Costa Rica is a bird watchers paradise, and with good cause! Few places in the world can boast of having so many bird different species. Over 850 have been identified – more than the United States and Canada combined!
Keep in mind, this is all in an area roughly the size of West Virginia. Costa Rica has 12 of the planet’s 18 different life zones, providing a huge range of climates. Factor in the volcanoes and rolling hills of the country, and different altitudes just add to the species variety! Popular birds of Costa Rica include toucans, scarlet macaws, motmots, and the shy and beautiful Quetzal. Up to 150 different species have been reported seen in a single day.
Top Costa Rica Birding Destinations
From the dry tropics of the Nicoya Peninsula to the humid lowlands of the Caribbean Coast, the incredible array of habitats and micro-systems creates nearly endless bird watching opportunities in Costa Rica.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Birding
In 2007, Costa Ricans named the Monteverde Cloud Forest one of the 7 natural wonders of their country. Thanks to its unique location, the Reserve consists of different ecological zones, 90% of which are untouched forest. The cloud cover that hovers around the forest’s canopy creates a near-unique environment. Many of the plants and animals that are seen in the cloud forest cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Besides containing the most orchid species in a single place, Monteverde is estimated to be the home of upwards of 400 different bird species – and an early morning birding tour is the perfect opportunity to see how many you can spot!
Must-See Bird of the Cloud Forest: the Quetzal.
During your next visit to the cloud forest, be on the lookout for the rare Resplendent Quetzal, unique to the cloud forests of Central America. Among some Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures, including the Aztecs and the Maya, Quetzals were thought to have a connection to the divine, and their brilliantly bright feathers were a favorite ornament. Consider yourself very lucky if you have the opportunity to spot just one Quetzal during your stay. We suggest traveling in the mating season, April, if you are serious Quetzal enthusiasts.
Monteverde Birding Tours:
- Monteverde Reserve Hike
- Santa Elena Reserve Hike
- Vida Silvestre Refuge Bird Watching
Manuel Antonio Birding
Another great birding destination is Manuel Antonio National Park. While small, it has unrivaled amounts of biodiversity and in 2011 was listed in Forbes as one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Thanks to its popularity, Manuel Antonio is easy to get to and the surrounding area contains a wide variety of services. The park’s location means it contains mountains, rainforest, and beaches – everything you need for a great vacation!
Manuel Antonio Birding Tours:
- Manuel Antonio National Park Hike
- Santa Juana Bird Watching (Also available from Santa Juana Lodge)
La Selva Biological Station
If you’re looking to check as many species as possible off your list, then La Selva is the place to go. The actual La Selva protection area is over 1500 hectares, and the station is host to nearly 300 scientists and students annually. La Selva’s prime location, as well as the extensive laboratory facilities, make it internationally-recognized as one of the best destinations in the world to study tropical rainforest ecology.
The extraordinary number of birds reported in this one area rivals that of any other Central American site. More than half of the 450+ species are local, while the rest migrate through La Selva. Ease of access and an amazing visitor education center makes La Selva an amazing combination of forest reserve, research station, and eco-tourism destination.
Our Costa Rica experts suggest a visit to Selva Verde Lodge if birding or wildlife-spotting are on your to-do list. This amazing destination contains 500 acres of stunning cloud forest. Elevated wooden paths and walkways are neatly tucked into the rainforest, giving guests truly incomparable opportunities to get up close to nature! It definitely doesn’t hurt that Selva Verde Lodge is nearby a plethora of fun activities – from horseback riding to whitewater rafting, even the non-bird-lovers in your group will adore this destination.
Carara National Park Birding
A variety of bird species can be found within Carara National Park on the Central Pacific Coast. This park has an array of bird and animal species, and is a favorite for bird-watchers. While the number seen might not compare to other locations, Carara’s location in a slightly drier area of the country means the rainforest is more open with fewer evergreens, making wildlife-spotting easier.
One of the most popular birds to see in the park is the colorful Scarlet Macaw. The Scarlet Macaw is the largest member on the parrot family, and is popular among birdwatchers in these areas. While once they called much of Central America home, now Carara National Park contains one of the largest remaining wild populations. Like humans, scarlet macaws mate for life. They can be seen flying together in pairs or in a larger flock. Wild macaws can reach 40-50 years of age, in captivity extending up 75 years, but often not much longer than their mate.
Santa Juana Birding
Where the Central and Southern Pacific regions of Costa Rica meet, birders will definitely find something to delight! Our travel Experts are adoring the new Santa Juana Lodge. Not only are bird-lovers luckily placed in a major migration route, but the nearby Talamanca Mountain range also contributes a variety of unique species to be spotted – from both the foothills and from the higher elevations. During migration season, a day of bird-watching can result in 250+ species checked off your to-see list! Don’t be surprised if you’re from the USA or Canada and spot some home-like feathered friends – this migration corridor is one of their favorites, and they stand out among the brilliantly-colored tropical birds.
Must-See Santa Juana Bird: The Red-Capped Manakin
The red-capped manakin is definitely one of the birds you’ll want to keep an eye out for. These intriguing and curious little fruit-eaters are extremely common during January and February. The name may sound like a joke, but once you see these little guys doing their mating dance, you’ll understand why they’re locally known as the “Michael Jackson bird”! The handsome males, a satiny black with a vibrantly-red head, do a high-speed version of the moonwalk as their mating dance, sliding along thin branches. When several of these birds start sliding, it’s like watching a moonwalk competition!
Peace Lodge in La Paz
Peace Lodge is a must-see destination for any nature-minded traveler. The La Paz Waterfall Gardens at Peace Lodge is one of the most-visited ecological destinations in Costa Rica. There are few places in the country that manage to combine as many experiences as Peace Lodge has – including extensive hiking and amazing waterfalls.
For birders, this area has an added significance – beside the birds that fly in the aviary and visit the hummingbird garden, Peace Lodge is also in a migration corridor that is used by hundreds of species as they head north or south in search of fruit-bearing trees.
Don’t Miss: La Paz Aviary & Hummingbird Garden
Bird-watchers who visit the aviary at Peace Lodge will discover a variety of feathered friends. The refuge is primarily home to wild birds that were illegally caught by hunters and then confiscated by the government, as well as pets that have been donated. Visit the toucan exhibit for an up-close-and-personal look at these brightly-colored beauties. Peace Lodge’s toucans are favorites for photo-ops, and won’t hesitate to take food by hand!
For even more excitement, don’t miss out on the lodge’s Hummingbird Garden! 26 different species have been spotted at the garden. Guests can stand just inches from a feeder without startling the birds – making this a favorite for photographers. Arrive before 9:00am or stay past 4:00pm for a chance to feed these flying jewels with the Peace Lodge’s specially-designed hand-feeder.
More Costa Rica Birding Tours
- Early Birds Arenal Hanging Bridges Hike
- Peace Lodge Private Bird Watching Tour
- Guanacaste Early Birds Tour with Jacamar
- Osa Peninsula Bird Watching
- Hacienda Baru Bird Watching
- La Selva Biological Station
- Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge
- Juan Castro Blanco National Park Tour (cloud forest near Poas Volcano)
Related Article: Big Five Animals of Costa Rica