Costa Rica Birding – Hotspots & Tips
You don’t have to be a birding enthusiast to appreciate the nearly 900 species of avifauna that reside in this biodiverse country. That first glimpse of a rainbow-colored tanager warbling its sweet song or an iridescent resplendent quetzal feeding on its favorite fruit can bring out the “bird nerd” in all of us. Whether exploring the misty cloud forests of the Cerro de la Muerte or trekking through hot and humid lowland jungle, you’re guaranteed to see and hear several of Costa Rica’s dazzling feathered friends.
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Costa Rica home to 850+ species of birds
One of the most sought after destinations among avid birders, Costa Rica boasts more than 50 kinds of hummingbirds, in addition to scarlet macaws, toucans, umbrella birds, great curassows, green parrots, spoonbills, herons, eagles and tanagers. Perhaps one of the most prized residents – and most elusive – is the resplendent quetzal, a species famous for its ruby red breast and bright emerald green plumage. Typical of the bird world, the female quetzal isn’t quite as striking in terms of coloration as her mate, but regardless, both are amazing to behold with their long, streamer tails (that can reach up to 3 feet long!) and stunning colors.
Resplendent quetzals deemed scared by ancient civilizations
Today’s eco-travelers aren’t the only ones who revere the resplendent quetzal; both the Aztec and Maya civilizations thought the bird to be sacred, owing to its inability to live in captivity and eye-catching coloration. The divine bird was known as the “god of the air” and a symbol of lightness and good. The largest member of the trogon family, the quetzal ranges from Mexico through Panama, and in Costa Rica can be observed in several hotspots including Los Quetzales National Park, which straddles San Gerardo de Dota in the nation’s cool interior highlands. Wild avocado fruits known as aguatillo are the preferred diet of the quetzal, which is most easily spotted from December through May. In the Monteverde region, March and June are the best times to visit, as they correspond to the quetzal mating season.
Tips for photographing our feathered friends
While seasoned birders are known for having top-of-the-line SLR cameras with macro and zoom lenses, a hand-held digital camera (like a Sony Cybershot) can work wonders when used through a spotting scope – a piece of equipment commonly carried by professional guides. Once your guide has located, identified and focused in on the subject, your point-and-shoot can capture an excellent close-up through the scope.
Best places for high-altitude birding
Your best chances for seeing resplendent quetzals, motmots, red-capped manikins, tanagers, toucanets, hummingbirds and other high-altitude species are in these protected areas and National Parks:
- Los Quetzales National Park (the Cerro de la Muerte)
- Braulio Carillo National Park
- Chirripo National Park
- Los Angeles Cloud Forest Reserve (just north of San Ramon)
- Poas Volcano National Park
- Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve