Beauty might be in the eye of the beholder (maybe not this beholder…) but many of us Homo sapiens do lean towards bright and bold colors. A relict adaptation to pick ripe fruits? A side effect of having better vision than sense of smell? Or, maybe, way back in the African early days of humans, we were just all meant to be birders…
Whatever the explanations, we tend to ooh and ahh over breeding plumaged wood-warblers, the shiny, multi-colored feathers of tanagers, and other shades of the rainbow shown by our avian friends. Yes, because how many birders keep watching a House Sparrow or a cowbird when a male Blackburnian or American Redstart are within bino range? I think it’s Ok to accept that brightly colored birds look cool and there’s nothing wrong with ignoring sparrows or Chiffchaffs if something with yellow, green, or blue pops into view.
Nothing wrong with staring at the Halloween colors of the American Redstart…
But a birder doesn’t have to look far to find some eye catching, colorful avian beauty. Many a common bird happens to be beautiful; just check out the subtle blues of a Blue Jay and know that non-North American birders seriously want to lay eyes on a Cardinal. The same goes for non-European birders who have never seen a Blue Tit. Before I birded in Europe, I couldn’t wait to see one of those little blue and yellow birds. I had known them from old illustrations and other works of art and from a field guide that I brought to France in the early 90s. After I walked off that train near Arles, it wasn’t long before I was finally admiring and ticking the common, beautiful blue and yellow chickadee. There they were, working a nearby riparian zone, and they were the colors of spring and summer wild flowers, the hues of a sunny April day. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Granted, they were lifers but one that is also a common garden species in many places.
In Costa Rica, we have our own set of common beautiful birds, species that are hard to miss and kind of irresistible. Although it’s impossible to pick just a few from a list of more than 900 species, these are more than a dozen of the common beauties that come to mind:
Hummingbirds– With several being common and easy to see, I couldn’t resist mentioning more than one. Check out feeders, gardens, and forest in middle elevation habitats and you will probably see a Violet Sabrewing or two.
Yes, this big purple hummingbird is actually common!
Take a walk in rainforest or just hang out in the hotel gardens in or near forest and you will probably see Crowned Woodnymph. Although the female doesn’t do much to impress, the purple and green male is a flying jewel.
One of the more numerous hummingbirds of rainforest habitats in Costa Rica.
Meanwhile, if the birding is limited to the vicinity of the hotel, you can bet that the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird will make itself known.
The most common hummingbird in the country.
Gartered Trogon– I have finally become so used to referring to this species by its “new” name, I almost forgot that it used to be called the “Violaceous Trogon”. This multi-colored bird is also one of the more common trogon species in Costa Rica and can even be seen near the Central Valley in the Peace University area. Its penchant for forest edge also makes it fairly easy to see.
It’s especially odd to see one of these beauties perch on a roadside wire.
Turquoise-browed Motmot– Anything with “turquoise” in its name is going to be good and this exotic looking bird is no exception. Even better, it’s downright common in dry forest settings from the Carara area north to Nicaragua. Although, like other motmots, this species can also be reclusive during the sun and heat of the day, it’s pretty easy to find in the early morning and late afternoon. If you happen to be driving in their habitat at this time of day, don’t be surprised to see a few perched on roadside wires.
Check out the exotic beauty of this bird.
Keel-billed Toucan– Although I suspect that this rainbow-billed bird isn’t as common as it used to be, it’s still fairly easy to find in many places, especially in sites south of Limon and around Rincon de la Vieja.
Fancy and common.
Hoffmann’s Woodpecker– With their bold black and white patterns highlighted by stickpins of yellow, red, and gold, woodpeckers are commonly admired for their handsome appearance. Several in Costa Rica fit that description, including one of the easiest ones to the see, the Hoffmann’s Woodpecker.
Watch for this beautiful bird in the Central Valley, on the Pacific slope north of Jaco, and around Arenal. It even lives in the middle of the city.
Crimson-fronted Parakeet– Several members of this famous family of birds occur in Costa Rica, most are fairly common, and all are easy on the eyes. But, if I had to pick just one, I go with this parakeet because it has become adapted to urban settings, even nesting on buildings in San Jose and roosting in the parks. If you notice some long-tailed parakeets screeching and flying over the traffic, you would be looking at Crimson-fronted Parakeets.
Masked Tityra– Although we never see lots of this one, it is fairly common and widespread. I have even seen them at fruiting trees in the Central Valley, the striking combination of white, black, and pink puts the Masked Tityra on the list.
Mangrove Swallow– I have always loved the colors of swallows, it stems back to seeing some of my first pictures of birds and marveling over the metallic colors of Tree Swallows, of Barn Swallows. Common, how can they be so beautiful? The Mangrove is no exception. A common bird of lowland rivers and other wetlands, this jade-backed bird will stay with your boat on the Tarcoles, Sarapiqui, and Sierpe Rivers.
Yellow-throated Euphonia– Reminiscent of the beauty shown by swallows, this pretty little bird also has a metallic iridescence on its upper parts. Watch for it in gardens of the Central Valley and much of the Pacific slope.
Or, visit the feeders at the Fortuna Nature Trail.
Collared Redstart– Head to the high elevations and you are likely to run into this stunning bird.
Scarlet-rumped Tanager– Now that the lump has taken effect, we can refer to this one by its classic, more accurate name! Visit the humid lowlands and you will see this striking common bird.
Golden-hooded Tanager– Common in humid lowland areas, as a bonus, this multi-colored bird also comes to feeders.
Its local name is “Seven Colors”.
Green Honeycreeper– Feeling down? Had a bad day? Watch this living gem to make your troubles go away. The Green Honeycreeper comes to feeders and is a common species of gardens and other habitats in humid regions of Costa Rica.
I can never get enough of this one…
Blue-gray Tanager– Last but not least, we can’t forget this very common yet beautiful bird. Another one to just gaze at while enjoying a fantastic locally grown coffee. And isn’t that one of the beautiful things in life?
I could stare at any of these birds for hours. Sometimes I do that while guiding around Poas and other sites. Do you want to see and photograph these and dozens of other beautiful birds in Costa Rica? I would be happy to take you to them. Contact me at [email protected]