Birds in Costa Rica: Where to Go Birdwatching

Costa Rica, with its over 900 bird species, is a birdwatcher’s paradise and a prime location for observing birds in Costa Rica. From the elusive Resplendent Quetzal to vibrant macaws (my favorite) and darting hummingbirds, this guide provides a focused look at where to find Costa Rica’s avian treasures. Today I’ll cover the hotspots that make Costa Rica a bucket-list destination for bird enthusiasts around the world, especially those interested in birds in Costa Rica.

Bird Species You Can Find in Costa Rica

  • Costa Rica is a birdwatcher’s paradise with over 900 bird species, featuring diverse habitats and endemic birds like the Mangrove Hummingbird and Coppery-Headed Emerald.
  • The Resplendent Quetzal is a must-see with its striking vibrant plumage and the cloud forests are the best place to spot this elusive bird.
  • Preparation is key for birdwatching in Costa Rica: the right gear, season (December to April is prime), and potentially a guide can make your trip more rewarding.

Costa Rica’s Birdwatching Overview

Aracari Toucan

Nestled in Central America, Costa Rica is a haven for birdwatchers. Boasting an impressive count of over 900 bird species, Costa Rica has one of the highest densities of avian species in the world. This bird-rich nation is home to approximately 850 recorded bird species, including 630 resident species and a significant number of endangered species. But what makes Costa Rica such an avian paradise?

The country’s diverse geography and ecosystems hold the answer. From rainforests to mangroves, Costa Rica’s varied landscapes, coupled with a favorable climate, create the ideal habitat for a plethora of bird species. Costa Rica caters to all, from seasoned birdwatchers to curious beginners, providing an unmatched birdwatching experience.

A Guide to Where to Find The Birds of Costa Rica

The landscapes of Costa Rica serve as a breathtaking tapestry of bird habitats. One of the prime birdwatching regions is Monteverde, a biological reserve housing half of the nation’s flora and fauna, making it one of the most biodiverse forests in Central America. This region, along with many others, is beautifully detailed in the ‘Birds of Costa Rica’ field guide, a must-have for any birdwatching enthusiast.

Visiting during the rainy season? Brace yourself for a surge in wading birds activity, leading to a distinctive birdwatching experience.

Endemic Birds of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is not just home to a wide variety of bird species; it is also the exclusive abode of some unique endemic species. For instance, the Mangrove Hummingbird, primarily found near the edges of mangrove forests, is a species endemic to Costa Rica. Hotspots for observing this rare bird include the Tortuguero National Park and Esquinas Rainforest Lodge in Piedras Blancas National Park.

Another species adding to the unique avifauna of Costa Rica is the Coppery-Headed Emerald, characterized by its copper-colored head and vibrant green body, found in the country’s cloud forests.

Resplendent Quetzals: The Most in Demand Costa Rican Birdlife

Resplendent Quetzal
A resplendant quetzal flies through the air.

The Resplendent Quetzal undoubtedly crowns the must-see list of bird species for any birdwatcher visiting Costa Rica. Belonging to the trogons family, this bird is celebrated for its vibrant plumage, including iridescent green feathers, and long tail feathers that make it one of the most enchanting sights in Costa Rican forests.

Despite its elusive reputation, the resplendent quetzal is quite visible and can be readily seen across various reserves and forests in Costa Rica. So, if you’re planning a birdwatching expedition to Costa Rica, make sure the resplendent quetzal is high on your checklist!

Mythical Beauty

The Resplendent Quetzal is truly a sight to behold. Celebrated for its vibrant green body, red breast, and emerald green wings and tail, it is one of the most visually striking birds in the world. The male resplendent quetzal further enhances its mythical status during courtship with unique behaviors such as a moonwalk and flying backward.

The Resplendent Quetzal, with its magnificent tail feathers extending up to 65 centimeters and exhibiting multicolored brilliance, steals the show in the bird kingdom.

