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Costa Rica Birding Tours & Travel Packages

Spot the Elusive Quetzal & More!

A plethora of colors and an assortment of plumage, combined with a great variety of species, makes Costa Rica birding amazing.  The bird nerd will be in heaven watching the rare quetzal or a scarlet macaw fly overhead while listening to the mating call of a Toucan.  There’s nowhere you can go in Costa Rica and NOT have great bird watching opportunities.  Of course, some areas are better than others.

An Overview of the best Costa Rica birding

Costa Rica offers birders great birdwatching opportunities all 4 of the country’s eco-zones. Accordingly, this ranges from sea level on the Caribbean coast to the Central Highlands and volcanoes. Each area is a habitat for particular species, as seen below:

The Dry Northwest
This is the Guanacaste region which borders Nicaragua and the Parque Nacional Carara.  The Palo Verde National Park, Parque Nacional Santa Rosa, Parque Nacional Guanacaste and the lower parts of Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja. These are all great places to view birds.

Expect to see: White-throated Magpie-jay, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Long-tailed Manakin and the Pacific Screech Owl.

The Highlands
This area runs through the middle of the country and 4 distinct mountain ranges. Great places to include: Turrialba, Arenal Volcano National Park, Poas Volcano National Park, San Gerardo de Dota.  Also the higher parts of Parque Nacional Braulio Carillo, and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Expect to see: the resplendent Quetzal, many hummingbirds, the Peg-billed Finch, and the Sooty Robin.

The Lowlands of the South Pacific
In Southern Costa Rica, the lowlands extend from Parque Nacional Carara all the way to western Panama, and the climate is tropical and wet.  Great places to include:  Parque Nacional Corcovado and the Carara National Park.

Expect to see: the Fiery-billed Aracari, the Turquoise Cotinga, the Riverside Wren, and the Spot-crowned Euphonia.

The Caribbean Lowlands
This is the largest eco-zone and includes the entire lowlands and foothills east of the mountains on the Caribbean East. Great places to include: the Parque Nacional Tortuguero, La Selva Biological Station, the Caño Negro area and the Cahuita National Park.

Expect to see: toucans, jacamars, puffbirds, antbirds and cotingas

Costa Rica Birding Haven for the Quetzal

Costa Rica is home to over 850 species of birds; birds of all different squawks and calls, colors, shapes, and sizes.  However, the most prized bird to spot is the resplendent quetzal, once worshiped by the ancient Maya and Aztecs, and now considered the crown jewel within the avian fauna of Costa Rica.  This beautiful bird flaunts vibrant green plumage, a red breast, and long streamer tail.  Although female quetzals aren’t as colorful as the males, both sexes are awe-worthy with birders.  With a habitat in the cool highland forests, the best places to spot them include: Los Angeles Cloud Forest Reserve and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. However, heaven to Quetzals is San Gerado de Dota, which borders Los Quetzales National Park.

Birding Costa Rica – Spot the resplendent Quetzal!

A trip to Costa Rica will elicit the bird nerd in any traveler.  Firstly, whether you’re trekking the cloud forests of Monteverde or exploring lowland rainforest, you’re bound to encounter some of the country’s colorful feathered wildlife.  Host to some 850 species Costa Rica Birds. Here provides an endless soundtrack of avian chirps, squawks, and calls, and some appear as if they’ve been painted in Technicolor shades.  Many avid birders consider the resplendent quetzal the glittering crown jewel of birding in Costa Rica.  Learn where and when to spot this beautiful creature in the cool highland forests.

A Prize for Any Birder

You’ll find scarlet macaws, jewel-toned tanagers, warbling cuckoos, iridescent motmots, and more than 50 types of hummingbirds in Costa Rica’s diverse ecosystems.  But one of the most spectacular residents is the resplendent quetzal.  Also, noted for its vibrant green plumage, red breast, and long streamer tail, the quetzal is the largest member of the trogon family, and one of the most highly sought-after species among birders.  Female quetzals aren’t as colorful as their male counterparts, but both sexes are show-stoppers in the world of avifauna. 

Costa Rica Birds Worshipped by Ancient Civilizations

The world’s interest in the quetzal dates back to pre-Columbian times.  Here, both Mayan and Aztec cultures considered the species sacred, due to its unique beauty and relative inability to live in captivity.  The Maya believed the quetzal as the “god of the air,” and a symbol of lightness and good.  The quetzal is rendered as Devine, in many cultures is considered a crime to kill the Quetzal.  Even today, a glimpse of a wild resplendent quetzal feeding or simply perched in a tree can feel like a magical experience.

Quetzal Season – When is the best time to see them?

So where can you observe this beautiful, yet somewhat mysterious creature? Look no further than the valley of San Gerardo de Dota in Costa Rica’s central highlands.  One of the country’s most famous birding hotspots, San Gerardo is bordered by Los Quetzales National Park along on the Cerro de la Muerte.  The region’s cloud forests are covered in wild avocado trees, the quetzal’s favorite food.  December through May is the best time to see them, but some travelers have luck during other months of the year.  In Monteverde, the quetzal is most frequently observed from March through June, during its mating season. 

Protected Areas for Quetzals – Costa Rica birding

While it’s true that the resplendent quetzal can be elusive, with the local knowledge of a Costa Rica birding guide, you’re bound to have luck, especially if your timing is right.  Most guides carry a spotting scope for close-up views of the birds, so keep in mind that small digital cameras are great for photographing through the scopes.  Look for quetzals and other high-altitude avian species in these Costa Rican parks and reserves.


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