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The El Tapir Hummingbird Hotspot has Been Destroyed

Update about El Tapir- Since I wrote this post, happily, the Porterweed bushes have grown back and the place is still great for Snowcap and other hummingbird species. When I wrote this. it didn’t seem likely because every bit of green in the garden looked herbicided, brown, and dead. Current entrance fee is $12 and also includes use of the trails. The forest is excellent foothill birding but be careful about the high number of small ticks on the trails.

El Tapir was this fantastic birding site in Costa Rica that mysteriously became defunct about ten years ago. Situated a few kilometers after Quebrada Gonzalez along the highway that connects San Jose and Limon, it provided access to foothill forests that buffer Braulio Carrillo National Park. There were a couple of trails into this beautiful, mossy habitat, one of which led to a stream where you could see Sunbittern and Fasciated Tiger-Heron.

On the way to the stream, there were amazing mixed flocks, Dull-mantled Antbird, and all the other foothill specialties. I also saw my best antswarm in Costa Rica along that trail- although the ground-cuckoo and Black-crowned Antpittas had apparently taken the day off or were competing with each other in a skulking contest,┬á everything else was there. By everything, I mean Barred Forest-Falcon, Rufous Motmot, Striped Woodhaunter, Song Wren, Northern Barred and Plain-brown Woodcreepers, and those stars of the show: Bicolored Antbird, Spotted Antbird, Ocellated Antbird, and the fastidiously clean Immaculate Antbird. At one time, this latter species was known as Zeledon’s Antbird. That’s the name I learned in the decades old Irby Davis field guide for Central America and I kind of wish that name would come back because it has such a ring to it- rather like the name of a rapper or a a foe of Conan the Barbarian.

“Who’s that imposing, musclebound, hooded guy with the blue paint around his eyes?” asks one of Conan’s temporary sidekicks.

To which Conan replied, “Crom! That be my foe ZELEDON! The prophets say that one day a feathered one that follows army ants will be named after him.”

“Huh?!” (it was some centuries or ages before the idea of birding for fun was invented)

“Oh never mind. The prophets are always spouting nonsense anyways- saying things like one day people will watch birds through magic eye pieces. If I weren’t a barbarian, I would laugh in a hearty, good-natured manner at such a silly idea instead of doing my usual hoarse, hacking guffaws heavy with the effects of mead. Enough! Time to challenge ZELEDON!….”

Anyways, El Tapir was one of the best birding sites in Costa Rica and it probably still is but the nets of the butterfly garden have fallen into mold-patched disarray, the buildings are empty and probably home to hordes of scorpions, and the trails probably aren’t trails anymore. Cabins were also being built but were never completed. If they would have been finished, I tell you this would have ranked among the best accommodations for birding in Costa Rica. I have no idea what happened but suspect that it had something to do with that evil and insane affliction of governments called bureaucracy or that the money ran out.

So the El Tapir began to resemble some haunted place in the tropics that had started out as a bastion of hope and sunshine until the decay of the jungle slowly worked its natural, nefarious magic via the vectors of disease, itchy fungus, and eventual madness until the survivors ran for their lives…BUT the bold and courageous hummingbirds carried on (well, they were always there but someone has to play the hero in this story and because barbarians aren’t allowed to be heroes, hummingbirds are the chosen ones)!

Formerly trimmed patches of Porterweed exploded with flowers and took over the abandoned gardens and grounds. For hummingbirds, this was nothing short of trick or treating in rich neighborhoods while Halloween just repeats itself day after day after day.

Green Thorntail birding Costa Rica

Green Thorntails buzzed around like a swarm of bees.

Snowcap birding Costa Rica

Snowcaps set up shop.

Violet-headed Hummingbird birding Costa Rica

Violet-headed Hummingbirds moved into the neighborhood.

The place became a veritable supermarket for the Colibridae, a metropolis for small nectar feeding creatures, and a jackpot for hundreds of birders who have popped in to get their lifer Snowcap or take photos.

