Where to watch birds and wildlife in
The aptly-named Resplendent Quetzal by
Francesco Veronesi. A fabulous bird even though this particular individual
does not have a full-length tail in which the central tail feathers may extend up to 65 cm (2 ft) beyond the rest of the tail!
- Birds, so many birds, in such a small area
- Over 900 species in just 50,000 sq km, of which it is possible to record over 500 in two weeks and nearly 600 in three
- Including up to 80 Central American Endemics and about 40 species confined to the highlands spanning the border of Costa Rica
- In one of the best selections of the world's most spectacular birds, including Sunbittern, Scarlet Macaw, nearly 50 hummingbirds,
Resplendent Quetzal, seven trogons, motmots such as Turquoise-browed, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Keel-billed Toucan, Three-wattled Bellbird, Bare-necked
Umbrellabird, Lovely, Snowy, Turquoise and Yellow-billed Cotingas, and Red-capped Manakin
- As well as sloths, howler and spider monkeys, nesting turtles, basilisk lizards, colourful frogs, giant dragonflies and numerous
- So Costa Rica's got the lot
- And all in a mainly scenic mountainous country with one of the most consistently active volcanoes on Earth, and about 12% of its
land within reserves, the highest percentage of 'protected' land in the world
- It is perhaps no coincidence that Costa Rica, one of the 'birdiest' countries in the world, also happens to be the number one
(for the third time in 2016) happiest and greenest country in the world according to the Happy Planet Index which is calculated by the New Economics
Foundation. This index measures resource use (Costa Rica uses a mere quarter of the resources that are typically used in a country in the Western world),
and how long and happy a life people enjoy as a result, hence while some so-called 'more developed' countries may score highly when it comes to life
expectancy and well-being the environmental cost of this is extremely high. Numbers two to ten in the list of 140 countries are Mexico, Colombia,
Vanuatu, Vietnam, Panama, Nicaragua, Bangladesh, Thailand and Ecuador. The UK came in at number 34 and the USA at 108.
Best Birds and other wildlife in Costa Rica
Sunbittern, Scarlet Macaw, Keel-billed Toucan, Resplendent Quetzal, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar,
Red-capped Manakin, Three-wattled Bellbird, Bare-necked Umrellabird, Lovely, Snowy, Turquoise and Yellow-billed Cotingas, seven trogons, nearly 50
hummingbirds, five mainland endemics; Mangrove Hummingbird, Coppery-headed Emerald, Grey-tailed (White-throated) Mountaingem, Cabanis's (Prevost's) Ground
Sparrow and Black-cheeked Ant Tanager (three more occur on Cocos Island, 300 km (180 miles) offshore), and about 40 species in the eastern highlands
shared only with western Panama including Black Guan, Baird's Trogon, Orange-collared Manakin, Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher, Flame-throated Warbler,
Zeledonia and Golden-browed Chlorophonia, as well as Great Curassow, Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Booby, Brown Pelican, Anhinga, Bare-throated and
Fasciated Tiger Herons, Boat-billed Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Jabiru, King Vulture, American Swallow-tailed Kite, Ornate Hawk Eagle, White Hawk, Collared
Forest Falcon, an estimated 5 million raptors which migrate over Costa Rica during October, Grey-necked Wood Rail, Sungrebe, Limpkin, Double-striped
Thick-knee, Northern Jacana, pigeons and quail doves, parrots, Squirrel Cuckoo,
Great Potoo, hummingbirds including Black-crested and White-crested Coquettes, Snowcap, Violet Sabrewing and Purple-crowned Fairy, trogons, motmots
including Keel-billed and Tody, kingfishers, puffbirds, Red-headed Barbet, Emerald and Yellow-eared Toucanets, Collared Aracari, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan,
woodpeckers, woodcreepers, antbirds including Ocellated and Spotted, antthrushes, antpittas, flycatchers including Fork-tailed and Scissor-tailed (Nov-Mar),
Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant (the smallest passerine bird in the world along with Short-tailed Pygmy Tyrant), Rufous Piha, manakins, Masked and
Black-crowned Tityras, wrens, American Dipper, nightingale thrushes, Black-faced Solitaire, Tropical Parula, wintering warblers including Golden-winged
and Blackburnian, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Green and Red-legged Honeycreepers, tanagers, and Chestnut-headed and Montezuma Oropendolas. Also a chance of
Great Green Macaw, Agami Heron, tinamous, wood quails, owls including Black-and-white, Crested and Striped, Northern Royal Flycatcher, Green-and-rufous
Kingfisher, Lanceolated Monklet, White-faced Nunbird and Black-crowned Antpitta.
