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  • Photograph of Black-crowned Antpitta

    The rare Black-crowned Antpitta above Rancho Frio in the Darien of Panama by David Beadle.

  • Where to watch birds and wildlife in
  • PANAMA


    Photograph of Wing-banded Antbird

    A superb image of the rare and strange Wing-banded or Buff-banded Antbird at Rancho Plastico in the Darien by David Beadle.


    Best Birds and other wildlife in Panama

    Birds

    Endemics
    Brown-backed (Azuero) Dove, Azuero Parakeet, White-throated Mountain-gem, Glow-throated Hummingbird, Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, Beautiful Treerunner (Darien only), Yellow-green (Panamanian) Tyrannulet, Pirre Warbler (to Cerro Tacarcuna, on Panama–Colombia border), Yellow-green Finch, Pirre Bush Tanager (Darien only and probably also in Colombia) and Green-naped Tanager (to Cerro Tacarcuna, on Panama–Colombia border). (Coiba (Rusty-backed) Spinetail is endemic to the island of Coiba where it can be seen along the Hot Spring Trail, accessible by boat from Playa Arrimadero near Santa Catalina, and Escudo Hummingbird on Escudo Island is considered a race of Rufous-tailed Hummingbird by most taxonomists).

    Darien Specialities
    Choco Tinamou, Dusky Pigeon, Russet-crowned Quail Dove, Violet-capped Hummingbird, Pirre (Rufous-cheeked) Hummingbird (also extreme northwest Colombia), Dusky-backed Jacamar, Violet-throated Toucanet, Choco Toucan, Speckled (Spiny-faced) Antshrike, Choco Tapaculo, Black-billed Flycatcher, Varied Solitaire, Viridian Dacnis, Yellow-collared Chlorophonia and Black Oropendola. (Tacarcuna Wood Quail and Tacarcuna (Pale-throated) Tapaculo occur only on the Tacarcuna Ridge on the Panama/Colombia border). The Darien province also supports the highest known density of Harpy Eagles in the world. Between the years 2000 and 2006 a total of 25 breeding pairs were located here, with four to six nests in every 50 square miles. Crested Eagles are also present.

    Panama and Costa Rica Highland Specialities
    Black Guan, Black-breasted Wood Quail, Buff-fronted and Chiriqui Quail Doves, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Red-fronted Parrotlet, Bare-shanked Screech Owl, Dusky Nightjar, Black-bellied, Fiery-throated, Scintillant and Volcano Hummingbirds, White-tailed Emerald, White-bellied Mountain-gem, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Orange-bellied Trogon, Prong-billed Barbet, Blue-throated Toucanet, Ruddy Treerunner, Streak-breasted Treehunter, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Dark and Ochraceous Pewees, Black-capped and Golden-bellied Flycatchers, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Three-wattled Bellbird, Yellow-winged Vireo, Silvery-throated Jay, Timberline Wren, Black-faced Solitaire, Black-billed Nightingale Thrush, Sooty Thrush, Black-and-yellow and Long-tailed Silky Flycatchers, Black-cheeked and Flame-throated Warblers, Collared Redstart, Wrenthrush, Sooty-capped Bush Tanager, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Large-footed, Peg-billed, Sooty-faced and Yellow-thighed Finches, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Volcano Junco, Black-thighed Grosbeak and Golden-browed Chlorophonia.

    Caribbean Slope Specialities
    Purplish-backed Quail Dove, Lattice-tailed Trogon, Black-crowned Antpitta/soma, Grey-headed Piprites, Snowy Cotinga, Black-throated and Plain Wrens, Nicaraguan Seed Finch and Tawny-capped Euphonia.

    Pacific Slope Specialities
    White-crested Coquette, Charming Hummingbird, Baird’s Trogon, Fiery-billed Aracari, Golden-naped Woodpecker, Black-hooded Antshrike, Turquoise and Yellow-billed Cotingas, Orange-collared Manakin, Riverside Wren, Cherrie’s Tanager and Spot-crowned Euphonia.

    Other Specialities
    Great Green Macaw, Resplendent Quetzal, Veraguan (Veraguas) Mango, Snowcap, Violet Sabrewing, Wing-banded Antbird, Ochraceous Wren, Black-tipped Cotinga, (Broad-billed) Sapayoa, Blue-and-gold, Black-and-yellow, Grey-and-gold and Sulphur-rumped Tanagers, and Tawny-capped Euphonia. Also a chance of Marbled, Black-eared and Spotted Wood Quails, Tawny-faced Quail, White-throated Crake and Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo.

