Costa Rica has more than 880 identified species of resident and migrant birds. The variety of habitats and compact nature of the country make it a major bird-watching destination.
Jabiru Stork (Jabiru mycteria) -- One of the largest birds in the world, this stork stands 1.5m (5 ft.) tall and has a wingspan of 2.4m (8 ft.) and a 30cm-long (1-ft.) bill. An endangered species, the jabiru is very rare, with only a dozen or so nesting pairs in Costa Rica. Prime Viewing: The wetlands of Palo Verde National Park and Caño Negro Wildlife Reserve are the best places to try to spot the jabiru stork. The birds arrive in Costa Rica from Mexico in November and fly north with the rains in May or June.
Keel-Billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus) -- The rainbow-colored canoe-shape bill and brightly colored feathers make the keel-billed toucan a favorite of bird-watching tours. The toucan can grow to about 51cm (20 in.) in length. Aside from its bill coloration, it is similar in shape and coloring to the chestnut-mandibled toucan. Costa Rica also is home to several smaller toucanet and aracari species. Prime Viewing: Lowland forests on the Caribbean and north Pacific slopes, up to 1,200m (4,000 ft.).
Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) -- Known as lapa in Costa Rica, the scarlet macaw is a long-tailed member of the parrot family. It can reach 89cm (35 in.) in length, including its long pointed tail. The bird is endangered over most of its range, mainly because it is coveted as a pet. Its loud squawk and rainbow-colored feathers are quite distinctive. Prime Viewing: Carara National Park, Corcovado National Park, and Piedras Blancas National Park.
Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomchrus mocinno) -- Arguably the most spectacular bird in Central America, the Resplendent Quetzal, of the trogon family, can grow to 37cm (15 in.). The males are distinctive, with bright red chests, iridescent blue-green coats, yellow bills, and tail feathers that can reach another 76cm (30 in.) in length. The females lack the long tail feathers and have a duller beak and less pronounced red chest. Prime Viewing: High-elevation wet and cloud forests, particularly in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve and along the Cerro de la Muerte.
Magnificent Frigate Bird (Fregata magnificens) -- The magnificent frigate bird is a naturally agile flier, and it swoops (unlike other seabirds, it doesn't dive or swim) to pluck food from the water's surface -- or more commonly, it steals catch from the mouths of other birds. Prime Viewing: Often seen soaring high overhead, along the shores and coastal islands of both coasts.
Montezuma's Oropendola (Psarocolius Montezuma) -- Montezuma's oropendola has a black head, brown body, a yellow-edged tail, a large black bill with an orange tip, and a blue patch under the eye. These birds build long, teardrop-shaped hanging nests, often found in large groups. They have several distinct loud calls, including one that they make while briefly hanging upside down. Prime Viewing: Low and middle elevations along the Caribbean slope, and some sections of eastern Guanacaste.
Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja) -- The roseate spoonbill is a large water bird, pink or light red in color and with a large spoon-shaped bill. Also known as garza rosada (pink heron). The species almost became extinct in the United States because its pink wing feathers were used to make fans. Prime Viewing: Found in low-lying freshwater and saltwater wetlands nationwide, although rare along the Caribbean coast and plains. Common on the Pacific coast, north-central lowlands, and in the Golfo de Nicoya and Golfo Dulce areas.
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) -- The cattle egret is a snow-white bird, with a yellow bill and irises, and black legs. It changes color for the breeding season: A yellowish buff color appears on the head, chest, and back, and a reddish hue emerges on the bill and legs. Prime Viewing: Found near cattle, or following tractors, throughout Costa Rica.
Boat-Billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius) -- The midsize boat-billed heron (about 51cm/20 in.) has a large black head, a large broad bill, and a rusty brown color. Prime Viewing: Throughout the country, near marshes, swamps, rivers, and mangroves.
Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans) -- The laughing falcon is also known as the guaco in Costa Rica. It gets its name from its loud, piercing call. This largish (56cm/22-in.) bird of prey's wingspan reaches an impressive 94cm (37 in.). It specializes in eating both venomous and nonvenomous snakes but will also hunt lizards and small rodents. Prime Viewing: Throughout the country, most commonly in lowland areas, near forest edges, grasslands, and farmlands.
Mealy Parrot (Amazona farinose) -- Called loro or loro verde this large, vocal parrot is common in lowland tropical rainforests on both coasts. Almost entirely green, it has a touch of blue on the top of its head, and small red and blue accents on its wings. Loro means parrot, and verde means green, so you and locals alike may confuse this parrot with any number of other local species. Prime Viewing: Lowland rainforests on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.
Scarlet-rumped Tanager (Ramphocelus costaricensis) -- With a striking scarlet red patch on its backside, this is one of the most commonly sighted tanagers in Costa Rica. It is known locally as sargento or sangre de toro. For true ornithologists, a reclassification has divided the Costa Rican scarlet rumped tanagers into two distinct species, Passerini's Tanager, which is found on the Caribbean slope and lowlands, and Cherrie's Tanager, which is found along the Pacific slope and lowlands. Prime Viewing: Throughout the country, in lowland and midelevation areas.
Osprey (Pandion haliatus) -- This large (.6m/2-ft.-tall, with a 1.8m/6-ft. wingspan) brownish bird with a white head is also known as gavilan pescador, or "fishing eagle." In flight, the osprey's wings "bend" backward. Prime Viewing: Found in lowland coastal areas and wetlands throughout Costa Rica; seen flying or perched in trees near water. A small population is resident year-round, although most are winter migrants, arriving September to October and departing April to May.
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum) -- Unlike most owls, this small (about 38cm/15-in.) grayish brown or reddish brown owl is most active during the day. Prime Viewing: In wooded areas, forest edges, and farmlands of low and middle elevations along the northern Pacific slope.
Violet Sabrewing (Campylopterus hemileucurus) -- The largest hummingbird found in Costa Rica, the violet sabrewing shines a deep purple when the sun strikes it right. Its beak is long, thick, and gently curving. Prime Viewing: Mid- and higher-elevation cloud forests and rainforests countrywide.
Clay-Colored Robin (Turdus grayi) -- In a country with such a rich variety of spectacularly plumaged bird species, this plain brown robin is an unlikely choice to be Costa Rica's national bird. However, it is extremely widespread and common, especially in urban areas of the Central Valley, and it has a wide range of pleasant calls and songs. Known locally as the yiguirro, it has uniform brown plumage, with a lighter brown belly and yellow bill. Prime Viewing: Low and middle elevations nationwide, especially in clearings, secondary forests, and amid human settlements.
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