Hoffmann's Two-toed and Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths, Central
American Squirrel, Geoffroy's Spider, Mantled Howler and White-faced Capuchin Monkeys, Humpback and Sperm
Whales (both mostly Dec-Jan), White-nosed Coati, Collared and White-lipped Peccaries, Greater Bulldog (Fishing) Bat and
Neotropical River Otter. Also a chance of West Indian Manatee, Baird's Tapir, Northern Tamandua, Silky Anteater, Nine-banded
Armadillo, Bushy-tailed Olingo, Common Opossum, Kinkajou and Tayra.
Reptiles, Amphibians and Fish
Whale Shark, Manta Ray (especially in Gulf of Papagayo, mainly Dec-Mar), Spectacled Caiman,
American Crocodile, many amazing frogs including Glass Frogs, Red-eyed Tree Frog and Poison-dart Frogs, basilisk lizards, and Green (mostly Jul-Sep on
Caribbean coast), Hawksbill (mostly Jul-Sep on Caribbean coast), Leatherback (mostly Nov-Feb on Pacific coast and Mar-May on Caribbean coast),
Loggerhead (mostly Aug-Sep on Caribbean coast) and Olive Ridley (Jun-Dec, mostly Sep-Nov on Pacific coast) Turtles.
Helicopter Damselflies (the largest dragonflies in the world),
Hercules Beetle and many spectacular butterflies.
Other Natural Wonders of Costa Rica
Arenal Volcano One of the most consistently active volcanoes in the world, rising to
1657 m (5436 ft). Almost daily, lava and huge red-hot rocks tumble down the slopes and huge columns of ash rise
from the crater.
Best Sites for Birds and other wildlife in Costa Rica
- Standard Circuit
- El Copal Snowcap, White-crested Coquette, Black-headed Antthrush, Tawny-chested Flycatcher and Blue-and-gold Tanager.
- Ujaras Cabanis's Ground Sparrow.
- Savegre Valley/Cerro de la Muerte Resplendent Quetzal, hummingbird feeders at Hotel Savegre, Hotel Suria, La Georgina (good
for Fiery-throated Hummingbird) and Paraiso de Quetzals (also good for Fiery-throated Hummingbird), Buffy Tuftedcheek, Dark Pewee, Long-tailed Silky
Flycatcher, Flame-throated and Black-cheeked Warblers, Zeledonia, Golden-browed Chlorophonia and, high up, Timberline Wren, Volcano Junco and Peg-billed
Finch. Also a chance of Buff-fronted (Costa Rican) Quail Dove, Bare-shanked Screech Owl and Silvery-throated Jay (Los Robles FR).
- La Providencia Road Buffy Tuftedcheek, Flame-throated Warbler and Zeledonia.
- Tapanti NP Golden-browed Chlorophonia. Also a chance of Lovely Cotinga.
- Rancho Naturalista Sunbittern, hummingbird feeders and bathing pools for species such as Black-crested Coquette, Snowcap and
Violet Sabrewing, Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots, Spotted Antbird, Lovely Cotinga, White-collared (lek), White-crowned and White-ruffed Manakins, and
Tawny-chested Flycatcher. Also a chance of Paint-billed Crake.
- Irazu Volcano NP Cabanis's (Prevost's) Ground Sparrow. Also a chance of Resplendent Quetzal and Buffy-crowned Wood
- Braulio Carrillo NP Lattice-tailed Trogon, White-ruffed Manakin, White-throated Shrike Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis and
Mantled Howler. Also a chance of Snowcap (especially at nearby El Tapir Hummingbird Garden), Yellow-eared Toucanet and Black-crowned Antpitta.
- Veragua Rainforest Reserve Bare-necked Umbrellabird (Dec-Jan), Purple-crowned Fairy and Red-eyed Tree Frog.
- La Selva (Biological Station - Organization for Tropical Studies) Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth, Mantled Howler, Red-eyed
Tree Frog, Giant Helicopter Damselfly, Great Curassow, Semi-plumbeous Hawk, Great Green Macaw, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots,
Pied and White-necked Puffbirds, Keel-billed and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans, Chestnut-coloured and Rufous-winged Woodpeckers, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant,
Snowy Cotinga, Rufous Piha, and Red-capped and White-collared (lek) Manakins. Also a chance of Tayra, Agami Heron, Sungrebe, Sunbittern, Great Potoo,
Crested Owl and Three-wattled Bellbird (mostly Mar-Jun).
