Costa Rica is a bird watchers paradise, and with good cause! As the bridge connecting the Americas, it is home to a striking variety of tropical birds. 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. 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
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 Monteverde: Resplendent 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
Carara National Park
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.
Must-See Bird of Carara: Scarlet Macaw
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.
La Selva Biological Station
If you’re looking to check as many species as possible off your list, then La Selva Biological Station 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+ bird 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 staying at 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.
Rancho Naturalista is a lodge in the central highlands of Costa Rica centered around birding. Over 450 species of birds can be found on their private reserve and in the local area. Before sunrise, bananas are set out on feeders for the birds. Collared Aracaris, Chachalacas, and sometimes even the Rufous Motmot can be found just sitting from the lodge balcony. A short trail on the property leads to several natural pools where hummingbirds come to bathe in the afternoons. The lodge also offers several birding tours in the surrounding area in a variety of habitats. Visit the Dota Highlands to see the Resplendent Queztal or Tapanti National Park to look for tangers, barbet, and the Ornate Hawk-eagle.
Birding Tours from Rancho Naturalista:
- Quetzal’s Paradise
- Tapanti National Park
- Cerro Silencio
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 Bird of Santa Juana: 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!
Manuel Antonio National Park
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! Scarlet Macaws and the Motmot pictured above can be found in Manuel Antonio National Park.
Manuel Antonio Birding Tours:
- Manuel Antonio National Park Hike
- Santa Juana Bird Watching (Also available from Santa Juana Lodge)
Peace Lodge at La Paz Waterfall Gardens
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.
Must-See: the La Paz Aviary for Toucans & the 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 Hummingbird Garden. Guests can stand just inches from a feeder without startling the birds – making this a favorite for photographers. Arrive before 9:00 am or stay past 4:00 pm for a chance to feed these flying jewels with the Peace Lodge’s specially-designed hand-feeder.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens Birding Tours:
- Peace Lodge Private Bird Watching Tour
The Osa Peninsula is home to some of the most remote, undisturbed rainforests in the world. You don’t necessarily need to be in Corcovado National Park to see birds down here! The place is literally crawling with wildlife. Over 350 bird species inhabit the peninsula. A look out over the rainforest canopy from your eco lodge or on an early morning birding hike will reveal some of the unique, exotic birds that live here. The vibrant Scarlet Macaw can be frequently seen traveling in pairs. Swampy mangrove inlets are home to a variety of water birds.
Osa Peninsula Birding Tours:
- Early Bird Tour at Lapa Rios Ecolodge
Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge
For aquatic bird species, explore Rio Frio and Cano Negro Lake within Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge. You can book a day tour from the Arenal/La Fortuna area. The wildlife refuge is home to a variety of species including roseate spoonbills, storks, egrets, and herons. Wildlife is most abundant during green season when the regional waters swell.
Palo Verde National Park
Take a boat tour through the Palo Verde National Park wetlands fed by the Tempisque River. In addition to the monkeys, crocodiles, and other marshland wildlife that can be found there, Palo Verde is a fantastic birding destination. The dry, sparse landscape of Palo Verde makes it easier to spot wildlife than in the rich vegetated regions of Southern Costa Rica. Aquatic birds like the Jaribu, tiger heron, and white hibis.
More Costa Rica Birding Tours
- Early Birds Arenal Hanging Bridges Hike
- Guanacaste Early Birds Tour with Jacamar
- Hacienda Baru Bird Watching
- Juan Castro Blanco National Park Tour (cloud forest near Poas Volcano)
Related Article: Big Five Animals of Costa Rica