Toucans in Costa Rica: A Beginner’s Guide to Birdwatching in 2024

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    In this blog, we unlock the vibrant world of toucans in Costa Rica, offering a comprehensive guide to birdwatching enthusiasts seeking an enchanting encounter with these iconic creatures. Spending over 10 years observing and photographing rare birds in Costa Rica, Andrea brings invaluable expertise to this journey. Her recommendations are based on real-world immersions navigating through the lush rainforests and cloud forests of Costa Rica.

    One of Costa Rica’s many colorful birds that populate lush rainforests and cloud forests, the toucan stands apart as an iconic species.

    A colorful toucan perched on a branch with a green background. “I felt like I was in a colorful paradise as I watched the toucans perch on the branches and chatter among themselves.”

    Complete Guide to Birding for Toucans in Costa Rica

     With their large, vibrantly colored beaks, they captivate birders who come looking for these birds of Costa Rica in their natural habitats. 

    Native Species in Costa Rica

    Costa Rica has 6 species of toucans, the most variety found in any country. Bird watchers who visit Costa Rica should see toucans at some point in the Central and South Pacific of Costa Rica.

    Keel-billed Toucan

    A keel-billed toucan perched on a branch amidst green foliage. “The Keel-Billed Toucan’s rainbow-colored bill caught my eye as it came up close.”

    The Keel-Billed Toucan is possibly the most popular. This Costa Rica bird with the rainbow-colored bill is the largest toucan in Costa Rica. It must be on your Birds of Costa Rica checklist when you’re looking for toucans in the wild. 

    Collared Aracari

    Two collared aracaris perched on a branch. “The Collared Aracari was a playful and curious bird, always pecking at fruits and flowers and sometimes even at my camera.”

    The Collared Aracari is a mid-sized bird marked by a black chest and green collar at the base of its yellow and black bill. It has a red rump and brown plumage on its back.

    Fiery-Billed Aracari

    As its name suggests, the Fiery-billed Aracari has a dazzling reddish-orange bill. Its plumage is mainly green with a yellow-orange throat and rump.

    Emerald Toucanet

    Emerald toucanet perched on a branch, tossing a piece of fruit into its beak.

    “This Emerald Toucanet was a shy and elusive bird, hiding in the dense canopy.”

    This small bird has an emerald-green body and a blue-tipped red and yellow bill. It is the smallest toucan in Costa Rica.

    Yellow-Throated ToucanA toucan perched on a branch with a lush green background. “With its loud and distinctive voice echoing through the forest, this Yellow-Throated Toucan was announcing its presence to everyone.”

    Also known as the Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan, this bird has a yellow and black bill and is the largest of its bird species in Costa Rica. Find this elusive bird in the dense rainforests and forest edges of Costa Rica. 

    Black-Mandibled Toucan

    A colorful toucan perched on a branch with green foliage in the background.

    “This large and powerful bird was dominating the feeding sites and chasing away smaller birds with its massive black bill.”

    This bird has mostly white plumage with a black tail and a black bill with yellow patching near the tip.

    Key Differences between the Toucans, Aracaris, and Toucanets

    Toucans, toucanets, and aracaris are three types of birds that belong to the same family – Ramphastidae. While they may look alike, there are some key differences between these three types of birds:

    – Toucans are the largest in this species with an average length of 20 to 25 inches. They have primarily black feathers, with touches of white, yellow, and scarlet.

    – Aracaris are medium-sized birds with a typical length of 12 to 18 inches. They have mainly yellow underparts crossed by several black or red bands. They are more tree-living birds and less nimble than toucans.

    – Toucanets are the tiniest type of toucan, with a typical length of 10 to 14 inches. They have mostly green plumage with blue markings. They eat more fruits than their cousins; however, they also consume insects, eggs, and small lizards. They rest in tree cavities, sometimes customizing them with mud or plant material.

    Habits and Behavior

    Toucans are dynamic, social birds that reside in small flocks of 3 to 12 birds. Their loud yelping, croaking calls attract attention.

    Using their massive beaks, these birds pluck fruits from the trees. Surprisingly, they do not use their beaks to crack open or peel fruit. Instead, they toss fruits upwards and gulp them down whole. Their beaks are perfect for reaching fruit on branches that are too slender to support their bodies.

    Two toucans perched on a branch facing each other.

    “I was amazed by how the keel-billed toucan could swallow a whole fruit in one gulp, using its long and flexible tongue to push it down its throat.” 

    The female lays two to four white eggs. Chicks are born blind and powerless, entirely dependent on their moms and dads for food. Both parents swallow the fruits whole and then bring out the fruit pulp to feed the chicks.

    Toucans live most of their lives perched high in the rainforest canopies of Costa Rica. They don’t take long journeys, and you’ll rarely find them on the forest floor. A hollowed-out tree cavity is its favorite place to rest. It may appear odd that a bird with such a large beak would choose a small enclosed place, but it has a fascinating way of making itself comfortable in that space. 

