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Costa Rica has long been famous among serious birdwatchers as one of the world’s best birding destinations. Here are some of the reasons why you should consider a Costa Rica Birdwatching trip there, and some of the birds you should aim to see.

Costa Rica packs nearly 900 species of birds – that’s more than can be found in the whole of North America – into a country that’s half the size of the state of Kentucky. No wonder so many keen birdwatchers from around the world want to take a birding trip there.

Even people who have previously only had a passing interest in watching birds become entranced when they encounter Costa Rica’s spectacular avian inhabitants. It’s very hard not to become an instant fan.

To ensure birding visitors enjoy good views of a wide range of the country’s diverse bird species, local tour operators provide experienced nature guides. These skills spotters make any birdwatching expedition not only a thrilling one but also an educational experience.

ParrotPhoto credit: Sergio Arias, Costa Rica

Why is Costa Rica birdwatching so special?

Part of the reason Costa Rica has such an extraordinary and abundant bird life is its wide variety of habitats. This is a country where you can find rainforest, mangrove swamps, arid areas, cloud forest, unpolluted river valleys and more, within easy reach of each other.

On a Costa Rica birdwatching tour, any two of those ecosystems, and their particular resident bird species, can often be found only a short distance apart.

Another reason for the sheer number of different birds is that Costa Rica is on a major migration route through the Americas. So many warblers, flycatchers, vireos, orioles, among others, migrate from North America to Costa Rica every winter.

Costa Rica’s must-see birds

One of the birds most likely to be on a true birdwatching enthusiast’s bucket list is the Resplendent Quetzal. This Central American star lives in Costa Rica’s cloud forests of Monteverde, the Los Santos region and the Central Volcanic Mountain Range.

The equally spectacular Scarlet Macaw can be seen on the Osa Peninsula and around the Carara Biological Reserve.

The country’s well-run system of National Parks and Protected Areas provide more than ample stomping grounds for birders. However, it’s not just in those protected places that you’ll encounter a rich selection of bird life to add to your list.

Just about anywhere in Costa Rica is the right place to spot interesting avian species. For example, colourful birds such as the Blue-grey Tanager, Great Kiskadee and Crimson-fronted Parakeet can be seen hopping and twittering around in the gardens of San Jose hotels.

Here, we highlight eight of the very beautiful bird species that are relatively easy to find on a trip to Costa Rica.

Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are very common in Costa Rica and can be seen all across the country. All you have to know is which flowers and plants they like best. Or, if time is short, where to find a popular feeding station.

There are many different types of these energetic birds in Costa Rica – over 50 on record – so you are likely to cross paths with a great variety, ranging in size and vibrant colours.

Wine Throated HummingbirdPhoto credit: Katinka Domen

Some of the best hummingbirds to watch for include the Black Crested Coquette, Long-Billed Hermit, Bangtailed Barb Throat, Coppery Headed Emerald, Green Violet-ear, and the Fiery-throated Hummingbird.

Each species of hummingbird is different in its habits and plumage – sometimes the males and females are distinct from each other, sometimes the sexes are indistinguishable.

Hummingbirds are so common in Costa Rica there is even a Hummingbird Garden in Salvaterra Park, Monteverde. Whether you are a novice or an experienced birdwatcher, just a curious soul or a keen photographer, this is a great place to get good views and images to boast about.

Another notable location for hummingbirds is La Paz Waterfall Gardens in Vara Blanca, near Poás Volcano. There, you can spot over 20 species if you stand near the feeders that attract them.

Trogons

Trogon is an odd word and might appear a strange choice for the naming of a species of bird. But once you know more about these animals, you’ll see that the name fits.

While they are stunning to look at, their name is more related to how they gnaw rotted wood to make their nests. They don’t have strong bills, but they nonetheless find a way to construct their breeding places.