HOWEVER, all of that changed sometime during the past two weeks.

During a day of birding Quebrada Gonzalez with Michael Retter and Alan Knue (they were down in Costa Rica for two weeks of scouting out bird sites for tours and getting Talamancan lifers), we scooted over to El Tapir to get more looks at Snowcaps (you can never get enough of that bird) and maybe glimpse a Black-crested Coquette when we came upon a strange sight.

The overgrown hummingbird hotspot looked oddly clear and upon closer examination, all of the Porterweed bushes appeared to be dying! Aside from a Green Hermit that happily zipped around from heliconia to heliconia, there were no other hummingbirds! It was a good thing that Michael and Alan had seen loads of Snowcaps two weeks before because on Saturday, there was almost nothing. Nary a Snowcap. Not even a Rufous-tailed. None. Nada. Zilch.

We could only surmise that whomever was taking care of the place had finally decided to eliminate the flowering bushes that were so delectable to dozens of hummingbirds. The hummingbirds will hopefully find food elsewhere but birders hoping for a quick and easy Snowcap at El Tapir will from now on be out of luck.

13 replies on “The El Tapir Hummingbird Hotspot has Been Destroyed”

Wow… what a disappointment! maybe some avian-minded soul will dash in and save the day! we were there in ’08 and just after we hopped out of the van were greeted with excellent views of snowcap!


what a neat place! we didn’t get a chance to do the trails, but spent quite a bit of time playing hide n seek w/ hummers for an hour or so.

just plain sad,

gerald d

I sure hope some bird-friendly person comes to El Tapir’s rescue. I have seen a lot of good stuff there in the past (all three Hawk-Eagles, Sharpbill, Umbrellabird, Gray-headed Piprites, etc.). Thanks for the link to your trip report- excellent images!

thanks pat for the kind words, just a shoot from the hipster, really, trying to capture a few memories!


A friend and I accompanied Kevin Martinez to this site last May. I knew Snowcap was possible, but wasn’t prepared for the ease with which it was found! It was a thoroughly enjoyable (albeit brief) visit, and I was looking forward to spending more time there early in 2011. I had virtually guaranteed that my fellow birder on that trip would see Snowcap. Such presumption! Will probably stop anyway, but without the confidence.

Yes, it was a fantastic site for the small hummingbird species. I hope to check on the status of the site soon and will post about it.

Any update on the status of El Tapir? I will be in Costa Rica in March 2011 and was going to stop at El Tapir for Snowcap.

@Steve- Yes, although there are fewer flowering Porterweed bushes that can be seen from the road, there are still enough past the gate at El Tapir to attract hummingbirds, including Snowcap. There are fewer hummingbirds overall but on a recent afternoon visit of about an hour, we had one or two Violet-crowned Woodnymphs, one female Green Thorntail, a few Rufous-taileds, one or two Violet-headed Hummingbirds, and one Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer. Although we didn’t see Snowcap, they should show up. Black-crested Coquette is also very possible. I also got the scoop on visiting the place. There is a $5 fee for entering to watch the bushes and walk the trails (!). Sometimes there is someone there to take money, sometimes not. I don’t think that the trails have been maintained for some time but I hope to check on their status sometime soon as they used to be excellent for foothill forest birding. There isn’t any way to make reservations yet or know when someone will be there to let you in- will be looking into that as well.

Thanks for the quick reply. Looks like I’ll be stopping at El Tapir for an hour or so on my last day of birding.

@Michael- Happily, the place recovered rather quickly after what appeared to be a devastating application of herbicide. When I drove by the other day, the garden looked normal and should be good for several hummingbirds as well as other species.

Hello! Although this is an old post, I’m curious to know what the current state of this place is? Is it still open? I haven’t been able to find any recent info on the web. ­čÖü


@Melissa- Yes, seems to still be open although the caretaker is not there all the time.

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