    “Watch the Toucan rest in a small enclosed space (2:25)” 

    As soon as it settles down, the toucan turns its head backward and tucks it under a wing. It then flips its tail directly over its head. In this position, the bird looks like a neat ball of feathers.

    These birds start their day visiting nearby fruit trees before venturing into deeper territory in search of new fruit sites. This species is known to catch pests, dine on a tree frog or lizard, and even hunt for fish. They won’t hesitate to take eggs from the nests of other birds.

    With its tooth-edged big beak, the aracari catches, grasps, and even skins whatever it might be having for lunch. As soon as feeding time is over, these birds might playfully spar with each other to digest the fruit they swallowed. Then, it’s time to go back to their roosting tree for the night.

    Why Toucans are important to Costa Rica

    As fruit-eaters that disperse seeds from the fruit they consume, toucans help regrow rainforest plant life. Their nesting habits provide nesting sites to other bird and animal species after they’ve fled their young.

    Where to find These Charismatic Birds

    Toucans are discovered throughout – from the steamy lowland jungles to the cold cloud forests of the highlands. Here are some of the very best places to spot the species found in Costa Rica:

    La Selva Biological Station

    One of the best places is this popular research station near Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí protecting 1500 hectares of lowland rainforests. Its comprehensive trail system offers exceptional toucan viewing and also offers the chance to see the most common birds in Costa Rica.

    Corcovado National Park

    The remote Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica is home to toucans. All six bird species along with numerous other types of birds can be spotted here.

    Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

    Toucans are among other birds found in the lavish cloud forests of Monteverde. This is a Costa Rica birding paradise where you can identify toucanets foraging in the canopy.

    Arenal Volcano National Park

    The diverse habitat around Arenal Volcano is home to an impressive variety of birds. Keel-billed Toucans and Collared Aracaris are common sights.

    Pacific Coast Regions of Costa Rica

    Home to two endemic species, the Fiery-Billed Aracari and Collared Aracari, the North Pacific slope in the Guanacaste Province attracts many birders interested in Costa Rica bird photography. Several species including toucans reside in the humid forests of Rincon de la Vieja and some areas of the Western Central Valley. 

    La Paz Waterfall Gardens

    A colorful toucan perched on a tree branch in a natural setting. “I felt lucky to capture a perfect shot of a toucan posing for me, as it tilted its head and showed off its colorful bill.”

    Your birding trip to Costa Rica is incomplete if you miss the chance to photograph the different species of toucans at the Peace Lodge. 

    Carara National Park

    One of the best places to see toucans on a birdwatching tour, you can also check out other species of birds and wildlife in Costa Rica here.

    Manuel Antonio National Park

    This park is also one of the better-known birding areas of Costa Rica. The easy trails make it easy to see this beautiful bird.

    Fun and Interesting Facts about Toucans

    – They do not migrate. When you’re in Costa Rica, focus on sighting this beautiful bird in small groups of 10 to 12, as they fly through the forest canopy traveling small distances close to their homes.

    – Efforts made to create habitats for birds like toucans in the coffee plantation at Coffea Diversa in Costa Rica have helped farmers select the best coffee beans

    Most Asked Questions and Answers about Costa Rican Toucans

    When is the best time of year to find toucans?

    Birding in Costa Rica for these birds is common during the wet season from May to November, as they breed during this period and fruit is plentiful. However, the toucan is a common bird in Costa Rica, and you should see it on your birding vacation any time of the year. 

    What time of day is best for toucan watching?

    Mornings are ideal for finding toucans in Costa Rica since they forage after roosting overnight. Toucans are also active late in the afternoon when these birds are seen playing with each other.

    What’s the greatest danger to Costa Rica toucans?

    Habitat loss is the primary danger in Costa Rica since deforestation shrinks the jungles that these birds depend on. The pet trade is prohibited in Costa Rica, but several bird species are still affected by it in 2023.

    Should I hire a guide to see toucans in Costa Rica?

    A naturalist guide understands a wide range of bird species. Bird-watching tours in Costa Rica offer you more chances of spotting the Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan and the Black-Mandibled Toucan. You can also carry a field guide when you’re birdwatching in Costa Rica that tells you more about the Clay-Colored Thrush, which is the national bird, or the origin of the Yellow-Eared Toucanet.

    For how long do Toucans live?

    The toucan species in Costa Rica can live for approximately 12 to 20 years in the wild and captivity. For example, the Yellow-Throated Toucan in the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary has a lifespan of around 20 years

    How do Toucans protect themselves?

    Living in small flocks of approximately 12 individuals, these birds interact with each other making noises such as croaks, yelps, whistles, and purrs. Some can even mimic the calls of other birds or animals to warn each other of risk or to frighten predators.



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