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Birding Costa Rica planning for a birding trip to Costa Rica

Birding in Costa Rica = High Value Birding

All birding has value. Watching a Downy Woodpecker hitch its way up a backyard oak. Relaxing to the lazy serenades of Cedar Waxwings. It’s all good and it’s all appreciated. Connection with birds is connection with nature, and the experience is priceless.

And yet, most of us see far more woodpeckers than the shadow of a Gyrfalcon. Lots of birds are much easier to see than others, and to see most species, you gotta buy some plane tickets.

Emerald Tanager- yeah, you’ll need a plane ride or some adventurous travel for this beauty.

Species that are rare or very difficult to see also require far more investment than others. DYI a Swainson’s Warbler and you’ll probably be in for some mosquito bites, could end up spending hours before you glimpse one.

In Costa Rica, it’ll probably cost more to see a Black-crowned Antpitta. They don’t sing as much as those canebrake birds, are rarer, and tend to revel in the art of hiding. It can take days to see one, even in places where they are known to occur!

Pittasomas are avian royalty but luckily, Costa Rica has a lot of other birds too. Like literally hundreds. Costa Rica is some high value birding indeed. Here’s why:

More Bird Species in a Small Area

The country really is one giant hotspot. I’m not kidding. I mean I can go for a walk in an urban area plagued with morning traffic and still see Crimson-fronted Parakeets and White-fronted Parrots fly overhead, hear the laughter of a Lineated Woodpecker, and watch Blue-gray Tanagers in the palms.

I might also see a Short-tailed Hawk kite over the neighborhood, smile at a wintering Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and note 30 other bird species. It’s pretty nice and yet compared to the cloud-forest topped mountains visible during my walk, it’s ranks somewhat lower on the ladder of excitement!

Up there, only an hour’s drive away, quetzals call, and Flame-throated Warblers brighten mixed flocks replete with regional endemics. Between here and there, more than a dozen hummingbird species are zipping around, and three different nightingale-thrush species sing.

Black and yellow Silky Flycatcher are up there too.

I head in the other direction, drive on down to the Pacific slope, and hundreds of other birds await. Birds like Scarlet Macaws, Double-striped Thick-Knees standing in open fields, spoonbills and egrets in the estuaries, trogons, motmots, puffbirds, and more (oh my!).

Yeah, the birding in Costa Rica really is crazy like that. The mountains give us literally hundreds of bird species within close range of each other. You don’t have to go far to see them, it’s a heck of a lot of birds for your time and expenditures (when a friend of mine and I have arranged 10 days tours, we have always seen more than 400 species).

A High Number of Endemics

Ok, but let’s say you don’t really care how many species you see. Let’s say you are more interested in the special birds, the ones only or mostly found in this little corner of the world.

Birding in Costa Rica can help you there too. Most of the birds in the mountains only live in Costa Rica and western Panama. There’s even one funny bird known as a Wrenthrush. Wren? Thrush? What?

The friendliest Zeledonia I ever knew.

Yes. Exactly. Wren or thrush or orange-coiffed weirdo, this funny little bird is so unique, it’s got its own little family thing going on! And if you know where to look, where to go birding in Costa Rica, it’s not even rare!

Head down to the Pacific and more endemics await. Throw in a few more on the Caribbean side of the mountains, and a handful of true country endemics, and there’s a lot special, local birds to look for. Maybe something like 90 special Costa Rica target species.

Easy to See Fancy Birds like Toucans, Macaws, Parrots, Curassows, and More

High value birding also takes the form of fancy birds. Dream birds. Birds you saw in books and thought, “no, that can’t be real, that’s gotta be a mistake”.

Yeah, nope, no mistake, nature is always far more amazing than we imagine, birds included. In Costa Rica, as with most tropical places, dream birds abound.

