Migrant species are birds too! Well of course they are but when they can also be seen back home, even the best of them tend to receive less attention. Eye-catching Baltimore Orioles, cool Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, inquisitive Yellow Warblers and other birds that flew all the way to Costa Rica. Not looked at. Incredible but then again, when a birder has the choice of focusing on familiar birds or seeing once in a lifetime lifers, the best course of binocular action becomes obvious.
I can’t fault visiting birders for paying less atttention to Baltimore Orioles. If I could look at those or a host of new birds, I wouldn’t spend much time focusing on those pretty blackbirds either. Always cool to look at (and do enjoy looking at them in Costa Rica) but they aren’t really the main reason to visit Costa Rica for birding.
Even so, if you make a personal oath to avoid looking at birds seen on many a previous occasion, it’s still worth knowing about the possibilities. No matter where you go birding, the more prepared you are for the trip, the better it will be. Study in advance and you don’t just identify more birds, you also have better knowledge of what to expect, where to find various species, and have a more fulfilling trip. These are some of the more common migrant species you can expect to see while birding in Costa Rica.
Bird nearly any waterway in the country and you can expect running into some of these common teetering waterbirds. They may look plain but in Costa Rica, they share space with the likes of Sunbittern and tiger-herons.
If you thought that perched raptor really looked like a Broad-wing, it probably was. During the winter months, this hawk is one of the most commonly seen raptors. However, taking a closer look doesn’t hurt; juvenile Gray, Gray-lined, and Roadside Hawks can look similar.
Hear that classic “wheep!” call? No other local birds makes that sound and Great-cresteds frequently give that call in Costa Rica during the winter. They can be seen in many habitats but are probably most common in tropical dry forest (which they share with other similar-looking Myiarchus species).
It’s not the only Empid in Costa Rica during the winter but it is the most common one. To make things a bit more confusing, it often gives a single call note easily confused with call notes given by Acadian Flycatchers.
Coming from some of the same breeding areas as the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Philadelphias also winter in many of the same places as the small flycatcher. Costa Rica is an excellent place to study this bird because in this country, the Philly Vireo rules as the common wintering vireo (Warblerings are very rare).
Hordes of Bank and Cliff Swallows migrate on through but many Barns stay in Costa Rica. Expect lots of this common, beautiful bird in open habitats in the lowlands.
As mentioned above, many of this beautiful bird winter in Costa Rica. They often give short versions of their whistled song, come to feeders, visit fruiting and flowering trees, and occur in flocks. Enjoy them!
That “chicky tuck tuck” call is a familiar sound in many parts of Costa Rica. Whether looking for birds in hot and humid lowland rainforest or wearing a light jacket in the mountains, you will probably see more than a few of these red beauties.
As befits this fun group of special little birds, they really deserve their onw category. Several species winter in Costa Rica, these are the ones seen the most:
Wilson’s Warbler– One of the more common species of montane habitats, its a good idea to learn its call before the trip.
Tennessee Warbler– Expect lots of these little birds at flowering trees, especially on the Pacific slope.
Black-throated Green Warbler– Go birding in montane forest and you should run into some of these. Keep an eye out for uncommon Twonsend’s and rare Hermit Warblers (and the ultra rare Golden-cheeked!).
Chestnut-sided Warbler– A bird so common in winter Costa Rica, some visiting birders just call it “ubi” (short for ubiquitous, here’s looking at you Mike, Pat, and Shai!). Don’t be fooled by its gnatcatcher looks, if you thought you saw a Chestnut-sided in wintering plumage, you sure did, and again, and again. The eye-ringed bird with the lime green back is especially common in humid habitats. I have to wonder, since this species was historically much more rare, upon becoming abundant, has it had any sort of impact on the habitats in frequents in the winter?
Waterthrushes– Both are commonly seen, Louisiana in its expected favored rocky river and stream habitats, and Northern in any number of lowland wetland sites.
Prothonotary Warbler– This beautiful bird occupies some of the same space as the Northern Waterthrush. It’s especially common in mangroves.
Yellow Warbler– This familiar country bird will be just as familiar in Costa Rica.
These aren’t the only species that winter in these birdy lands. They are common and you will likely see numbers of them but you will also see various additional species. For North American birders, watching these “birds from home” do their stuff on wintering grounds will generate deeper understanding and better apreciation of their avian lives. For birders from other places, they will act as fun lifers to look at and experience. Either way, they are always fun birds to watch.
Study them with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, a digital field and reference guide with all of the species on the Costa Rica bird list and several more that could occur (to show nearly 1,000 species). If you already have the app, the next update will show the latest name changes and include 5 additional species that may eventually be found in Costa Rica. Get ready for birding in Costa Rica- it’s closer than you think!