Costa Rica Birding Guide

Visit the Country with the Highest Bird Density in the World!

Birding Costa Rica

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A plethora of colors and an assortment of plumage, combined with a great variety of species, make Costa Rica an amazing birding destination. The bird nerd will be in heaven watching the rare quetzal or a scarlet macaw fly overhead while listening to the mating call of a toucan. There’s nowhere you can go in Costa Rica and NOT have great birding opportunities. Of course, some areas are better than others. What an awesome activity!

Costa Rica is home to over 900 species of birds with different squawks and calls, colors, shapes, and sizes. You’ll find scarlet macaws, jewel-toned tanagers, warbling cuckoos, iridescent motmots, and more than 50 types of hummingbirds in Costa Rica’s diverse ecosystems.  But one of the most spectacular residents is the resplendent quetzal. It is known for its vibrant green plumage, red breast, and long streamer tail. The quetzal is the largest member of the trogon family, and one of the most highly sought-after species among birders.

Costa Rica Birdwatching Map  

 


Birding Tips and Tricks for Costa Rica

With so many species it can be hard to keep track. Here are the top ten tips and trick for birders:

  1. Binoculars. Make sure you buy a good pair. Not the cheap dollar store brand. They will come in handy trying to spot the elusive birds we love.
  2. Field Guide. Use your guide and document each of your pictures.
  3. Plants and Feeders. Know their favorite plants and feeders to spot as many birds as you can.
  4. Scope. You may feel like a pirate but you are searching for a treasured species and it is a handy tool to do so. 
  5. Camera. One of the most important tools is your camera. Do your research and buy a good one.
  6. Make Record. Using a binder or one of the cool new apps to record all your pictures and names of each bird.
  7. Nature Guide. Don’t underestimate your tour guide. They know all the best areas to spot these wonderful flying friends. 
  8. Your ears. Get to know the calls of each bird. You more than likely will hear it before you see it.
  9. Apps. There are a lot of birding apps out there and some are extremely detailed with sounds, pictures, and awesome descriptions.
  10. Explore. Go out there and have fun. That is what it is all about!

Top Reasons for a Birding Vacation in Costa Rica

An Overview of the Best Birding Destinations in Costa Rica

Costa Rica offers great birding opportunities in all 4 of the country’s eco-zones. Accordingly, this ranges from sea level on the Caribbean coast to the Central Highlands and volcanoes. Each area is a habitat for particular species, as seen below:


In-depth Insights of Birding in Costa Rica

The Dry Northwest

This zone covers the regions of Nicoya and Guanacaste. It includes several National Parks such as the Palo Verde National Park, Parque Nacional Santa Rosa, Parque Nacional Guanacaste and the lower parts of Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja. These are all great places to see birds. 

Palo Verde is the ultimate bird sanctuary and wildlife refuge. Rancho Humo is nestled in a private reserve with numerous ecosystems such as mangrove, wetlands and dry tropical forest. The Nicoya Peninsula does not only have Costa Rica’s most beautiful beaches, but also has great places for birding. Tango Mar is a wonderful beachfront resort where you can spot a variety of marine birds. Rincón de la Vieja is one of Costa Rica’s active volcanoes and has unique features like a sulfurous lagoons and mud springs. On its foot is the Hacienda Guachipelín which is a 3,400-acre ranch where you can spot monkeys, agoutis and over 300 species of birds.

Birding Hotspot Best Accommodation
Palo Verde Rancho Humo Estancia
Nicoya Peninsula Tango Mar
Rincón de la Vieja Hacienda Guachipelín

 

Birds You Can See in the Dry Northwest

Motmot Double-striped Thick-knee Long-tailed Manakin White-throated Magpie Three-wattled Bellbird
Turquoise-browed Motmot Double-striped Thick-knee Long-tailed Manakin White-throated Magpie-jay Three-wattled Bellbird

 

The Highlands

This area runs through the middle of the country and covers four distinct mountain ranges. Here, you can explore the most famous volcanoes of Costa Rica and their astonishing wildlife, as well as misty cloud forests. 

Birding Close to Volcanoes

Even though Arenal is mostly known as Costa Rica’s most spectacular volcano, its surrounding area is also a fantastic birding destination. The Arenal Observatory Lodge is the only hotel located directly in the Arenal Volcano National Park and is therefore able to give you the best birding experience in the area. Another volcano famous for its impressive wildlife is the Turrialba. Rancho Naturalista is one of the finest birding lodges in Central America and houses over 450 species of birds including countless hummingbirds. Poas volcano and the surrounding park are currently closed due to the volcano’s recent activity but there are many lodges for you to stay in. 

