Within the heart of Central America lies the lushly beautiful country of Costa Rica. Bordered by Nicaragua and Panama, with coasts on both the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans, this tropical paradise is uniquely blessed with a diverse and prolific array of bird life. The country plays host to over 877 species, each thriving thanks to Costa Rica’s varied geography and the variety of habitats it supports. And while many species make their home permanently in Costa Rica, visitors will find they have something in common with the vibrant rainbow of bird life that includes Scarlet Macaws, Resplendent Quetzals and Keel-Billed Toucans, since nearly a quarter of the total number of species are migratory, choosing winter in Costa Rica over their own, colder North American homes.
Luckily, it’s not difficult to find or see a large number of birds during a single visit, as Costa Rica is only about the size of New Hampshire and the habitats of various species are often close together. While all seven of the country’s provinces provide an endless list of wonderful bird watching opportunities, the following are home to some of the most popular locations for the avid birdwatcher.
Visitors to Manuel Antonio National Park will see large groups (known as pods) of brown pelicans gracefully soaring overhead, plunging headlong into the sea after fish, or maybe even “wind surfing” as they playfully glide along the face of a wave. But for those who make an attempt to find them, the Manuel Antonio area harbors hundreds of other surprises.
Manuel Antonio is perhaps best known for its beautiful beaches, but the majority of its bird life is to be found in the forest, either inside the park proper or in any decent patch of vegetation around hotels and vacation homes. The tropical air is alive, with screeching flocks of parakeets and parrots and the comings and goings of at least 15 different types of hummingbirds, including purple-crowned fairies, violet-crowned wood nymphs, white-crested coquettes, and blue-throated golden-tails. And that’s just during the day; the nightlife in this 3-square mile piece of paradise is just as lively.
Guanacaste is in the northeastern part of Costa Rica and is an excellent place for bird watching, with varied landscapes and a variety of habitats that range from active volcanoes and humid cloud forests to rich wetlands and ocean shores. Some of the favored bird watching areas include the vast Guanacaste and Santa Rosa National Parks. Over 300 species of birds have been found in Santa Rosa National Park, while more than 400 call the cloud and dry forest areas of Guanacaste National Park home. Birds unique to this region include the Thicket Tinamou, Great Curassow, Crested Bobwhite, White-tailed Hawk, Yellow-naped Parrot, Pacific Screech-Owl, and the ever-elusive Quetzal.
Within this beautiful eastern province lies Corcovado National Park, which National Geographic called “the most biologically intense place on Earth,” making it a hot spot for nature lovers. In the morning, visitors wake to a chirping symphony and can then take one of the many guided tours through the surrounding rain forest, keeping an eye out for some of the 300 different bird species that live in the park.
Puntarenas is also home to Carara National Park, where over 400 species of birds are found. Among these are many rare and endangered species, including the Baird’s Trogon, whose survival is threatened by habitat loss. The endangered Yellow-billed Cotinga also makes an appearance here, along with the vulnerable Great Curassow. This park also offers a number of guided tours.
Heredia lies smack in the middle of Costa Rica and is well know for its tropical rainforests. La Selva Biological Station, in the northern lowlands, is operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies and is one of the most important sites in the world for research on tropical rainforests. The diversity here is spectacular; with more nearly 420 species of birds found within the habitat, La Selva is home to more than half the 887 species of birds in Costa Rica. Some of the more fantastic species include the Bare-necked Umbrella Bird, the Red-capped Manakin, the Great Antshike, and the Rufous-tailed Jacamar. Birding tours led by experienced guides are offered every day, or night owls can opt to experience the lively nightlife on a nocturnal tour. Visitors can also participate in workshops on bird watching and rainforest research at this premier tropical education, research, and conservation facility.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginning birder, an expert watcher, or simply a curious nature lover, Costa Rica is a bird paradise. So pack your binoculars, grab your camera, reach for that bird identification book and come to Costa Rica, where you’ll discover one of the most amazingly lush bird watching locations in the world.
Click here to see a complete list of bird species in Costa Rica.