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bird finding in Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Birds- Endemic, Near Endemic, and Other Target Species

Costa Rica birds include everything from majestic macaws to surreal Snowcaps and Ornate Hawk-Eagles. These and hundreds of other bird species exist in the diverse habitats of Costa Rica but the ones you see the most will be the common species.

Common birds are fancy too- check out this Lesson’s Motmot!

By definition, common birds like Blue-gray Tanagers, saltators, and kiskadee-type flycatchers are the familiar ones. There’s nothing wrong with seeing those birds, watching them is good for the soul too and if it’s your first trip to the tropics, they’ll be in that precious lifer category.

However, we can also see widely distributed birds in other places, some of them even in southern Texas, many on hundreds of hotel grounds in a myriad of places. It’s not that such birds aren’t special (they are) but if you can only see certain birds in any given place, those are the ones to target.

Even if you say, “As long as I see birds, I don’t care which ones I see”, you really still should go after those target birds. Who knows, maybe at some future time, you’ll wish you would have seen that Coppery-headed Emerald in Costa Rica. Maybe you’ll wish you would have spent more time looking for Wrenthrush than focusing on yet another flitting flowerpiercer?

It’s sort of like visiting Rome without seeing the Trevi Fountain, going to New York without visiting the Bronx Zoo or eating a serious slice of pizza (the main reasons for visiting NYC of course). It should go without saying. when birding in Costa Rica, “make efforts to see those endemics”. After all, you can’t see them anywhere else.

However, I’ll take it one step further and say that not only should you focus on country and regional endemics, you should also watch for the future endemics.

Those would be the birds that might be split, the cryptic taxa with a good chance of “attaining” species level status. The “new” Howell and Dyer field guide does a fair job of bringing a lot of those cases to light. In the Costa Rica Field Guide app, I have also tried to bring attention to such birds (although I need to edit the text for several more), and lists of endemics and possible future splits are also included in “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” (although I have to edit that too!). Some of these taxa are also mentioned or hinted at in eBird but not all of them.

In any case, I figured it would be useful to have a list of country and regional endemics, as well as good candidate birds for those categories. I hope these lists help!

List of Bird Species Endemic to Costa Rica

8 country endemics, three of which are restricted to Cocos Island.

The Mangrove Hummingbird and Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager may have been recently seen in Panama, very close to the border. Also, Guanacaste Hummingbird is a mystery species awaiting rediscovery.

Cocos Cuckoo (Cocos Island)
Coppery-headed Emerald
Mangrove Hummingbird
Cocos Flycatcher (Cocos Island)
Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager
Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow
Cocos Finch (Cocos Island)
Guanacaste Hummingbird (also known as Alfaro’s Hummingbird and only known from one specimen)

List of Bird Species Only Found in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama (as well as the border area of the Darien in Colombia).

These are 110 bird species and likely species that only occur in the countries listed above. Many are easier to see in Costa Rica because the habitats in which they occur tend to be more accessible.

Black Guan
Black-breasted Wood-Quail
Black-eared Wood-Quail
Chiriquí Quail-Dove
Purplish-backed Quail-Dove
Buff-fronted Quail-Dove
Middle American Screech-Owl (birds that live in northwestern Costa Rica)
Dusky Nightjar
Costa Rican Swift
Veraguan Mango
White-crested Coquette
Talamanca Hummingbird
Fiery-throated Hummingbird
White-bellied Mountain-gem
Purple-throated Mountain-gem
White-throated Mountain-gem
Magenta-throated Woodstar
Volcano Hummingbird (three distinct subspecies in Costa Rica, perhaps there are two or three species involved?)

birding Costa Rica

Scintillant Hummingbird
Garden Emerald
White-tailed Emerald
Black-bellied Hummingbird
Blue-vented Hummingbird
Blue-tailed Hummingbird
Charming Hummingbird
Snowy-bellied Hummingbird
Bare-shanked Screech-Owl
Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl
“Puntarenas” Screech-Owl- the undescribed Megascops that lives in southern Costa Rica and adjacent western Panama.

Baird’s Trogon
Collared Trogon (Orange-bellied Trogon)
Lattice-tailed Trogon
Northern Black-throated Trogon
Prong-billed Barbet
Fiery-billed Aracari
Golden-naped Woodpecker
Hoffmann’s Woodpecker
Rufous-winged Woodpecker
Sulfur-winged Parakeet
Crimson-fronted Parakeet
Red-fronted Parrotlet
Orange-collared Manakin
Velvety Manakin
Turquoise Cotinga
Yellow-billed Cotinga
Snowy Cotinga
Bare-necked Umbrellabird
Three-wattled Bellbird
Gray-headed Piprites
Olive-streaked Flycatcher
Tawny-chested Flycatcher
Dark Pewee
Ochraceous Pewee
Black-capped Flycatcher
Black-hooded Antshrike
Streak-crowned Antvireo
Dull-mantled Antbird
Streak-chested Antpitta (it is very likely that two species are involved- one from Honduras to the Carribean slope of Costa Rica and Panama, and another that ranges from southern Costa Rica to western Ecuador).

