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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica raptors

Cool Falcons in Costa Rica

Falcons rank pretty high up there on the “cool bird” scale. They get automatic “cool” points (aka “epic”, “sweet”, “boss”, or even “swell” depending on your formative years) for being raptors, fly super fast, and many sport an avian moustache. I mean, can you get any cooler than that? Well, as with many things avian, you sure can! Take the Peregrine Falcon for instance. Some populations of this record holding famous falcon species casually fly south from their rookeries on Baffin Island to…coastal Chile. The falcon is so fantastically endowed with amazing flight capabilities that it flies over open water on purpose (!) to pick off and feed upon migrants (sorry lost warblers, shorebirds, and other unlucky birds- falcons gotta eat to).

Peregrines are a regular sight as they fly through and winter in Costa Rica. During migration, it’s especially easy to see many a Peregrine on the Caribbean coast but they can show up just about anywhere. A couple weeks ago, while being entertained by a soaring Black Hawk Eagle at El Tapir, a Peregrine appeared out of the blue and drove it away! The eagle barely had a chance to call before it left the scene. I guess that particular Peregrine likes hanging out in a hilly rainforest.

Merlins and American Kestrels also show up in Costa Rica but they are outnumbered by that masked connoisseur of serpents, the Laughing Falcon.

birding Costa Rica

The Laughing Falcon is crazy about snakes and eats nothing else.

So, if the Laughing Falcon is so sweet on serpents, why not call it the “Snake Falcon” or “Serpent Falcon”? Those names were rejected because this bird also loves to laugh. It’ local name in Costa Rica and many other places is “Guaco” and this is a fair description of the sound it makes when calling (or laughing). Pairs often call together and the result is a hysterical sounding bunch of mid-toned guffaws that echoes through the tropical forests they inhabit. Thankfully, this entertaining bird is pretty common in Costa Rica (and many places in the neotropics). For example, I saw and heard 4 or five this past weekend while guiding in and around Carara National Park.

The Bat Falcon is of course another amazingly cool bird. Here we have a Falco falcon species falcon is all of its hooded splendor, long pointed wings, and fast flight. It’s kind of colorful, and yes, it catches bats! If you want to see one of these speedy little raptors catch a bat for dinner, go on a boat tour at Laguna del Lagarto and ask to see a Bat Falcon catch a bat. Just do it and see what happens.

birding Costa Rica

The Bat Falcon also catches small birds like parakeets, tanagers, and whatever else makes the mistake of flying across a river or pasture that it’s keeping an eye on. Overall, it uses pretty similar hunting techniques as the Merlin although it’s not as feisty.

In the neotropics, some falcons gave up their fast-flying ways to adapt to niches filled by Black Kites over on the other side of the Atlantic. The caracaras flap along on floppy wings and scream as they search for carrion and small creatures that look catchable. Both Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras patrol highways in lowland Costa Rica to look for roadkill much in the same way as Northern Ravens do in (where else but) the north. In fact, they also have vaguely similar dimensions.

birding Costa Rica

Deforestation has made the Northern Crested Caracara a common sight when birding Costa Rica.

birding Costa Rica

Ditto for the slightly smaller Yellow-headed Caracara.

And then there are the forest-falcons. Now these reclusive birds might even be cooler than the Falco species BUT they hate the limelight. These jungle dwellers rarely come out into the open, are most active in the half light of dawn and dusk, don’t soar, and love to sneak around dense tangles and the understory. Come to think of it, with those traits, they kind of seem like avian vampires. Like other dimensional wraiths, they are also tough to see but at least they frequently vocalize with haunting barks and laughing sounds (also like other-dimensional wraiths). Watch an antswarm long enough and one might show up (to mesmerize you with its captivating,stare of course…).

birding Costa Rica

Collared Forest Falcon– the avian Nosferatu of the neotropics.

Costa Rica also has its set of rare falcons and I of course lack photos for them. Aplomado Falcon seems to show up once or twice a year; probably wandering migrant birds. The wacky Red-throated Caracara used to be common before too much forest got turned into pasture. Nowadays, it’s only regular in the heart of Corcovado National Park. Orange-breasted Falcon may have been a former rare resident in the country but it could still show up as a vagrant. This would most likely be near the Panamanian border in the southeast (where hardly anyone birds) because it occurs only 250 kilometers away in the Panamanian province of Veraguas.

Costa Rica also has an honorary falcon. However, given its small size, the Pearl Kite could also be an honorary swallow, shrike, or kingbird. It kind of looks like an amalgamation of all three when seen in flight.


The cool and cute Pearl Kite.

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