Pretty dreamy…

Toucans? Not rare! Parrots? Yeah, lots. Macaws? Two species and easy to see! Yes, you still have to know where to go and a good guide always makes the birding easier but in Costa Rica, dream birds are the norm.

Very Easy Birding Access

Another factor that adds value to birding in Costa Rica is the birding access. Yeah, for national parks, you may have to buy tickets in advance and most don’t open until eight but the access is still pretty easy.

Not to mention, there’s lots of excellent roadside birding, private reserves, and other places accessible on good roads. It’s very easy to go birding in Costa Rica, very easy to see well over one hundred species in a day.

Costa Rica is Pretty Close to the USA and Canada

This country isn’t very far either. Fly from Texas and it’s a few hours. Fly direct from New York and it’s only around six hours away! Costa Rica is much closer than you expect and is so much easier to visit than many places in the world.

Common Costa Rica Birds Include Brown Jay, Mottled Owl, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Golden-crowned Warbler…

Currently, lots of birders are seeing these species in Texas. However, they are only seeing them on guided trips at a private ranch, and they are shelling out a lot to do it.

There’s nothing wrong with that. In general, people are free to charge what they want for goods and services, and the people doing the buying decide how they want to spend their money.

Now, that said, one could argue that if they wanted to see those birds in the ABA region, then they also don’t have much of a choice. There’s a point to that but if the birds are on private property, well, what are you gonna do, that’s the deal.

However, if the deal doesn’t seem so great, you might want to consider another one. Like maybe seeing those birds somewhere else. Maybe not worrying about seeing bird species within human-contrived boundaries, but enjoying them in places where they are so common, you could even see them without a guide.

Look for those birds in Costa Rica and you’ll definitely see them. It won’t be hard either. Brown Jays and the other species are very common birds here, so common that although we do like to see them, we don’t exactly prioritize it.

Yes, as with all owls, it’s always good to see a Mottled Owl but since that’s probably our most common owl species, it’s not too hard to find one…

Think Blue Jays, Great Horned Owls, Tricolored Herons, and some common warbler. In Costa Rica birding terms, that’s pretty much what those birds are like.

So, instead of paying a hefty fee to see them in Texas, why not watch flocks of Brown Jays in Costa Rica along with bonus quetzals, 40 species of hummingbirds, dozens of tanagers, and like 300 or 400 other lifers?

Yeah, the trip would cost more and I know it’s not the same thing but I daresay that the value would be hard to beat. Paying a hefty, per person fee to see some nice birds for a day, or paying a similar per day amount to see those same birds, dozens of Red-billed Pigeons, dream birds, hundreds of other species…

Yeah, that might be a better deal.

Birding Costa Rica preparing for your trip

Birding in Costa Rica Soon? Check Out this Update!

Going birding in Costa Rica soon? I hope so! As per usual, in Costa Rica, there are an impressive number of bird species jam-packed into a small area. For the birder, that means experiencing an avian cornucopia without needing to drive for hours on end, take internal flights, or making other massive travel arrangements.

No planes, trains and autocar shuffling around here! Best of all, it also means that Costa Rica is a basic birding wonderland. If you are headed to Costa Rica, soon, you’ll be enjoying this avian goodness. I hope these updates get you ready and excited about your trip:

Windy Weather

Lately, there’s been a lot of windy weather in Costa Rica. As I write from an urban corner of Heredia, the wind is shaking roof panels and swishing through the palms.

It’s been like this for days, nights too, and in various parts of the country. That hasn’t been fun because as every birder knows, wind isn’t the best of birding conditions. The birds seek shelter, stay low, and don’t sing much. It’ll be tougher to see them but don’t worry, they are still out there!

Even beauties like this Bay-headed Tanager.

To offset wind, make sure to get out there bright and early and focus on sheltered spots. On a side note, if you are in forest and the wind picks up, get out! Don’t hesitate, head out of that forest as quick as you can.

