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Rare Birds in Costa Rica- 12 of the Least Known Species

There’s a lot of birds in Costa Rica. More than 900 species on the official list of birds for Costa Rica. It’s a heck of a lot and I’m sure we’ll get a few more! In Costa Rica, as our great luck would have it, most of the resident birds are accessible. Factor in good infrastructure in a rather small area and Costa Rica becomes a wonderfully easy nation to see a huge number of bird species in a short amount of time.

However, as with birding locale, the birding isn’t always easy, not every species is as common as a Blue-gray Tanager. Many birds are rare, some naturally so, others because of habitat destruction, and others for reasons unknown. The following are a dozen of the least known birds in Costa Rica, rare species that can be a huge challenge (or nearly impossible) to see in this birdy country. It’s ok to have these species on your target list but you may need to curb your birding enthusiasm.

Masked Duck

Masked-Duck

Based on how little this bird enjoys being seen, the mask it wears is either one of shame or a reminder of its anti-social behavior. This duck might not be endangered and it is recorded on an annual basis but not as often as one would like. Visit seemingly nice habitat for the bird and it’s either hiding or just not there. We don’t know what it does and that’s the problem. Given its penchant for seasonal wetlands, Masked Duck in Costa Rica might be nomadic but if so, where does it go? Where does it host its off-season skulking parties?

Believe me, I wish we knew. I have some suspicions but no easy answers. What I do know is that the best spot for it is in wetlands near Ciudad Neily from August to November. The Cano Negro area is another good area to look for it as well as any shallow, marshy wetland.

Violaceous Quail-Dove

One of those wide-ranging, uncommon and spotty birds. Like the Masked Duck, this bird may also be somewhat nomadic, at least in the sense of moving around in search of some sort of suitable, not very obvious microhabitat. I suspect it uses some form of advanced or viney second growth within mature forest but who knows?

Although this dove is never common nor expected in Costa Rica, it does seem to be slightly easier to find around Rincon de la Vieja and in wetter forests of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Pheasant Cuckoo

One of the number one ghost birds of Costa Rica. Given the paucity of records, this cuckoo species surely has a very small population, especially compared to ther places. Too much competition with other species? Not enough nest hosts? Who knows what the reasons are but suffice to say, the ideal ecological situation for this species does not take place in Costa Rica. When birding Costa Rica, don’t expect to find it, even if you do look for it in the southern Nicoya and southern Costa Rica.

Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo

birding Costa Rica

Over the past few years, thanks to more birders looking for the ground-cuckoo, we know a bit more about where this bird lives and how to find it. It almost got left off this list. However, the cuckoo is still a decidedly rare, little known species. How many live in in a given area? What do they need? Do they still occur in lowland forest sites? Answers to these questions are lacking.

Oilbird

One of the most intriguing species on this list and not just because of its nocturnal habits. We don’t know where the Oilbirds in Costa Rica come from, we only know that they are most frequent during the wet season. There’s a fair chance some live in caves in southern Costa Rica. If so, hopefully those specual grottos can be located so the population can be assessed and safeguarded.

Crested Eagle

Oooh, one of the top prize birds in Costa Rica. A big rare and spectacular eagle. I have seen it a grand total of two times..in Tambopata, Peru. Is it still extant? We can only hope that some still occur in remote rainforests, especially in the Caribbean slope foothills, in or near Tortuguero, the Las Tablas area, and forests of the Osa and Golfo Dulce.

Harpy Eagle

Another elusive prize, this one probably the grand prize of Costa Rica birding. Unfortunately, we don’t know where it occurs, nor if it even still nests in Costa Rica. If so, the population is surely miniscule. I wouldn’t look for it on the Osa either, the last time one was documented in those forests was in 2006. Better chances are to be had in remote forests in northeastern Costa Rica, Tortuguero, and in the Caribbean slope of the Talamancas. The most recent documented sighting of a Harpy Eagle in Costa Rica was in 2017 in very little birded rainforests north of Rincon de la Vieja.

Perhaps be reintroduced to Corcovado National Park?

Solitary Eagle

This third of the largest eagles in Costa Rica is likewise missing in action. On account of frequent confusion with Great Black-Hawk, many past sightings are in doubt. If the species does still occur in Costa Rica, it probably lives in remote parts of the Talamancas, deep in Braulio Carrillo National Park, or in foresrs of the northern volcanoes.

Red-fronted Parrotlet

Unlike the big eagles, this species is recorded and on a regular basis. However, it seems sporadic, makes altitudinal migrations, and very little is known about its natural history. All of these factors make it a challenge to find. Look for the bird long enough in middle elevation and foothill forest and you may eventually find this unpredictable bird. I usually hear them in flight.

Speckled Mourner

This odd species hasn’t been recorded in Costa Rica for some time. Hopefully, it still occurs! If still extant, it must have a very small population. The best places to search for it may be flat areas along streams in the largest areas of mature lowland and foothill rainforest. My sole sighting for Costa Rica was in a large mixed flock near El Tapir in 2000.

Gray-headed Piprites

Luckily, we do know that this species is present and not overly rare in forests near Rancho Naturalista and El Copal. It should occur in other places too but where? It might be another of those bird species that requires some habitat mosaic of mature forest and older second growth, or perhaps such habitat combined with the presence of a healthy community of flocking understory species. Whatever the case, it’s not an easy bird to see.

Slaty Finch

Like the quail-dove, this is another bird infrequently seen in a large range. It may be tied to bamboo seeding events; at least that seems to be when it sings more often. In the meantime, what do they do, where do they go? The birds are out there somewhere, perhaps moving around in search of bamboo seeds.

Some of the other rare and little known resident species of Costa Rica include Rufous Nightjar, Lanceolated Monklet, Great Jacamar, Lovely Cotinga, and Botteri’s Sparrow. With some effort, they can be seen but only if you know how to look for them in the right places. The Costa Rica bird finding guide, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica has information for finding these and all bird species in Costa Rica. Get this 700 plus page ebook to support this blog and prepare for your trip. Costa Rica is closer than you think!

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