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Birds of Costa Rica: A 2024 Insider’s Guide to Birdwatching!

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    In this blog, we share the best information for avid birdwatchers, from identifying Costa Rica’s diverse bird species to uncovering the prime locations for unforgettable sightings. With over a decade of birdwatching in Costa Rica, Andrea brings invaluable expertise, having assisted numerous enthusiasts in navigating the intricacies of birdwatching in Costa Rica. Our recommendations stem from real-world testing and exploration, ensuring a guide for enthusiasts who seek the most captivating avian encounters in this biodiverse paradise.

    Costa Rica is a birdwatcher’s paradise, with over 900 species of birds found across its diverse habitats. From vibrant toucans to tiny hummingbirds, an incredible variety of birds live here. 

    Guide to Birdwatching in Costa Rica

    “Exploring the cloud forests of Monteverde, I was lucky to spot the elusive Three-Wattled Bellbird, its unique call echoing through the mist.”

    Ready to Go Birding? See the Most Popular Birds in Costa Rica

    We’ve put together this guide to the most popular birds that visitors hope to see when they go birding in Costa Rica – a complete guide to the many different birds one can spot on tours in Costa Rica.

    Scarlet Macaw – Most Iconic Costa Rica Bird

    The Scarlet Macaw is one of Costa Rica’s most iconic and recognizable birds. 

    Scarlet Macaw - Most Iconic Costa Rica Bird

    “In the mangrove forests of Tortuguero, I had the incredible opportunity to observe the vibrant Scarlet Macaws in their natural habitat.”

    Bird Watchers Recognize This Parrot 

    The Scarlet Macaw’s distinctive colors and long, pointed tail feathers make it instantly recognizable. Macaws in Costa Rica have red, blue, and yellow plumage, which is a sight to behold.

    The Loud Scarlet Macaw Call 

    The parrots mate for life and can often be seen flying in pairs or small groups over the forest canopy. Their loud, raucous calls echo through the trees, making them easy to detect.

    National Park Delight

    These photogenic birds are found in Central and South America, and Costa Rica is one region where you can find these types of birds in places like the Osa Peninsula, Carara National Park, Palo Verde National Park, and Corcovado National Park.

    Birding Tips

    Bird watchers and bird photographers love to watch the distinctive vivid coloring and long pointed tails of this bird species in Costa Rica, as they gracefully fly overhead or feast on fruits and nuts in the trees. Listen for their loud squawks and look for their large, curved beaks that give them immense cracking power to access seeds.

    You’ll gain more insights on your Costa Rican bird-watching trip when you visit prestigious events like the National Scarlet Macaw Fair organized by The Association of Agro-Ecotourism Communities Surrounding Carara. This and other government conservation efforts have made it possible to increase the Scarlet Macaw population in the Central Pacific region of Costa Rica to more than 2,000 individual birds in 2023.

    Resplendent Quetzal – Most Beautiful Birds of Costa Rica

    This is one of the most beautiful and sought-after birds in the country. Known for its colorful plumage and incredibly long tail feathers, here are some fascinating facts about this elusive bird:

    Resplendent Quetzal - Most Beautiful Birds of Costa Rica

    “During my birding expedition, I witnessed the vibrant plumage of the Resplendent Quetzal, a sight that left me in awe.”

    Bird Species with Long Feathers 

    The male bird, with a bright red breast and iridescent green head and wings, has tail feathers that can extend to over 3 feet in length.

    Birding in Cloud Forests

    These are birds you can spot year-round in the high-elevation cloud forests of Costa Rica and Panama, including locations like Monteverde, Cerro de la Muerte, and Tapanti. During the breeding season from February to April, males display their stunning tail feathers.

    Mythical Birds

    Holding a special place in Mesoamerican myths and legends, this incredible bird must be on your Birds of Costa Rica checklist. If you’re spending the winter in Costa Rica, one of the best places to go birding for a Resplendent Quetzal is in its cloud forest habitat.

    Birding Trip Observations

    One of the most fascinating birds to see in Costa Rica, listen for the male’s melodious whistle and look for glimpses of iridescent green through the trees. Watch for them feeding on fruits like avocados and occasionally flying between trees. Catching a glimpse of one of these endangered birds is a truly magical moment.

    Though the Resplendent Quetzal is an endangered species in 2023, protected areas like the Los Quetzales National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and the Savegre Valley have increased their efforts to provide the quetzals shelter, food, and nesting sites to increase their population to around 1000 birds. The Quetzal Trail, which offers lodges and guided tours for birdwatching in Costa Rica helps sustain conservation efforts while providing jobs and income for the locals.

    Toucans – Costa Rica is home to Six Species

    Toucans are among the most iconic birds of the tropics, known for their oversized, vibrant bills and distinctive appearance.

    Toucans- Costa Rica is Home to Six Species
    A bird is sitting on a branch in the forest.

    “While birdwatching in the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, I was enchanted by the sight of the Keel-Billed Toucan, a true symbol of the tropics”

    Famous Birds with Large Colorful Bills 

    Costa Rica has six toucan species, including the Keel-Billed Toucan, Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan, and Fiery-Billed Aracari. Their large, colorful bills are made of lightweight, honeycombed bone covered in keratin, making them both striking and functional.

    Birding Incomplete without Seeing this Species of Birds in Costa Rica

    Toucans are social and primarily feed on fruit. They can be found in both the lowland and highland forests on both the Caribbean and Pacific slopes. Their loud vocalizations and fruit-plucking habits make them easy to detect.

    Where to See 

    Toucans can be spotted in various locations such as Orotina, La Selva Biological Station, and Braulio Carrillo National Park.

    Naturalist Guide

    Look for splashes of bright color moving through the forest canopy and listen for occasional yelping or bark-like rattling calls. Watch for them hopping between branches and trying to balance their giant, colorful bills.

    The six species of toucans in Costa Rica are all considered endangered or vulnerable to life in the wild. In this regard, the Toucan Rescue Ranch (TRR) is working with the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) (https://minae.go.cr/) to increase the number of toucans in Costa Rica.

    Hummingbirds – Common Birds Found Throughout Costa Rica

    Birders come here to watch these tiny birds in action. There are over 50 species of hummingbirds in Costa Rica that dazzle with their tiny, energetic presence. 

    Hummingbirds - Common Birds Found Throughout Costa Rica

    “In the Orosi Valley, the colorful Hummingbirds flitted from one flower to another, their iridescent feathers glistening in the sunlight.”

    Bird Watching with Binoculars

    Hummingbirds are common birds in Costa Rica, known for their rapid wing beats. There are a wide variety of birds with iridescent plumage in metallic greens, blues, and yellows that make them a captivating sight.

    Remarkable Wing Speed 

    These birds are nectar feeders and can hover in mid-air, thanks to their remarkable wing speed. Some of the most spectacular species include the Violet Sabrewing, Green-Crowned Brilliant, and Fiery-Throated Hummingbird.

    Ideal Places to Spot this Bird

    Costa Rica birding for hummingbirds is popular in the cloud forests at Monteverde, flower gardens at Selve Verde, and at other locations with tubular blooms. These places are also good for hiking, horseback riding, and other activities in Costa Rica.

    Birding by Ear

    Look for blurs of iridescent color and listen for the buzzing sound of wings as hummingbirds briefly hover over a flower before zooming off again.

    Keel-Billed Motmot – Colorful Wildlife

    Also known as the Broad-Billed Motmot or Blue-Diademed Motmot, the Keel-Billed Motmot is a colorful bird with a distinctive appearance and behavior. 

    Keel-Billed Motmot - Colorful Wildlife

    “As I ventured into the Monteverde Cloud Forest, the sight of a Keel-Billed Motmot  perched on a tree branch greeted me, a moment I’ll cherish forever.”

    Standout Appearance 

    Look for a turquoise crown, black face mask, and long tail tipped with paddle-shaped rackets. This bird stands out with its bright plumage and unique tail.

    Conspicuous Behavior Attracts Photographers

    Keel-billed motmots are birds that lead a sedentary life and can be spotted perched conspicuously on branches, fences, or wires as they look for prey.

    Where to See in Costa Rica

    These birds can be found in lowland rainforest and foothill habitats across the Pacific slope region.

    Lookout for Owl-Like Calls 

    Listen for the distinctive owl-like “hoo” call of the motmot and watch for the slow, bobbing motion of its tail as it patiently waits to catch lizards, frogs, and insects. The bright plumage and unique tail make the motmot a favorite among birdwatchers.

    Less than 10,000 remain in the humid forests of Central America, including Costa Rica. Conservation efforts are on to provide these beautiful birds with the right ecosystem including food, nesting sites, and shelter in places such as the Carara National Park, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and the Los Quetzales National Park.