Most tropical forests in Costa Rica are not adapted to windy conditions. Branches break, trees can fall, and you don’t want to be there. It’s not like this is some big danger while birding in Costa Rica but why risk it? Locals don’t in Tambopata, Peru. While I was working and looking for macaw nests in the Peruvian Amazon, on one occasion, the wind picked up and some branches began to fall.

Never mind Jaguars or other animals, windy weather was one of just two times when I saw a local friend become worried. With furrowed brow, he watched the canopy sway back and forth and calmy stated, “yeah, we better get out of here”. We then rushed through the jungle and jumped in the boat to reach the safety of the open river.

The other time he was concerned (but seemed less worried) was when there were big red wasps near a macaw nest. He didn’t have to warn me about them! Those wasps weren’t exactly dainty. These were hefty red creatures that carefully flew in lazy circles near their nest. He said that if they started circling wider and come close, to run like hell.

Luckily, we didn’t have to make our escape but it goes without saying to be careful around wasps in Costa Rica too.

Route 32 to Limon- Mostly Finished!

It’s been a long time coming and it’s not done yet but, yes, most of Route 32 in Costa Rica is good to go! Route 32 is the main highway that connects San Jose to Limon.

The birding oasis of Donde Cope is just off Route 32.

The mountainous part is working although occasional accidents and landslides can still temporarily shut it down. At issue is the lower part of the road. For the past four or so years, there has been major road work to widen the two lane road and turn it into a pleasant four-lane highway.

During the process, driving through and sharing that bizarre maze of construction has been a challenge. At night, it was also a living nightmare replete with frightening drop-off verges, dangerous detours, and surprise car-breaking craters.

Thankfully, it seems that most of that stressful driving is behind us. On a recent trip using 32, we were pleased to find four lanes of quick, easy-going traffic for good portions of the road.

No more massive holes and it was much faster to reach Limon! That’s not to say that the road is finished and there still are some wacky, dangerous road situations (such as obstacles that suddenly close off the left lane) but it has certainly been improved.

For the visiting birder, this means quicker driving times to and from the Limon area. However, I still wouldn’t do it at night and there are still frightening detours that swing you from one side of the road to the other.

Supposedly, the whole thing will be done by the end of 2024. We’ve heard that before so we’ll see but I was definitely liking it a week ago.

Unexpected First Raptors of 2024

Raptors in Costa Rica are around but they are far from abundant. Go to the right places and yes, you can find hawk-eagles but not always! For example, an Ornate Hawk-Eagle or two live near Cinchona. One is occasionally seen flying around there but seeing it is a hit or miss situation.

Heck, you could easily go the whole year without seeing it at Cinchona. The more likely raptor candidates when birding in Costa Rica are birds like Gray Hawk, Roadside Hawk, wintering Broad-winged Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, and Common Black-Hawk on the coast.

At least you can expect to see several of those hawks. With that in mind, in addition to those common birds, I’m pleased that 2024 has already given me two hawk-eagles, Hook-billed Kite, and King Vulture.

We lucked out with a juvenile Ornate Hawk-Eagle at Quebrada Gonzalez. While we watched a mixed flock, the young eagle freaked the small birds out by loudly calling. It also got our attention! Thankfully, someone in our group spotted the bird, it stayed put, and we enjoyed scoped, talon clutching views.

Black Hawk-Eagle appeared as they usually do; a soaring bird that called and fluttered its wings high above rainforest. We saw that bird by chance during a brief stop near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. We were on our way back from a trip to Bocas del Toro, something I can’t recommend right now, at least for visiting Isla Colon. On that island, there’s a massive construction project going on. It was a bunch of dust, noise, and heat.

The kite and King Vulture were also seen during a brief stop on our drive to the border, somewhat near Limon.

As a bonus, the only owl I’ve seen in 2024 is one of the more challenging owl species in Costa Rica. During a morning on Poas, we had great looks at a Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl! As the bird called, we were also treated to a host of hummingbirds, Black and yellow Silky-Flycatchers, chlorophonias, and other small birds that mobbed it.