Cloud Forest Bird Watching

If you’re keen on spotting the resplendent quetzal, the unique ecosystem of cloud forest habitat is where you should head. Characterized by high humidity and moss-covered trees, these forests are a favorite of the resplendent quetzal. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, also known as the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, with its protected environment and rich avian diversity, serves as an ideal spot to observe this captivating bird.

Braulio Carrillo National Park’s highland scenery, located near several volcanoes, also serves as a scenic refuge for the Resplendent Quetzal. Other notable locations include San Gerardo de Dota, Los Quetzales National Park, and Palo Verde National Park, each within a relatively short distance from San José.

Macaws: Colorful Ambassadors of the Rainforest

The Red Macaw
To me, this is the prettiest bird you’ll find in Costa Rica.

Let’s shift our gaze from the cloud forests to the vibrant rainforests of Costa Rica, home to the iconic Scarlet Macaw and Great Green Macaw. These two species are colorful ambassadors of the rainforest and an integral part of Costa Rica’s natural heritage. Distinguished by their vibrant colors and long, pointed tail feathers, these iconic macaws, with a life expectancy of up to 50 years, are among Costa Rica’s most recognizable birds.

And if you’re looking for the ideal habitats to spot these photogenic birds, Carara National Park and the Osa Peninsula are the places to be.

What to Know About the Great Green Macaw

The Great Green Macaw, also known as Buffon’s Macaw, is truly a sight to behold. With a vibrant green body, a red forehead, and a blue lower back and rump, this bird is a visual treat. Macaws are known for their strong social bonds, often seen flying in pairs or small groups, indicative of their mating for life.

Macaws are easily detectable and delightful for birdwatchers to observe in their natural habitat, thanks to their loud and raucous calls echoing through the trees. In Costa Rica, the Great Green Macaw is typically found in the Caribbean lowland rainforests, enhancing the birdwatching experience for enthusiasts in these regions.

Conservation Efforts

While the sight of a macaw soaring through the rainforest canopy is truly breathtaking, it’s important to remember that these birds are facing significant challenges. Both the Scarlet Macaw and the Great Green Macaw are endangered species in Costa Rica, confronted with the threat of potential extinction. However, conservation efforts are underway to protect these magnificent creatures.

The goal for Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica is to:

  • Establish a viable wild population of over 400 individuals by 2030
  • Release Scarlet Macaws into the wild
  • Design artificial nests to be less accessible to predators and poachers
  • Increase the hatching of over 130 Scarlet Macaw chicks in the wild in the Pochote area.

Toucan Species in Costa Rica

From macaws, we move on to another iconic bird species in Costa Rica – the costa rica toucans. Costa Rica is home to six different toucan species. These include the prominent Keel-Billed and Chestnut-Mandibled Toucans. Toucans, recognized by their vibrant appearance and substantial bill, are frequently spotted in Costa Rica. They exhibit a range of behaviors from preying on smaller animals, such as lizards and tarantulas, to playful tossing of fruit and engaging in interactions with other toucans.

Although some toucan species in Costa Rica are considered endangered or vulnerable, they can be found in various habitats, from lowland and highland forests to national parks and even golf courses bordering rainforests.

The Keel Billed Toucan

The Keel-Billed Toucan, distinguished by its large, vibrant, rainbow-colored bill, stands out among the species in Costa Rica. They typically exhibit:

  • a black head
  • chestnut upper back
  • yellow underparts
  • varying bill colors, with the large reddish-orange bill with a black tip being quite common

Toucans, including the various species found in Costa Rica, primarily feed on fruit, utilizing their sizable and colorful bills to gather and consume their food.

For those keen on spotting the elusive yellow-eared toucanet, also known as Cassin’s aracari, Costa Rica’s Caribbean side is the place to go.

Where to Spot Toucans

When it comes to spotting toucans in Costa Rica, there are a few hotspots that bird enthusiasts should keep in mind. The central and south Pacific foothills, the Osa Peninsula, and around Arenal Volcano are some of the best locations to observe toucans, where up to five different species may be encountered. Arenal Volcano National Park, in particular, is known for hosting a variety of bird species, including the vibrant Keel-billed Toucan.

