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Bird Watching Costa Rica Style

The bird watching Costa Rica’s forests and coastlines offer is unparalleled. With approximately 850 different species of roseate spoonbillbird, tiny Costa Rica has more variety than Europe, Australia, and North America. It’s no wonder that so many people make bird watching part of their Costa Rica travel activities, or the whole reason for coming!

While it’s hard to find another place with such abundant bird life and there are patches of forest where the din from bird song is overwhelmingly loud, birding still requires some skill and knowledge.

You should really buy a guide book before you go bird watching in Costa Rica. The following are some recommended guidebooks to help you identify that beautiful or funny looking bird you’ve spotted.

  • A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch
  • The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean
  • Birds of the Rainforest: Costa Rica by Carmen Hidalgo (Textbook-like, expensive and hard to find)
  • Photographic Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by Susan C. L. Fogden, Michael Fogden, and Patricia Fogden (This is a good, lightweight guide, not as heavy as some but not as comprehensive as other books for birdwatching Costa Rica, most common species only)
  • A Travel and Site Guide to Birds of Costa Rica by Aaron Sekerak (mostly site descriptions for bird watching areas, not really for identifying birds)
roseate spoonbillDespite having a great birding book, your best chance to see rare birds is to hire a bird watching guide or to book a bird watching tour. Trained bilingual guides will be able to spot things you probably would have walked right past.

Also, don’t forget to bring an excellent pair of binoculars. The Nikon Monarchs in the link carousel above are waterproof, powerful, and have great customer reviews.

Costa Rica is a bird watching paradise, with diverse ecological zones and six specific ornithological regions. (Ornithology is the study of birds, though you probably already know that. I had to look it up ;-) To get you more excited I’ve compiled a short list of birds you might see on your travels through this country. I have pictures up for the ones with asterisks, otherwise just do a google image search.

Bird Watching Costa Rica Species List:

  • Roseate Spoonbill *
  • King Vulture
  • Magnificent Frigatebird
  • Violet Sabrewing
  • Yellow-crowned Night-heron *
  • Northern Jacana
  • Chestnut-mandibled Toucan *
  • Keel-billed Toucan
  • Collared Aracari
  • Scarlet Macaw (and 16 other species of parrot) *
  • Purple-throated Mountain-gem
  • yellow-crowned night-heron
  • Three-wadled Bellbird
  • Blue-gray tanager
  • Scarlet-rumped Tanager
  • White-fronted nunbird
  • Red-headed Barbet
  • Brown Pelican
  • Boat-billed Heron
  • Resplendent Quetzal

The Quetzal is perhaps the most coveted prize while bird watching in Costa Rica. The bird's gorgeous coloring and dramatic plumage, as well as it's cultural significance make it perhaps the most important bird in Central America. The currency of Guatemala is called the Quetzal and the Mayans have incorporated the bird extensively into their mythology. Various companies offer one-day Quetzal tours.

scarlet macawMany general bird watching tours are available through a variety of tour operators in Costa Rica. And as I said before, these guided tours are probably your best bet for seeing the most birds. Several Costa Rica bird watching companies are active in conservation too. For example, during mating and breeding season in May, a company offers bird-counting tours that provide valuable data for monitoring the birds. It's a great way to have fun and help with conservation.

Best of luck on your Costa Rica bird watching adventure!

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