A Crested Eagle was Seen…

This happened some weeks ago so it’s already old news. However, it’s worth mentioning because any sighting of this big, rare raptor is important birding news!

While birding in a forested area of Guacimo, uphill from Guapiles, a local birder lucked out with excellent views of an adult Crested Eagle. It even had prey; a partially consumed opossum species!

This sighting is momentous because it may point to a small population living in the Caribbean foothills. There have been occasional sightings of Crested Eagles from and near the Caribbean foothills for many years. Last year, one was also photographed near Pozo Azul!

However, we have no idea how many occur in Costa Rica, nor where they really live. Maybe some reside in the dense and inaccessible forests of Braulio Carrillo National Park? In any case, one was seen near Guacimo, a spot not that far from Centro Manu. Keep your birding fingers crossed!

Cinchona Update

Cinchona (aka the “Hummingbird Cafe” or the “Mirador de Catarata de San Fernando) is good as always. The usual birds have been visiting the feeders although there do seem to be fewer hummingbirds than in the past.

Recent highlights include Black Guan and Yellow-winged Tanager. Buff-fronted Quail-Dove is also still present. On a recent visit, one was even rescued from the kitchen!

The restaurant also seems to have improved administration and if you visit and don’t order something, they are charging $3. I think they should charge photographers an hourly fee whether they dine there or not but so far, it’s just $3 or a cup of coffee.

As always, I could mention more but these are the latest birdworthy items and notes that come to mind. Whether preparing for a birding trip to Costa Rica soon or at some later point, I hope this information helps. I also hope you have a birdy day and to see you here!

Birding Costa Rica planning birding trip Costa Rica Where to see birds in Costa Rica Where to Watch Birds in Costa Rica and How to See Them Book

2024- Starting Another Year of Birding in Costa Rica

It’s early January, a good time to be birding in Costa Rica! At times, windy weather can be a challenge but when the gusts calm down, the kiskadees are calling, and parakeets are flying overhead.

Birding in Costa Rica
Crimson-fronted Parakeets are pretty common.

Oh, and there isn’t any freezing weather either. None of that breaking ice off the windshield or other regular January morning chores I used to do in WNY. Here in the tropics, it’s all sun and warmth.

The birds know it too; it’s why Baltimore Orioles, Chestnut-sided Warblers, and other migrants are calling and chipping from the mango trees. They share their temporary tropical space with Social Flycatchers, tanagers, Green-breasted Mangos, and literally hundreds of other bird species.

As with other places, us local birders in Costa Rica are eager to start the year with birds. January 1st is a new year list, another annual journey that could ascend to 600, maybe even 700 species. Our 2024 journey (my partner and me) began with some birding on the 1st but it was quite nearly a false start.

Too much wind had chased all of the birds into cover. On a short, afternoon stroll, we were lucky to find the few birds that we did. To make up for it, we went birding the following morning. Read on to hear about our year birds and how I’ve been getting a couple other things ready for the high season.

Year Birds so Far

To make a true start for 2024 birding, we went on a nearby jaunt to check a couple of reservoirs and see what else we could find. Stops in key open habitats, those reservoirs, and patches of dry forest turned up a nice suite of birds.

Highlights included an American Kestrel, Grasshopper Sparrow, Painted Bunting, and rafts of Lesser Scaup. A good start for another year of birding! Check out the trip report.

Images that stick with me are the small falcon battling the wind, it’s barred tail pumping up and down as it perched at the edge of an open field.

The Grasshopper Sparrow was a sharp tick note, dry as the low scrub it was perched in. This small waif of the weeds is an uncommon bird in Costa Rica. We were quite pleased to lay eyes on it, I wondered where it had spent its windswept summer? Distant fields in Kansas? The Dakotas?

