Costa Rica

Birding in Costa Rica

Birding in Costa Rica

If you’re stork raven mad about birds, you’ve come to the right place. Costa Rica is home to some truly im-peck-able birdwatching sites and unusual species that will make your heart soar. Now, we’re sure you don’t have time to learn about all 903 of Costa Rica’s bird species (never mind listen to more terrible puns) but this roundup of some of our favourites should give you an idea of the wonderment that awaits in Costa Rica’s canopies, mangroves and gardens. From tiny hummingbirds to massive macaws, here’s what to look out for when birding in Costa Rica.


Resplendent Quetzal

Bird lover or not, a glimpse of this dazzling rainbow bird is one of the most sought-after sights for any visitor to Costa Rica. These small but stunning creatures have an iridescent emerald body, a red belly and black inner wings, and are part of the trogon family. The resplendent quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala, but unfortunately the ongoing disappearance of their tropical homes is threatening the survival of the species in Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America. Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom: Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest is a protected area that preserves the natural habitat of these beautiful birds, a near-unique environment that allows unusual plants and animals to thrive. This makes it one of the best places in the world to spot resplendent quetzals along with plenty of other bird species (425 to be exact). Visit during mating season between February and July for the best chances of spotting resplendent quetzals in all their glory.


American Pygmy Kingfisher

This shy bird enjoys small woodland streams, pools, mangroves and long walks along the beach (maybe scratch that last part). Measuring around five inches, American pygmy kingfishers are one of the smallest kingfisher species, and you can recognise them by their typical kingfisher shape, along with a dark green head, rusty underbelly and long black bill. Approach these birds slowly and quietly for the best chance of getting close to them, but bear in mind that they’re an elusive species, and have a habit of taking flight before you can say ‘pass me the camera.’ Carara National Park near the Pacific Coast is a great place to spot these charming creatures. While you’re there, keep your eyes (and ears) peeled for another of the park’s fabulous birds: the fiery scarlet macaw.


Great Green Macaw

Speaking of macaws, here’s another unmistakable big bird to look out for when birding in Costa Rica. Great green macaws, also known as Buffon’s macaws, are the largest parrots in their natural range, averaging between 33.5 and 35.5 inches in length. This species has made a remarkable comeback after being driven to near extinction when their habitat and sole source of food was all but wiped out from deforestation; rumour has it they taught themselves to survive off a different, more abundant source of food. Even so, great green macaws remain a critically endangered species – around 95% of Costa Rica’s macaw habitat has disappeared over the last 100 years. Your chances of spotting them are best in Tortuguero, along with areas of the Sarapiquí zone such as Selva Verde, where the birds like to forage.



Don’t let the name fool you – there’s no need to head to colder climes to see this little hummingbird. Snowcaps get their name from the shining white patch on the male’s head (or ‘cap’), which is so dazzling that you may well spot it flitting between the trees, even though the birds themselves are only two-and-a-half inches long. Along with a white head, male snowcaps have a fluffy (and extremely cute) bronze, purple and black body. Hummingbirds aren’t difficult to find in Costa Rica – in Monteverde Cloud Forest, for example, the hummingbird gallery is frequented by many different species – but snowcaps are a little bit special. These dainty birds breed mostly at elevations between 980 and 2600ft, and live in the Costa Rican birding paradise of the Caribbean foothills. Rancho Naturalista and El Copal are two birding lodges where snowcaps are almost guaranteed to make an appearance. El Tapir is another great option, an unsigned hummingbird garden located around one mile past Quebrada Gonzalez if you’re coming from San Jose. You’ll need to pay the caretaker 2,500 colones or $5, but you’ll have a good chance of spotting these adorable birds once inside.


Bare-Necked Umbrellabird

These large black birds are unlike any other (think funky-looking crows with an Elvis ‘do). And we’re not going to lie to you, they’re spectacularly elusive. Despite not being shy or difficult to recognise, umbrella birds are few and far between, partly because they’re now an endangered species. Umbrellabirds live exclusively in forests, specifically tropical and subtropical lowland and montane forests, and as is the case for many tropical birds, deforestation has had a devastating effect on their population. But if you can’t help falling in love with these rock and roll creatures, there are a few places where you’re more likely to catch a glimpse of them. Umbrella birds are often spotted during aerial tram rides at Braulio Carrillo National Park, along with the forests around La Selva Biological Research Station (let your guide know that you’re keen for a sighting). Selva Verde, nearby, and the forests around Arenal are also good options.