Thicket Antpitta (it is very likely that at least two species are involved- one in Costa Rica and western Panama, and another that ranges from the Darien to western Ecuador)

Black-headed Antthrush (it is very likely that at least two species are involved- one in Costa Rica and western Panama, and another that ranges from the Darien to western Ecuador)

Black-crowned Antpitta
Silvery-fronted Tapaculo
Spot-crowned Woodcreeper (it is very likely that the taxon in Costa Rica and Panama are a valid species)

Ruddy Treerunner
Buffy Tuftedcheek
Chiriqui Foliage-gleaner
Streak-breasted Treehunter
Yellow-winged Vireo
Silvery-throated Jay
Azure-hooded Jay (studies have shown it probably be split soon)
Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatcher
Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher
Black-throated Wren
Riverside Wren
Stripe-breasted Wren
Ochraceous Wren
Timberline Wren
Isthmus Wren
Canebrake Wren
Black-faced Solitaire
Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush
Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush (studies have shown it probably be split soon)

Sooty Robin
Yellow-crowned Euphonia
Spot-crowned Euphonia
Golden-browed Chlorophonia
Tawny-capped Euphonia
Flame-throated Warbler
Sooty-capped Chlorospingus
Volcano Junco
Sooty-faced Finch
Yellow-thighed Brushfinch
Large-footed Finch
Costa Rican Brushfinch
Nicaraguan Grackle
Collared Redstart
Black-cheeked Warbler
Costa Rican Warbler
Black-thighed Grosbeak
Carmiol’s Tanager
Blue-and-gold Tanager
Black-and-yellow Tanager
White-throated Shrike-Tanager
Sulphur-rumped Tanager
Spangle-cheeked Tanager
Nicaraguan Seed-Finch
Peg-billed Finch
Slaty Flowerpiercer

Isolated Subspecies that Live in Costa Rica and Panama that may or may not be separate species

These are various bird species with isolated populations in Costa Rica and Panama. Studies could end up splitting some. Always good to see in any case!

Highland Tinamou
Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge
Marbled Wood-Quail
Spotted Wood-Quail
Band-tailed Pigeon
Middle American Screech-Owl (birds that live in northwestern Costa Rica)
Hairy Woodpecker
Resplendent Quetzal
Northern Emerald Toucanet
White-crowned Manakin
Mountain Elaenia (birds in Central America sound different from birds in South America)
Nutting’s Flycatcher
Black-crowned Antpitta (the subspecies that occurs in Costa Rica and western Panama looks and sounds a bit different from birds in central-west Panama)
Ochre-breasted Antpitta

Gray-throated Leaftosser
Black-banded Woodcreeper
Strong-billed Woodcreeper
Streaked Xenops
Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner
Brown-throated Parakeet
Rosy Thrush-Tanager
White-eared Ground-Sparrow
Green Shrike-Vireo (different subspecies on each side of the mountains)
Scaly-breasted Wren
Black-bellied Wren
Bay Wren
White-breasted Wood-Wren
Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush (the taxon from southern Costa Rica and western Panama)
Olive-crowned (Chiriqui) Yellowthroat
Ashy-throated Chlorospingus
Orange-billed Sparrow (subspecies on each side of the mountains sing quite differently)
Cherries´s (Scarlet-rumped) Tanager
Variable Seedeater

To make the birding in Costa Rica even more exciting, some species in the cloud forests of northern Costa Rica are distinct subspecies that may end up warranting species status too!

Those include subspecies of Silvery-throated Tapaculo, Fiery-throated Hummingbird*, Black-and-Yellow Silky-Flycatcher, and other birds. It seems like the more we look, the more biodiverse our planet is.

So, there’s a nice list of birds to think about when you go birding in Costa Rica! Seem overwhelming? You won’t be alone. With well over 900 species to keep in mind, birdwatching in Costa Rica is naturally mindboggling.

Even so, it’s always good to know about endemics, and birds to look for. While looking for these, you’ll also see lots more. Happy birding, I hope to see you here!

Learn about the best places to see these birds in my bird finding guide for Costa Rica. To learn about itineraries that can target these birds, contact me at [email protected].

*Thanks to local birder Tyler Wenzel for reminding me about that.

Here’s a downloadable PDF version of these lists: