There are many amazing creatures to see in Costa Rica, including adorable monkeys, lazy sloths and colorful frogs, but the Costa Rica birds will make your vacation!
Colorful, active and musical. Costa Rica birds are spellbinding and mystical. Even if you’re not interested in birdwatching, Costa Rica will make you a temporary enthusiast.
3 Reasons you should visit Costa Rica for the birds:
1). Costa Rica birds are easy to spot
Unlike sloths and monkeys, Costa Rica birds are absolutley everywhere. Even a lazy birdwatcher will stumble across dozens of buzzing, beautiful hummingbirds in Monteverde National Park. If you’re a little more adventurous, I suggest hiring an English speaking guide while visiting Monteverde to seek out the famous Resplendent Quetzal. Guides are absolutely worth the extra money. Without one, you may never see a single animal.
2). Brilliant coloring and unique feathers
The male Quetzal is the arguably the most famous (and sought after) bird in Costa Rica due to it’s long tail feathers and magnificent coloring. Also, the male Quetzal has a fohawk, so it’s a bad a$$! You’re likely to see one at Monteverde National Park as they nest there.
My favorite Costa Rica bird is the Motmot, which has distinctive tail feathers with two barbs sticking out at the end.
3). Other-worldly bird calls
“What the heck was that sound?” The birds in Costa Rica sing the most surprising calls, some of them lasting for 15 seconds or more.
My favorite bird call was easily that of the prehistoric-like Montezuma Oropendola. This bird has some lungs! The Oropendola belts out his bird call so dramatically, he almost topples over.
Top Birdwatching Locations in Costa Rica
I had a lot of luck in the following birdwatching locations during May, but please note I have only visited the northwest region of Costa Rica.
As a general rule, the best time to view wildlife is early in the morning. Keep your eyes on clearings in the forest. Most of the time, you’ll hear the birds before you see them!
Monteverde is one of the best places to spot the highly sought after Quetzal. My guide was able to spot two right away: a male and a female. If you love hummingbirds, they have a fantastic feeding area at the entrance. Dozens of bird varieties can be seen in the park, such as Emerald Toucanets, Tanagers, and Thrush.
While Palo Verde National Park is also an excellent place to spot a multiple monkey species, the marshy terrain is one of the best places to see birds in the dry Nicoya Peninsula.
La Fortuna / Arenal
If you’re a motmot fan (like me) I suggest visiting Hanging Bridges in La Fortuna. I spotted several motmots, among other birds, and the hike through the bridges is fantastically fun.
Lake Arenal is a birdwatcher’s paradise! We spotted Chestnut-Mandibled, Great Egrets, Turkey Vultures, Grey Hawks, Tanagers, Thrush, Great Currassow, and many Aracari while driving around the lake.
Word of warning, you may not be able to drive all the way around the lake in wet season! Parts of the road is gravel with a few precarious bridges. It’s prone to flooding. I had to turn around when the water became too high, but the trip back was spectacular for wildlife viewing.
Quick Tips for spotting Costa Rica birds
- Hire a guide. I can’t recommend it enough. Guides WILL spot birds (and other wildlife) that you never knew was there. Plus, hiring a guide is relatively cheap (usually $20 per person).
- Download this Bird Watching App on your smart phone. The Costa Rica Field Guide was my birdwatching bible in Costa Rica. I identified birds using the app’s images and bird calls. It’s worth $14.99 and works offline.
- Stay at an Ecolodge. First of all, Ecolodges are super cool and economical in Costa Rica, especially if want to get out of the resort mentality. Second, ask the local owners for the best Costa Rica bird watching spots. They will point you in the right direction and, if you’re lucky, they might even take you themselves!
- Bring the right equipment. If you really want to see the Costa Rica birds close up, binoculars are super important. You can rent them at most National Parks in Costa Rica, but you’ll end up spending a lot of money. Bring your own binoculars. I recommend Steiner Safari 8×22 binoculars, they are ultra sharp and compact. A scope is great tool as well, we used the Alpen’s Waterproof 15-45×60 scope because it’s wonderful and affordable. My friends thought I was a super-nerd for hiking with my scope, but soon enough they were asking to borrow it. Who’s laughing now??! If you have photography equipment suitable for capturing birds, by all means, bring that as well.
- Don’t forget rain gear. It’s not fun to trek through a rainforest without the proper clothing and rain covers for your equipment. Come prepared to get wet, but don’t let it ruin your birdwatching adventure.
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