Aside from toucans, birdwatchers can also enjoy sightings of other species at this park, such as the Blue-crowned Motmot, White-fronted Parrot, and Emerald Toucanet.

Hummingbirds in Costa Rica

The diversity of Costa Rican birds extends beyond toucans and macaws, showcasing a remarkable array of hummingbirds — with at least 52 species found within the country. Distinctive Costa Rican hummingbirds include the White-Throated Mountain Gem, the large Violet Sabrewing at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and the ubiquitous Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird, among others.

Other notable species include the Fiery-Throated Hummingbird found near La Fortuna, and the Snowcap Hummingbird, a short-billed species often spotted near forest edges. Ideal locations for hummingbird watching in Costa Rica include Monteverde Cloud Forest, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and the middle to higher elevations where flowering plants abound.

What to Know About Local Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds captivate with their fascinating nature. Their remarkable flight abilities are largely due to their wings, capable of flapping up to 100 times per second. This rapid wing flapping creates a characteristic humming noise that can be heard when they fly, giving these birds their unique name.

To conserve energy, hummingbirds in Costa Rica can enter a torpor state, significantly reducing their metabolic rate. These unique traits, combined with their iridescent plumage, make hummingbirds a truly enchanting group to observe.

Hotspots for Hummingbird Watching

For hummingbird enthusiasts, Costa Rica provides a number of prime locations. Some of the best places to visit include:

  • La Paz Waterfall Gardens, which hosts 26 different hummingbird species
  • Rancho Naturalista, which caters to those seeking the elusive Snowcap Hummingbird, among other species like the Green Thorntail
  • Batsu Gardens and La Georgina, located in San Gerardo de Dota, which offer sightings of a variety of species
  • The Arenal Observatory Lodge, which provides a strategic vantage point for the observation of several hummingbird species, including those native to the region.

Rare and Endangered Birds of Costa Rica

The avian diversity of Costa Rica, including a wide variety of Costa Rica birds, not only encompasses common species but also numerous Costa Rican rare birds, such as Costa Rica’s national bird. The Harpy Eagle, for instance, a rare and powerful bird of prey, inhabits the remote Talamanca ranges and the Osa Peninsula. The Great Curassow is another majestic bird that can be found in the lowland rainforests along the Caribbean and Pacific slopes of Costa Rica.

The Jabiru stork is another endangered species in Costa Rica, highlighting the need for targeted conservation actions. And then there’s the Bare-necked Umbrellabird, known for its striking courtship displays, adding to the unique diversity of Costa Rican avifauna.

The Three-Wattled Bellbird

Among the rare bird species in Costa Rica, the Three-Wattled Bellbird holds a unique place. This bird is easily identifiable thanks to the three long wattles hanging from its bill, a feature that is unlike any other bird species in Costa Rica. Adding to its distinctiveness are its vocalizations, which resemble bell-like calls.

This bird’s singular features and unique calls make it a fascinating species for birdwatchers, often considered a national bird by enthusiasts.

The Great Curassow

The Great Curassow is another bird species that deserves special mention. This large, ground-dwelling bird is known for its size and distinctive plumage, which contribute to its majestic appearance. As an endangered species, the Great Curassow finds its habitat in protected areas like Santa Rosa and the Corcovado National Park.

A sighting of this majestic bird is truly a memorable experience for any birdwatcher, especially when there are so many birds to observe and appreciate.

Costa Rica’s National Bird

Clay Colored Thrush
This is the national bird of Costa Rica.

Back in 1997, the the clay-colored thrush, which is also known as the clay-colored robin, was designated the national bird of Costa Rica.

Birdwatching Tips and Resources

Like any bird-watching expedition, a trip to Costa Rica requires some preparation. A birdwatching trip to this avian paradise can be greatly enhanced with the right resources. Essential bird-watching gear includes binoculars, field guides, and appropriate clothing. For identifying bird species in Costa Rica, the ‘Birds of Costa Rica’ by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean, along with the newly published ‘Birds of Costa Rica’ by Dale Dyer and Steve N. G. Howell, are essential field guides. These guides provide comprehensive information about the various bird species found in the country, making them a valuable resource for birdwatchers.

If you’re new to birdwatching or prefer a guided experience, hiring a qualified birding guide can be a good idea. These guides offer tailored birdwatching experiences and valuable insights into Costa Rica’s avifauna, making your birdwatching trip more informative and enjoyable. Birdwatchers can choose from self-guided tours, short one-day trips, or longer 14-day trips depending on their preferences and time constraints.

No matter your choice of tour, be sure to visit well-known birdwatching locales in Costa Rica, which include renowned national parks and protected areas that offer the opportunity to see a diverse array of bird species.

Best Times for Birdwatching

Knowing the optimal timing for birdwatching can significantly elevate your experience, as timing plays a crucial role. The prime birdwatching season in Costa Rica spans from December to April, coinciding with the dry season. However, birdwatching in Costa Rica can be fruitful throughout the year due to the large population of resident birds.

During the rainy season, some bird species migrate to coastal areas of Costa Rica, offering unique viewing experiences. Migratory birds, such as the Prothonotary Warbler and Northern Waterthrush, can be observed during the dry season in places like the La Selva Biological Station.

Essential Gear

Equipping yourself with the right gear is another crucial element of a successful birdwatching expedition. Essential bird-watching gear includes:

  • Binoculars for a closer look at the birds
  • Field guides for identifying the species
  • Appropriate clothing for the weather and environment
  • A comfortable pair of walking shoes
  • A hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent

Make sure you have all of these items before heading out on your birdwatching adventure.

Remember, being well-prepared can greatly enhance your birdwatching experience.

Summary

Costa Rica, with its rich biodiversity and diverse habitats, offers an unparalleled birdwatching experience. From the enchanting Resplendent Quetzal and the vibrant Scarlet Macaw to the distinctive Keel-Billed Toucan and the mesmerizing hummingbirds, the country is a true paradise for bird lovers. The unique geographical features and varied ecosystems of Costa Rica provide an ideal habitat for a rich variety of bird species, many of which are endemic to the country.

Birdwatching in Costa Rica is not just about spotting different bird species; it’s an immersive experience that allows you to connect with nature on a profound level. So whether you’re a seasoned birdwatcher or a novice, consider Costa Rica for your next birdwatching expedition. With its unparalleled avian diversity, stunning landscapes, and dedicated efforts towards conservation, Costa Rica is a destination that promises a unique and unforgettable birdwatching experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most common bird in Costa Rica?

The most common bird in Costa Rica is the clay-colored thrush, also known as the clay-colored robin, and it was designated as the National Bird of Costa Rica in 1977 due to its prevalence and cultural significance.

What is the black bird with the long tail in Costa Rica?

The black bird with the long tail in Costa Rica is the male Great-tailed Grackle, which is a common species in the area. They can look quite nice at close range, making them a treat to spot.

What is the most beautiful bird in Costa Rica?

The most beautiful bird in Costa Rica is the Resplendent Quetzal. Its long, beautiful tail and shimmering colors make it a recognized symbol of goodness and light. You can find them all over the country.

What is the national bird for Costa Rica?

The national bird for Costa Rica is the clay-colored thrush, also known as the yigüirro. This bird is one of the country’s most common species and is found throughout almost every region.

What is the best time for birdwatching in Costa Rica?

The best time for birdwatching in Costa Rica is from December to April during the dry season, but you can have success birdwatching all year round due to the large population of resident birds. Enjoy spotting some vibrant and unique bird species!

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About 

Tim Schmidt is a 20+ year Entrepreneur and Digital Marketer. A Fort Lauderdale-based "Digital Nomad," he enjoys traveling as much as possible with family and friends. AllWorld is his escape to document all of his adventures, including being a hardcore "foodie." He has property in Costa Rica and visits several times each year and is happy to offer his expert advice for planning your trip.

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