Painted Bunting was actually expected. This beauty is a regular wintering bird in the dry habitats of Costa Rica. On Raptor Ridge, it’s as common as House Sparrows! This picture is from that wonderful and welcoming spot.


It was also nice to see so many scaups, diving ducks that remind me of the waterfowl rafts I used to watch on the Niagara River. More speciose in the icy north but waaaay more cold too.

Expectations for Birding Braulio Carillo National Park

Soon, we’ll be birding at one of my all-time favorite spots. I was birding Quebrada Gonzalez long before any ranger station was present, when the trail was muddy and ended with a slippery descent.

Since those days, this birding hotspot has changed a fair bit. The trails have gravel and rangers are always present. However, you can’t go in during prime birding time and several species aren’t as common as they used to be.

It’s still good though, still just as exciting to visit as it was in 1992 (well, maybe it was a lot more exciting on that first visit!). What will we see? Impossible to say, this tropical forest is too complex to guess but we should see something good, I always do.

I can mention possibilities. Those would be birds like Ornate hawk-Eagle calling above the forest, Dull-mantled Antbird singing from the stream, peaceful notes of Black-headed Nightingale-thrush coming from the humid understory.

Hopefully, there’ll be the tanager flocks, always a chance of a Central American Sharpbill or some other rare bird. The best would be army ants, if that happens, we could see a Black-crowned Antpitta, even see a Rufous-vented ground-Cuckoo.

There could even be a Bushmaster. Well, there are but you rarely see them. Hardly ever although I did see one in 2018.

The Golden-winged Warbler is the ABA Bird of 2024!

It finally happened, one of the coolest little wood warblers was chosen to be the ABA bird of the year! So what does this have to do with Costa Rica?

Well, if you are headed to Costa Rica, you can expect to see this beautiful little bird. Here in Costa Rica, Golden-winged Warblers are much easier to see than in other parts of their range. During the winter months, seeing one or more in a day of birding is typical.

Yes, seriously! Go to the right places and you can expect the Golden-winged experience, even in parts of the Central Valley. See a group of warblers or other mixed flocks in the lowlands? How about a group of birds in middle elevations? Or even old second growth with lots of hanging dead leaves?

There should be a Golden-winged Warbler or two. Since they forage by inspecting dead leaves, their predator watching abilities are limited. It’s why you won’t see them away from mixed flocks. That dead leaf habit is also why they frequent older second growth with lots of vines and hanging dead stuff.

If you think you see a chickadee in Costa Rica, that was a Golden-winged Warbler! By the way, it’s Ok to feel like you saw a chickadee in Costa Rica. Golden-winged Warblers are very likely mimicking chickadees.

Editing my Bird Finding Book for Costa Rica

Lately, I have been editing my Costa Rica bird finding ebook. It was in greater need of edits than I had expected and I also took the chance to update the book’s Costa Rica bird list.

I’m also including links to eBird hotspots and a few other things to help readers maximize their Costa Rica birding experience. It’s not ready yet but I’m almost done, this third version will be available soon!

As a caveat, if you bought the second version and want the updated third version, please let me know. When it’s ready I’ll send it to you free of charge.

If you haven’t gotten this Costa Rica birding companion ebook, check it out. Please consider buying it to support this blog while getting the most up to date birding site guide for Costa Rica.

Cattle Tyrant and Other Updates for the Costa Rica Birding App

With the high season at hand, we also need to update the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app. Cattle Tyrant wasn’t just seen in Texas, in late 2023, we also had our country first!

This species was already included on the app as an expected bird for the country, now we can include as a seen bird! At the same time, I may add a few additional expected species for Costa Rica and make a couple other minor edits.

This birding app for Costa Rica will still have images for well over 900 species and vocalizations for 870 species. Although it’s still only available for IOS devices, we are working on making this customizable digital field guide available for Android devices too.

Are you headed to Costa Rica for birding? I hope so because check it out, the birding is fantastic as always. Happy birding, I hope to see you here!