Just like miners searching for the sparkle of a precious gem in a wall of stone, birdwatchers scan green walls of vegetation for bright lights of color. There are few places on earth as rewarding for birdwatching as Costa Rica. But when and where should you go? Here’s the insider’s guide to birding Costa Rica.
Though relatively small in size, Costa Rica is home to one of the highest levels of bio-diversity in the world. The country’s cloud forests, humid lowlands, dry forests and mangrove swamps are some of the 6 ecological zones and more than 12 ecosystems that are home to more than 900 species of birds. That is more than the United States and Canada combined! All this in an area about the size of West Virginia, making all those birds very accessible and sightings of each species on your Bird Bucket List highly likely.
Costa Rica is on a volcanic land bridge that united the continents we call North and South America millions of years ago, the formation of which played a large role in the diversification of avian species. Birds were able to travel and mingle; for example, hummingbirds came from the south, while birds like the jay came from the north.
About 600 of Costa Rica’s bird species are smart enough to stay here year round, making any time of year a good time of year for birdwatching. However, the fall migration from North America to South America (August to December) and the return trip (January through May) are the best times to see the migratory species.
The Costa Rica Tourist Board ( https://www.visitcostarica.com/en ) and the Costa Rica’s Ornithologist Association (https://www.avesdecostarica.org) recognize several hotspots for Costa Rica birding. Tours can be arranged to stay at core sites—the best lodges and locations for birdwatching in four provinces. You can select a tour according to your target birds, available time or preferred ecosystem.
Some of Costa Rica’s most popular birds are toucans, scarlet macaws, motmots, and the quetzal. And fortunately for those interested in birding Costa Rica, they can all be found in relative close proximity. Here’s a few locations to see them:
The bird aviary at Diamante Eco Adventure Park In Guanacaste (https://diamanteecoadventurepark.com/ ) is a wonderful chance to have an up-close, interactive experience with toucans. The privately owned park is home to wild birds and more. Enjoy the opportunity to take pictures with rainbow-beaked toucans perched on your arm. You may even get a chance to feed them! While you are at Diamante Eco Adventure Park spend time in the Butterfly Garden where you can stand just inches from the feeders and have many different species of butterflies buzz your head.
Scarlet macaws are easy to spot at the Carara National Park, home to the largest remaining wild populations in Central America. Unlike humans, scarlet macaws mate for life. They can be seen flying together in pairs or in a flock. They are easy to spot because of their striking plumage in vibrate primary colors, but also because they are always squawking to one another. Wild macaws can reach 40-50 years of age—75 years in captivity–but often do not live much longer than their mate.
Motmots live in many areas of the country. In Guanacaste it is very easy to spot them and it is always a treat to catch a glimpse of the turquoise and emerald motmot with its “Q-tip” tail!
If you are serious about spotting the elusive quetzal, visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest during April’s mating season. Sightings are relatively rare, but you will be rewarded with the sight of a creature that has been revered for centuries for their brilliant emerald, red, and white feathers. If you are not fortunate enough to see a quetzal, don’t dismay! Your trip will not be wasted. Monteverde is estimated to be the home of upwards of 400 different bird species.
So, grab your binoculars and try birding Costa Rica. Come search with us for Costa Rica’s jewels of the jungle!