    Others
    Magnificent Frigatebird, Grey-headed Chachalaca, Crested Guan, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Boat-billed and Cocoi Herons, King Vulture, Red-throated Caracara, Black, Black-and-white and Ornate Hawk-Eagles, Double-toothed, Plumbeous and Swallow-tailed Kites, Crane, Grey-lined, Semiplumbeous and White Hawks, Northern and Wattled Jacanas, Blue Ground Dove, Great Potoo, Golden-headed Quetzal, Rufous-breasted, Green, Long-billed, Pale-bellied and Stripe-throated Hermits, Rufous-crested Coquette, Garden Emerald, Purple-throated Mountain-gem, Purple-crowned Fairy, trogons, Broad-billed, Lesson’s, Rufous, Tody and Whooping Motmots, Great and Rufous-tailed Jacamars, Barred, Black-breasted, Pied, White-necked and White-whiskered Puffbirds, Grey-cheeked Nunlet, Red-headed and Spot-crowned Barbets, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed and Yellow-throated Toucans, Black-cheeked, Crimson-bellied and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, Brown-billed and Red-billed Scythebills, Bare-crowned, Ocellated and Spotted Antbirds, Streak-chested Antpitta, Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant (the smallest passerine bird in the world along with Short-tailed Pygmy Tyrant), Southern Bentbill, Golden-crowned and White-throated Spadebills, Panamanian Flycatcher, Blue Cotinga, Rufous Piha, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Golden-collared, Golden-headed, Lance-tailed and Red-capped Manakins, Sharpbill, Northern Royal Flycatcher, Green and Yellow-browed Shrike Vireos, Black-chested Jay, wrens, nightingale thrushes, euphonias, wintering warblers including Golden-winged, Chiriqui Yellowthroat, Blue and Scarlet-thighed Dacnises, honeycreepers including Shining, and tanagers including Rufous-winged, Scarlet-browed, Tooth-billed and Yellow-backed. Also a chance of Red-billed Tropicbird, Sunbittern, Sungrebe, Crested and Spectacled Owls, and Great Potoo.

    Mammals
    Hoffmann's Two-toed and Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths, Geoffroy’s (Red-naped) Tamarin, Mantled Howler, Grey-bellied (Lemurine) Night, Central American (Brown-headed) Spider and White-faced Capuchin Monkeys, (Lesser) Capybara (near Gamboa Rainforest Resort), White-nosed Coati, Central American Agouti, Olingo, Central American Woolly, Common and Grey Four-eyed Opossums, and Orange Nectar Bat. Also a chance of Baird’s Tapir, Northern Tamandua, Humpback Whale (mostly May-Nov, Coiba NP), Bottlenose and Pantropical Spotted Dolphins, Kinkajou and Greater Bulldog (Fishing) Bat. The endemic Pygmy Three-toed Sloth occurs only on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, east of Bocas del Toro off the north coast.

    Reptiles, Amphibians and Fish
    Excellent scuba-diving and snorkeling, at places such as Bocas del Toro/Isla Bastimentos Marine National Park and Coiba National Park where there are Manta Ray and turtle cleaning stations. On the mainland lizards include Striped Basilisk.

    Photograph of Yellow-throated Toucans

    Yellow-throated Toucans by David Sewell.


    Best Sites for Birds and other wildlife in Panama

    Best Times for Birds and other wildlife in Panama

    The wettest season usually lasts from mid-April to December hence the best time to visit is between January and March, although any time between October and March is good for birds, with April being the best time for Darien.

    Recommended Bird Books etc. for Panama

    Birds of Central America by A C Vallely and D Dyer. PUP, 2018.

    The Birds of Panama: A Field Guide by G R Angehr and R Dean. CUP, 2010.

    Guide to the Birds of Panama by R A Ridgely and J A Gwynne. PUP, 1992 (Second Edition).

    A Bird-Finding Guide to Panama by G R Angehr, and D and L Engleman. Comstock, 2008.

    Birds of Costa Rica by R Garrigues and R Dean. Comstock, 2014 (Second Edition).

    An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by V Esquivel Soto. Incafo, 2008 (Second Edition).

    A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico by F A Reid. OUP, 2009 (Second Edition).

    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.


    Apps etc.


    Panama 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 Panama

    Many trip reports, some for Panama, 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 Panama. These tour companies and others also post their own reports on their websites, which are listed under 'Some Organized Tours to Panama' below.

    Local bird and wildlife guides in Panama

    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 Panama

    Some Organized Tours for birds and other wildlife to Panama

    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 are running organized tours to Panama in the next couple of years include the following. Many of these also offer custom tours.