Birding in Cloud Forests

Other great destinations include the higher parts of Parque Nacional Braulio Carillo, San Gerardo de Dota and Monteverde Cloud Forest. The Braulio Carrillo National Park covers over 108,000 acres of hills covered in lush vegetation and amazing fauna. Tapirus Lodge offers you a special birding perspective from the canopy of the trees and many adventurous activities in its expansive private reserve.

The small town of San Gerardo Dota and its surroundings are especially known because they are the home of the Resplendent Quetzal. It was once worshiped by the ancient Mayas and Aztecs and is now considered the crown jewel within the avian fauna of Costa Rica. This beautiful bird flaunts vibrant green plumage, a red breast, and long streamer tail. Although female quetzals aren’t as colorful as the males, both sexes are awe-worthy. Their habitat is in the cool highland forests, so there is no better place to spot the birds than in the relaxing hideaway of Trogon Lodge which is located in lush tropical gardens. Monteverde is one of Costa Rica’s most popular tourist destinations and therefore offers you a broad range of accommodations, too.

Birding Hotspot Best Accommodation
Braulio Carrillo Tapirus Lodge
Arenal Arenal Observatory Lodge
Turrialba Rancho Naturalista
San Gerardo de Dota Trogon Lodge 

 

Birds You Can See in the Highlands

Resplendent Quetzal Black Guan Cabanis Ground Sparrow Lovely Cotinga Fiery-throated Hummingbird
Resplendent Quetzal Black Guan Cabani’s Ground Sparrow Lovely Cotinga Fiery-throated Hummingbird

 

The Lowlands of the South Pacific

The Lowlands in Southern Costa Rica extend from Jacó all the way to western Panama. The climate is tropical and wet. Great places to visit include the Osa Peninsula, Ballena Bay and Carara National Park. 

The Osa Peninsula makes up 2.5 percent of the world’s biodiversity and is an unbelievably amazing place to see the wildlife of Costa Rica. Bosque del Rio Tigre has an uncountable amount of birds and may be the best birding lodge in Costa Rica. Moreover, it is close to the Corcovado National Park with amazing primary cloud forests and deserted sand beaches.

Ballena Bay is an excellent destination for nature lovers because you can not only spot birds but also turtles, dolphins and whales. Cristal Ballena is located on a hill nestled between the ocean and the jungle which makes it a perfect location to discover all kinds of wildlife. Carara National Park is not the most famous park in Costa Rica but is definitely a great destination for birders. Cerro Lodge is an environmentally friendly hotel which loves to accommodate passionate birders who want to spot the beautiful scarlet macaws flying over the property.

Birding Hotspot Best Accommodation
Osa Peninsula Bosque del Rio Tigre
Ballena Bay Crista Ballena
Carara National Park Cerro Lodge

 

Birds You Can See in the South Pacific

Scarlet Macaw Fiery-billed Aracari Ornate Hawk Eagle Rusty-margined Flycatcher Riverside Wren
Scarlet Macaw Fiery-billed Aracari Ornate Hawk-eagle Rusty-margined Flycatcher Riverside Wren

 

The Caribbean Lowlands

This is the largest ecozone and it includes the entire lowlands and foothills in the Caribbean. Great places to visit include Tortuguero National Park, Cahuita National Park and Sarapiqui.

Tortuguero protects one of the largest remaining areas of tropical rainforest in Central America and is often compared to the Amazon rainforest. Laguna Lodge offers boat tours through the canals of Tortuguero to show you the amazing array of wildlife in the region. Most people go to the South Caribbean to enjoy its fantastic beaches but the rainforests of this region are also home to a lot of birds. Selva Bananito is an extraordinary example for ecotourism and has one of the most important raptor migration routes in the world.

Sarapiqui is home to some of the most pristine wildlife areas in Costa Rica and several important rivers are flowing in the region. Selva Verde has a certificate for sustainable tourism and its 204 hectares of primary forest and 15 kilometers of paths offer you great opportunities for birdwatching. Furthermore, you find the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, one of the most important wetlands in the world, close to the border to Nicaragua. You can spot storks, ducks, spoonbills and many other birds here.

Birding Hotspot Best Accommodation
Tortuguero Laguna Lodge
South Caribbean Selva Bananito Ecolodge
Sarapiqui  Selva Verde Lodge

 

Birds You Can See in the Caribbean Lowlands

Great Green Macaw Great Jacamar Chocuaco Great Potoo Sunbittern
 Great Green Macaw  Great Jacamar Chocuaco Great Potoo  Sunbittern

 

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