Collared TrogonPhoto credit: Wilson Diaz

These birds are most vocal in spring and summer, and there are at least 10 species that you can spot while on a Costa Rica birding trip. You can find them in one of the many national parks with a little care, including the Gartered Trogon, the Blockheaded Trogon, the Slat Tailed Trogon, and the Orange Bellied Trogon. One of the most important places is the Cerro de la Muerte.

White-Throated Magpie-Jay

You won’t find it hard to see these birds if they’re around, as they’re not shy. They travel in large groups and they are loud! White­Throated Magpie-Jays are large birds and they can be found on the Nicoya Peninsula and in Santa Rosa National Park.

White-Throated Magpie-JayPhoto credit: Katinka Domen

They have a great look, with their very long tails and feathers on their heads that are slightly curved. They do not migrate so they can be found year-round not only in the forests but also in cultivated areas such as the many coffee plantations throughout Costa Rica. Arenal Volcano National Park is also a popular hotspot for this species.

The birds’ diet consists of frogs, eggs, fruit and nectar, and they are wonderful to watch as they go about their daily business!

Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet Macaws, with their bright red, yellow, blue and green feathers, are easily one of the most vibrantly coloured species on the planet. This makes them very easy to recognise. You definitely don’t have to be an experienced birdwatcher to spot these!

Plus, the birds are not only colourful they are sizable, too! From the top of their heads to the tips of their tails, Scarlet Macaws can be as long as 85cm.

This type of parrot tends to fly with others of its kind, so you may see a group of loud and brightly coloured macaws in places like Corcovado National Park, Palo Verde National Park and Carara National Park.

They usually reside high up in the canopy, in tall trees or mangroves, so you need binoculars and to keep looking up to get a good view of them.

Keel-billed Toucan

The Keel-Billed Toucan is another noteworthy bird that is easy to recognise. It is, of course, best known for its beak, which is long and colourful.

This type of toucan is even sometimes referred to as the Rainbow Billed because of the progressive coloured pattern on its beak. While the bill is beautiful, it is also functional; the birds use it to pick berries.

Keel-Billed ToucanPhoto credit: Sergio Arias, Costa Rica

If you are birding within the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, La Selva Protected Zone & Biological Station or Tortuguero National Park, you are likely to see Keel-Billed Toucans travelling in small flocks.

And you will hear them, too, as they like to sing songs like crickets!

Resplendent Quetzal

Costa Ricans are proud that the Resplendent Quetzal calls their country home. From shore to shore this bird is known to be one of the most beautiful in Costa Rica. It captures attention with its bright green back, deep red belly and prominent tail feathers.

One of the curious things about Resplendent Quetzals is that their bodies are relatively small for the lengths of their tails.

Resplendent QuetzalPhoto credit: Sergio Arias, Costa Rica

They tend to live up in the tree canopy where they nest and search for food. Chirripo National Park, Braulio Carrillo National Park, Poas Volcano National Park and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve are all home to the Quetzal.

They also live in other parts of Central America, but your chances of spotting one are highest in Costa Rica.

Blue Crowned Motmot

Aside from the Blue Crowned Motmot, there are five other species of motmot that call Costa Rica home. But this tiny bird stands out from the other species because it has a uniquely coloured head, a green body and a long tail.

The Blue Crowned is also the most common motmot, and can most likely be found in Santa Rosa National Park, Carara National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park.

They can be seen in trees near the forest floor, only about 4 metres from the ground.

Blue Ray Tanager

This little bird is a common sight on a Costa Rica birding trip as it is unmistakable with its small stature and gray­blue hue. It can be found from the lowlands to middle elevations and it has adapted well to both dry and humid forests.

But you don’t have to go to a nature reserve to spot them as they also live in urban settings and can be found in parks and gardens across the country.

You’ll most often see them in pairs, feasting on the fruit of many local trees and vines. They don’t stay in one place for too long, though, as they are a restless species.

Are you interested in a birding tour to Costa Rica?

For more information, contact one of the local wildlife specialists based in Costa Rica to book your next wildlife holiday direct.

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