products. This educational tour is part of an overall strategy in their Sales and Marketing department, likely forever etching the brand in the minds of all Costa Rican children, guaranteeing future sales of their sugary products! This tour is conducted in the "World of Fantasy Cookie Pozuelo ®”, a specially designed room that welcomes visitors from throughout the country, creating a fun and informative learning environment for students and their teachers.

Cookie Week:
Cookie Week consists of fun filled promotional activities inviting consumers to try the different Pozuelo products be it in store front promotions, stands at special events, or the “Caravan Parade” where clowns and other company mascots put on a show, provide free products and have an extensive give away known as "muuuucha galleta." (Lot’s of cookie.) The company also arranges performances at school events, where children enjoy the show known as “Growing Together with Cremito Pozuelo”®. So watch for Riviana Pozuelo items at your local supermarkets, where you can often find special product promotions, contests, raffles for great prizes and even win free trips!!

Route of Flavor:
The “Ruta de Sabor” is a similar activity run during a single day, a weekend or sometimes for a week, at which the company offers extraordinary activities and attractive promotions for customers. The Taste Trail serves to increase sales and strengthen the business image for their customers.

Growing Together in School Program:
The Growing Together program began more than fifteen years ago. It is designed to have contact with the elementary students at their own school, using fun-filled activities, contests and prizes, including "muuuucha galleta." (Lots of cookie!) Its main objective is to promote values important to the development of children such as respect, humility, honesty, responsibility, ethics, morality and family bonds among others. It also seeks to develop a positive mindset in the social and educational development of all children. The event brings together children, parents and teachers in positive learning environment. The Pozuelo Cookie Company also sponsors events that provide institutions an attractive medium in which to raise funds for good causes, without making any investment or outlay of cash.

Tour Chiky ®:
A complete variety show designed by the Pozuelo team for the older kids of different schools throughout the country. It seeks to motivate the adolescent mental health and enhance athletic and artistic skills in a fun filled environment with many incentives and prizes. This activity offers young people a healthy form of recreation, where teenagers release their energy and encourages positive interactions between peers and teachers, all in an environment that combines the delicious taste of cookies Chiky ® with the best music, animation and entertainment. It is important to note that these events also give schools the opportunity to raise funds for purposes that benefit the school institution.

So is that a great company, or what? Not only does Pozuelo have delicious sugary products, but they hold themselves to a high standard of quality, provide excellent customer service, as well as engaging ways to interact with their consumer base. So the next time you are in your local pulperia, supermarket, Costa Rica hotel, many restaurants in Costa Rica, or visiting friends pantry, don’t forget to look for all the great Rivana Pozuelo cookie, cake, cracker and other YUMMY products…. your taste buds will thank you forever!!

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.