    Blue-Crowned Manakin – Adds Vibrant Color to Your Birding Tour

    The Blue-crowned Manakin is a small, active bird that adds a touch of vibrant color to the humid lowland rainforests of Costa Rica. 

    Blue-Crowned Manakin - Adds Vibrant Color to Your Birding Tour

    “While birdwatching in Corcovado National Park, I was captivated by the playful antics of the Red-Capped Manakin, a true delight to observe.”

    Mohawk-Like Crest

    Male Blue-Crowned Manakins are jet black with brilliant blue caps, which they furl into a Mohawk-like crest during their elaborate courtship displays.

    Courtship Behavior of These Stunning Birds 

    These birds are known for their energetic courtship dances where the males moonwalk and fly backward to impress females.

    Places for Birding in Costa Rica: 

    Blue-crowned Manakins can be observed in forested sites such as La Selva Biological Station, Tortuguero National Park, Santa Rosa National Park, and Rara Avis Reserve.

    Bird Lover Tips – Fascinating Sounds and Mating Rituals 

    Listen for the “snap” and “pop” sounds their wings make as they hop and flit between branches. Watch as they periodically stop for animated courtship displays on fallen logs, providing a fascinating glimpse into their mating rituals.
    To ensure the population did not dwindle of this endangered species, a captive breeding program was launched at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to increase the population before these birds could be left free in the forests.

    Fiery-Billed Aracari – Worth Your Trip to Costa Rica

    The Fiery-Billed Aracari is a medium-sized toucan with a distinctive appearance and interesting behavior. Here’s what you need to know about this colorful bird:

    Fiery-Billed Aracari - Worth Your Trip to Costa Rica

    “In another birdwatching expedition, I was lucky to spot the Fiery-Billed Aracari flying through the canopy.”

    Unique Appearance 

    These toucans have a black head, chestnut upper back, yellow underparts, and a large reddish-orange bill with a black tip. Their appearance is both striking and unique.

    Behavior – Bird Watchers Look for Small Flocks with Large Bills

    Fiery-billed aracaris are social birds that often fly in small flocks through the canopy. They use their large bills to pick fruit apart, and their presence is characterized by raspy croaking and coughing vocalizations.

    Birding Places

    These birds can be found in lowland and foothill rainforests across the Pacific slope.

    See How They Fly Through the Forest Canopy

    Listen for the aracaris’ vocalizations as they fly through the canopy, and spot them as they carefully pick fruit apart with their bills. Good spots to find them include Carara National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, and golf courses bordering rainforests.

    Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan – Captivating Species in Costa Rica

    The Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan, also known as the Swainson’s Toucan, is a captivating bird that stands out with its distinctive appearance and behavior. 

    Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan - Captivating Species in Costa Rica

    “Photographing this Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan foraging for food along the Caribbean Slope was truly a sight to behold.”

    Striking Appearance 

    These interesting birds are known for their large, vibrant bills, which can display various colors, including shades of green, yellow, and, of course, chestnut on the mandibles. These tropical birds add a touch of brilliance to the rainforests of Costa Rica.

    Busy Foraging for Food

    Chestnut-mandible toucans eat fruits and use their impressive bills to pluck and consume them. They are often seen hopping between branches, effortlessly balancing their oversized bills as they forage for food.

    Spot these Eye-Catching Birds along the Slopes

    You can spot these toucans in various lowland and highland forests on the Caribbean and Pacific slopes of Costa Rica.

    Unmistakable Vocalizations 

    Look for their eye-catching bill colors and their distinctive calls. These toucans are known for their croaking or yelping vocalizations, which add to the vibrant soundscape of Costa Rica’s forests.

    Great Curassow – Adding Grandeur to the Rain Forests

    The Great Curassow is a large, ground-dwelling bird that adds a touch of grandeur to the rainforest floor. 

    Great Curassow - Adding Grandeur to the Rain Forests

    “As I hiked through the Amazon rainforest, a resplendent Great Curassow suddenly emerged from the dense foliage, its majestic presence taking my breath away.”

    Distinctive Plumage

    Great Curassows are known for their size and distinctive plumage. Males have glossy black bodies with a white belly and a distinctive yellow knob on their bill. Their striking appearance makes them a true icon of the Costa Rican rainforests.

    Foraging on Strong Legs

    These birds have diverse diets, including fruits, seeds, leaves, insects, and even small vertebrates. They forage on the forest floor, scratching leaf litter with their strong legs in search of food.

    Birding in the Lowlands of Costa Rica

    Great Curassows can be found in the lowlands and on the foothills of rainforests along the Caribbean and Pacific slopes of Costa Rica.

    Observation Tips – Listen for Low-Pitched Sounds 

    Listen for their distinctive vocalization, which starts with a low-pitched “gowk” sound and rises in pitch. Spotting them on the forest floor as they forage for food is a rewarding sight for birdwatchers.

    Great Green Macaw – One of the Most Beautiful Birds in the World

    The Great Green Macaw, also known as Buffon’s Macaw, is a charismatic and endangered species that grace the skies of Costa Rica. 

    Great Green Macaw - One of the Most Beautiful Birds in the World

    “During my visit to Carara National Park, I marveled at the graceful flight of the Great Green Macaw, a majestic sight to behold.”

    Large Bird in Bright Colors

    The Great Green Macaw is primarily green, as the name suggests, with a red forehead and a distinctive blue lower back and rump. Its bright coloration and large size make it a sought-after sighting.

    Loud Seed Eaters

    These macaws are primarily seed eaters and play a vital role in the ecosystem by dispersing seeds of mountain almond trees. Their loud, raucous calls echo across the forest and are described as “yelping” or “braying.”

    Where to Spot Them

    The Great Green Macaw can be spotted in select locations, particularly in the Caribbean lowland rainforests.

    Birding Tips

    Keep an ear out for their characteristic calls and watch for mated pairs engaging in bonding behaviors like preening each other’s head and neck feathers. Spotting these endangered macaws is a conservation success story and a special moment for any bird enthusiast.

    The great curassow is considered a vulnerable species by the IUCN, and in 1994, the Esquinas Rainforest Lodge initiated an eco-tourism project in the southern part of the country to support and conserve the Great Curassow in a private reserve.  As part of the eco-tourism project, the lodge creates birdwatching opportunities through guided tours. 

    FAQs about Popular Birds in Costa Rica

    Are there Costa Rican endemic birds?

    If you’re looking for native birds, there are five birds found only in Costa Rica, according to the Costa Rican Rare Birds and Records Committee of the Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica (AOCR) (http://www.avesdecostarica.org/) list which includes the Mangrove Hummingbird, an endangered species, and vulnerable species including the Coppery-Headed Emerald, Cocos Cuckoo, Cocos Flycatcher, and Cocos Finch. 

    What is a good Costa Rica focus bird field guide?

    Birders and bird photographers will find field guides like “The Birds of Costa Rica” by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean very useful when they come to Costa Rica.

    When do migratory birds visit Costa Rica?

    Many birds in Costa Rica are migratory birds that arrive during the dry season in Costa Rica.

    Raptors: 

    Birds of prey like falcons, eagles, hawks, and vultures in Costa Rica pass through the Caribbean coast from mid-. September to mid-November.

    Songbirds:

    Colorful and small birds like orioles, warblers, hummingbirds, and tanagers in Costa Rica live here from September until May and are among the favorite birds of Costa Ricans. 

    Shorebirds

    Shorebirds Costa Rica

    “Exploring the Pacific coast, I spotted the magnificent Frigatebirds soaring effortlessly above the waves, a display of aerial mastery.”

    Plovers, sandpipers, gulls, terns, and other American birds also come to Costa Rica from North America. These wading birds are most common near the shoreline and lagoons where you can see them resting and feeding near the water. These birds can live here from August to April.

    Can I hire a birding guide in Costa Rica?

    Birding guide in Costa Rica

    “At Arenal Volcano National Park, the melodious songs of the Montezuma Oropendola filled the air, creating a symphony of nature.”

    Yes, you can hire a guide to see the different species of birds and wildlife here. This is the best way to save time and spot the maximum number of birds found in Costa Rica. For example, expert tour guides have mastered the art of spotting rare birds in the middle of a forest or hidden places. Here is a list of 2500+ certified tour guides (https://www.visitcostarica.com/en/costa-rica/planning-your-trip/tour-guides-directory) that you can download. These guides have been certified by the Costa Rica Tourism Board. Qualified guides charge $100 to $150 per day and can help you choose the best places to see popular birds in the country. These experts will provide a complete guide on the Clay-Colored Thrush, which is the national bird, and other birds.

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