- Selva Verde Red-eyed Tree Frog, and Black-and-green and Blue-jeans Poison-Dart Frogs.
- La Paz Waterfall Gardens hummingbird feeders for hummingbirds such as Violet Sabrewing, Green Thorntail and Black-bellied
Hummingbird, as well as Sooty-faced Finch.
- Tirimbina Rainforest Center Strawberry Poison-Dart Frog and Helicopter Damselfly. Also a chance of Sunbittern, Great
Green Macaw, Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots, and White-collared Manakin.
- Catarata del Toro hummingbird feeders for hummingbirds including Coppery-headed Emerald, Violet Sabrewing and
- Bosque de Paz feeders for Black Guan, hummingbirds etc. Also a chance of Resplendant Quetzal and Scaled Antpitta.
- Arenal Area Arenal Volcano, Great Curassow (at feeders at Arenal Observatory Lodge), Rufous Motmot, Black-crested Coquette,
Keel-billed Toucan, Bare-crowned, Ocellated and Spotted Antbirds, Thicket Antpitta, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Lovely Cotinga (with antbirds and antpitta
along trail below Arenal Observatory Lodge), White-collared Manakin and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis. Also a chance of Uniform and White-throated Crakes (at
Bogarin feeders), Keel-billed Motmot (along old road to Arenal Observatory Lodge), Lanceolated Monklet, White-fronted Nunbird and White-throated Shrike
- Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve Together with the Santa Elena Reserve 400+ birds including 30 hummingbirds, 5000+ moths and
2500 plants including 420 orchids. Speciality birds include Resplendent Quetzal (mostly Jan-Jul), Three-wattled Bellbird (mostly Mar-Jun, especially
Bajo del Tigre Reserve), Coppery-headed Emerald and Violet Sabrewing. Also a chance of Black-breasted Wood Quail, Barred Forest Falcon, Chiriqui Quail
Dove, White-eared Ground Sparrow, Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth, Bushy-tailed Olingo (at hummingbird feeders at night), Common Opossum and Kinkajou.
- San Gerardo Research Station/Children's Eternal Rainforest Great Curassow, Three-wattled Bellbird, Bare-necked
Umbrellabird (lek, best visited mid-April to mid-May), Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Azure-hooded Jay and Blue-and-gold Tanager.
- Santa Elena Reserve Black Guan, Collared (Orange-bellied) Trogon, Streak-breasted Treehunter and Bare-necked Umbrellabird
(most likely along Encantado Trail). Also a chance of Buff-fronted (Costa Rican) Quail Dove.
- Hacienda Solimar Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Jabiru, Spectacled Owl and Long-tailed Manakin.
- Carara National Park/Rio Tarcoles Boat Trips Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth, Mantled Howler, White-faced Capuchin, White-nosed
Coati, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Scarlet Macaw (grounds of Hotel Villa Lapas and along Rio Tarcoles), Baird's and Slaty-tailed
Trogons, Purple-crowned Fairy, Turquoise-browed Motmot, White-necked and White-whiskered Puffbirds, Fiery-billed Aracari, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan,
antbirds, Rufous Piha (Punta Leona FR), and Long-tailed (lek), Red-capped and Orange-collared (lek along River Trail) Manakins. Also a chance of Northern
Tamandua, Kinkajou, American Crocodile, Collared Forest Falcon, Grey-necked and Rufous-necked Wood Rails, Striped Owl, Streak-chested Antpitta, Green
Shrike Vireo, Northern Royal Flycatcher and Turquoise Cotinga.
- Talari Mountain Lodge White-crested Coquette and Turquoise Cotinga.
- Los Cusingos Reserve Baird's Trogon, White-crested Coquette, Rufous Piha, Turquoise Cotinga and Red-capped Manakin
- San Vito Chiriqui (Masked) Yellowthroat and Costa Rican (Stripe-headed) Brush Finches.
- Las Cruces Biological Station/Wilson Botanical Garden hummingbirds such as White-tailed Emerald.
- Esquinas Rainforest Lodge Great Curassow, Baird's Trogon, Golden-naped Woodpecker, Orange-collared and Red-capped (lek)
Manakins, Black-cheeked Ant Tanager and White-throated Shrike Tanager.
- Golfito Road and Bridge, 3 km south of Rincon de Osa Scarlet Macaw, Turquoise and Yellow-billed Cotingas, and Black-cheeked
Ant Tanager, with Mangrove Hummingbird nearby.
- Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge, Piedras Blancas NP Scarlet Macaw, trogons including Baird's, Blue-crowned, Red-capped and
Orange-collared (lek) Manakins, Black-cheeked Ant Tanager, Emerald Glass Frog and Red-eyed Tree Frog.
- Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge, Osa Peninsula Central American Spider Monkey, King Vulture, White-crested Coquette,
White-tipped Sicklebill, Black-hooded Antshrike, Turquoise Cotinga, Orange-collared and Red-capped Manakins, and Black-cheeked Ant Tanager (at feeders).
Also a chance of Uniform Crake.
- Bosque del Cabo Lodge, Osa Peninsula Central American Spider Monkey, Red-eyed Tree Frog, poison-dart frogs, Helicopter
Damselfly, trogons including Baird's and Red-capped Manakin (lek).
- Corcovado NP, Osa Peninsula Humpback and Sperm Whales, turtles, Central American Squirrel, Geoffroy's Spider, Mantled Howler
and White-faced Capuchin Monkeys, Scarlet Macaw, Turquoise Cotinga, Rufous Piha, and Red-capped and Orange-collared Manakins. Also a chance of Northern
Tamandua, Baird's Tapir (especially near Sirena Biological Station where habituated to the many visitors), White-lipped Peccary, Yellow-billed Cotinga and
Three-wattled Bellbird (mostly Oct-Feb).
- Tiskita Jungle Lodge Mantled Howler, Central American Spider and White-faced Capuchin Monkeys, Giant Helicopter Damselfly,
King Vulture, Baird's Trogon and Red-capped Manakin.
- West Coast
- Manuel Antonio NP A chance of Silky Anteater (on boat trips to mangroves), Northern Tamandua and Three-toed Sloth.
- Palo Verde NP Numerous waterbirds usually most active at their nests in January (a good time to look for boa constrictors
which feed on the eggs and chicks), Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Jabiru, Double-striped Thick-knee, Turquoise-browed Motmot and
Long-tailed Manakin. Also a chance of Northern Tamandua, Nine-banded Armadillo, Great Curassow and Spectacled Owl.
- Playas Nancite, Naranjo and Ostional Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback and hundreds of thousands of Olive Ridley (mainly Playa
Ostional where thousands may arrive to nest at the same time) Turtles.
- Las Baulas NMP/Tamarindo Bay NWR Leatherback and Olive Ridley Turtles.
- Buena Vista Lodge Turquoise-browed Motmot and Long-tailed Manakin.
- Heliconias Lodge Lovely Cotinga. Also a chance of Purplish-backed Quail Dove, and Keel-billed and Tody Motmots.
- Lago Cano Negro Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Sungrebe and Nicaraguan Grackle. Also a chance of White-throated and
Yellow-breasted Crakes, and Striped Owl.
- Laguna del Lagarto Great Curassow, Sungrebe, Green-and-black and Strawberry Poison-dart Frogs. Also a chance of Great Green
and Scarlet Macaws, and Ocellated Antbird.
- East Coast
- Tortuguero NP Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth, Mantled Howler, Green, Hawksbill and Leatherback Turtles, Spectacled Caiman,
Basilisk Lizard, Greater Bulldog (Fishing) Bat, Neotropical River Otter, Sungrebe, Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, and Red-capped and White-collared
Manakins. Also a chance of West Indian Manatee, Loggerhead Turtle, Red-eyed Tree Frog, Great Green Macaw, Agami Heron and Snowy Cotinga.
- Pacuare Reserve Green and Leatherback Turtles.
Best Times for Birds and other wildlife in Costa Rica
Rain is possible all year round in the mountainous centre of the country and along the Caribbean coast but Costa Rica as
a whole is usually less wet between December and April and most birds can be seen during this time, especially in the driest
months of February and March which also fall within the periods when Resplendent Quetzal (Jan-Jul, especially Mar-Jun) and
Three-wattled Bellbird (Mar-Jun) usually nest, although the peak time to see Bare-necked Umbrellabird at the lek is mid-April
Many other resident birds nest in June-July and despite this period falling in the wetter season this is also a good time to
look for the quetzal (although it loses its long tail streamers at this time of the year) and bellbird, when quetzals usually
migrate down the Pacific slope into less dense forest at Monteverde (mostly in June) and bellbirds normally congregate on the
same slope (mostly in July). July is also the best time to look for Snowcap, when this hummingbird descends to lowland Caribbean
forest, where Bare-necked Umbrellabirds usually spend their non-breeding season (Jun-Mar).
The best times to see turtles are July to December on the Pacific coast (when huge numbers of Olive Ridley Turtles usually come
ashore around the last quarter of the moon each month, especially in September, October and November) and April to September on the
Caribbean coast. The best time for whales is December and January.
Recommended Bird Books etc. for Costa Rica
The Wildlife of Costa Rica: A Field Guide by F A Reid et al. Comstock, 2010.
An Ecotraveller's Guide: Costa Rica by H Robinson. Arris Books, 2006.
Travellers' Wildlife Guide: Costa Rica by L Beletsky. Arris Books, 2005.
Helm Field Guides: Birds of Costa Rica by R Garrigues and R Dean. Helm, 2014 (Second Edition).
An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by V Esquivel Soto. Incafo, 2008 (Second Edition).
Where to watch Birds in Costa Rica by B Lawson. Helm, 2010.
Mammals, Amphibians, and Reptiles of Costa Rica by C L Henderson. University of Texas Press, 2011.
The Mammals of Costa Rica by M Wainwright. CUP, 2007.
A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico by F A Reid. OUP, 2009 (Second Edition).
Butterflies, Moths and Other Invertebrates of Costa Rica: A Field Guide by C L Henderson. University of Texas Press, 2010.
A Swift Guide to the Butterflies of Mexico and Central America by J Glassberg. Sunstreak Books, 2007.
National Audubon Society Field Guide to Tropical Marine Fishes by C L Smith. Alfred A Knopf, 1997.
Costa Rica Birds Field Guide.
Where to watch birds in Central America & the Caribbean by N Wheatley and D Brewer. Helm, 2001.
Don’t know which country/countries/regions to visit in Central America? Then it may be worth considering taking a
look at this book, written by this website’s author and David Brewer. It is many years old of course but it still provides a starting point,
an overview and a guiding light to the best birds and the best places to look for them in the region, and could save hours of searching for
similar information on the internet. However, it is important to check more up-to-date sources for sites which have been opened up, sites and
species which have been discovered, lodges that have been built etc. since the book was published.
Birding and Wildlife Trip Reports for Costa Rica
Many trip reports, some for Costa Rica, are posted on the websites listed here. On some of these
websites some reports are independent and some are posted by tour companies who organize tours to
Costa Rica. These tour companies and others also post their own reports on their websites,
which are listed under 'Some Organized Tours to Costa Rica' below.
Local bird and wildlife guides in Costa Rica
The costs of organized tours partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders.
Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are
the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional
skills of the local guides they employ. If you are travelling independently,
employing such local guides will greatly increase your chances of seeing the
wildlife you wish to see.
Accommodation for birders in Costa Rica
Some Organized Tours for birds and other wildlife to Costa Rica
There are many tour companies who organize tours to see mammals, birds, other
wildlife and other natural wonders. The cost of these tours vary considerably
according to such variables as the airlines used, the number of days the tours
last, the number of sites visited, the number of people in the group (an
important consideration if you wish to see such wildlife as rainforest mammals
and birds), the number of tour leaders, the standard of accommodation and
transport, and the percentage profit the company hopes to make. Generally, where
the number of days tours last and the number of sites visited are similar, the
cheapest tours are those that use the cheapest airlines, accommodation and local
transport, that have the largest groups with the least number of leaders, and
that make the least amount of profit. The most expensive tours tend to be those
which are exceptionally long, use the most expensive accommodation (ridiculously
lavish in some cases, even for single nights) and which make the most profit.
Some tour costs partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are
certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are
the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional
skills of the local guides they employ.
While tour companies organize tours with set itineraries many also organize custom
tours for individuals and private groups who instead of taking a tour with a set
itinerary want to follow their own itinerary to suit their own personal tastes,
whether it be mammals, birds, other wildlife, other natural wonders or even man-made
attractions, or a mixture of them all. Many organized tours with set itineraries are
also fast-paced and target as many species as possible, whether they are mammals, birds
or other wildlife or everything, which usually leaves little time to enjoy the best
sites and individual species, but on a custom tour those taking part can specify the
pace and the sites and species they wish to concentrate on. Custom tours also suit
people who like to travel with people they already know, rather than with a group of
strangers, and people with partners with different interests. Individuals and small
groups will almost certainly have to pay more than the price of an organized tour with
a set itinerary but a large group of friends may be able to travel for less than the
price quoted for a set tour.
Tour companies who run organized tours or can arrange custom tours to Costa Rica
include the following.