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Bird Watching in Costa Rica

From macaws and herons to hummingbirds and toucans – Costa Rica is home to over 800 species of birds. A paradise for bird watchers, there are more bird species in Costa Rica than in Canada and the United States of America combined. Despite the lure of activities like surfing, river rafting, hiking and fishing, many people visit the country solely for bird watching.

Costa Rica Birding - Hoffmans WodpeckerThe various regions of Costa Rica offer many opportunities to see colorful and exotic birds such as the Crimson-fronted Parakeet and the Hoffman’s Wodpecker. Although national parks and other protected areas are excellent places for encountering wildlife, exotic looking birds can be seen just about anywhere in Costa Rica. Beaches, volcanoes, and even the gardens around hotels can be good places to see birds. No matter where you are in Costa Rica, you will see the most birds in the morning and late afternoon as birds tend to become inactive during the heat of the day.

Rainforests have the most bird species but are also the most difficult habitats to bird; most birds are shy and expert at remaining hidden or frequent the 30-40 meter high canopy. To see more birds in the forest, be very patient, make as little noise as possible and keep an eye out for fruiting and flowering trees that often attract birds. Although bird watching is possible nearly everywhere, some of the best places to see birds are in the Osa Peninsula, Tortuguero, Palo Verde and Monteverde areas. You will see birds on your own but if you want to see lots more, hire one of several qualified birding guides available in Costa Rica. Below is a detailed list of Costa Rica’s leading bird-watching destinations. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars!

Caribbean slope
The high rainfall of the Caribbean slope can make things very wet but also makes this region the richest area for birds in Costa Rica. Birding is good at any forested site with over 300 species possible. Three species of toucans are fairly common as are several parrot species, manakins, various flycatchers such as the Great Kiskadee and much more. Tortuguero National Park is particulary good for waterbirds such as herons and kingfishers and the endangered Great Green Macaw. For amazing mixed flocks of brilliantly colored Tanagers, Braulio Carrillo National Park is non-pareil.

North Pacific
From the Nicoya Peninsula and Monteverde all the way to Puntarenas, the North Pacific provides refuge to birds of dry and cloud forest habitats. One typical species of the dry forests of Guanacaste is the fancy White-throated Magpie Jay. It looks like a Blue Jay on steroids and is just as bold. Wetlands at Palo Verde harbor 1,000s of Egrets, Spoonbills, Storks and other waterbirds. Exquisite Long-tailed Manakins are fairly common in moist forest, especially on the Nicoya Peninsula. The cloud forests of Monteverde are Costa Rica’s most famous area for birding and rightly so; around 300 species are possible with many easy to see including the Blue and white Swallow and the Blue-gray Tanager. Some of the more exotic birds of Monteverde are the Three-wattled Bellbird, Emerald Toucanet, the spectacular Resplendent Quetzal and emerald green and yellow Golden-browed Chorophonias. Several hummingbird species are also frequent at Monteverde; check the feeders at the reserve for close looks at an amazing display of 8 species including the impressive Violet Sabrewing.

Central Valley
Although most of the Central Valley is urbanized, many common birds of Costa Rica can be seen, and there is very good birding in the nearby mountains. Braulio Carrillo National Park is one of the best sites with excellent cloud forest on Barva Volcano. Cerro Dantas and Monte de la Cruz also offer wonderful cloud forest birding. Only an hour from San Jose, this little visited are is next door to cozy hotels such as the Tyrol and Condesa. Birds are similar to those of Monteverde. Tapanti National Park is another excellent birding area in the Central Valley. The cloud forests of Tapanti are easy to bird and have species such as White-bellied Mountain-gem, Red-headed and Prong-billed Barbets, Black Guan and several Tanagers.

Towering above the valley are Poas and Irazu Volcanoes and the Talamanca Mountain Range. The humid oak forests up there have an entirely different group of bird species than the lowlands, many of which are easy to see such as Sooty Robin, Black-billed Nightingale Thrush, the friendly Collared Redstart, Long-tailed Silky, Flame-colored Tanager and Volcano Hummingbird. Most of these are found only in Costa Rica and western Panama. Those mountains, especially the Talamancas, are also the most reliable place to see a bird so amazing that the Mayans revere it; the Resplendent Quetzal.

Northern Caribbean Lowlands
This region of Costa Rica offers some of the best birding in the country and is the most reliable region for seeing the Great Green Macaw. The forests of the La Selva Biological Station and the Sarapiqui region are famous for their excellent birding with birds such as Sunbittern, Crested Guan, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, several Woodpeckers, Toucans, Parrots, Clay-colored Robin, many Flycatchers and Woodcreepers all possible. The birding is likewise very good in the Arenal and Tenorio Volcano area, especially at the trails with Hanging Bridges near both of these national parks. Further north at Caño Negro, the open nature of the wetlands makes it easy to see lots of common birds of Costa Rica; aquatic species in particular but also a good variety of forest birds.

South Pacific Slope
As one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, the Osa Peninsula has more than 400 species of birds including several raptors, 7 species of parrots, a good variety of hummingbirds, manakins, and 3 toucans to name a few, as well as many common birds of Costa Rica such as the Blue-black Grassquit. The Osa is famous for its large population of Scarlet Macaws; a spectacular bird that has become extinct in many areas of Central America. This rainforest wilderness is also one of the only places in Costa Rica where the monstrous Harpy Eagle still occurs. Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, a small, black and salmon colored bird of the forest understory, is mostly restricted to the Osa Peninsula.

The threatened forests of the South Pacific Slope are also protected at reserves and national parks near Dominical, Manuel Antonio and one of the best sites for birding in Central America; Carara National Park. Carara is a meeting place of dry and humid forest and freshwater and marine ecosystems. This junction of habitats always ensures a high species count; over 100 species in a day is typical for Carara.

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