Covering just 0.3% of the earth’s surface and around the same size as Lake Michigan, Costa Rica is home to approximately 5% of the world’s biodiversity.
With more species per 10,000 sq. km than any other country in the world, a world-topping 26.9% of Costa Rica is protected within National Parks and Reserves.
The unique geography of Costa Rica with its jungles, volcanoes and oceans on both coasts has created this incredibly rich array of wildlife. Costa Rica is the perfect destination for nature and adventure lovers and with some 870 different bird species; it is a true bird watching paradise. Here are 5 of the best places to visit in Costa Rica for bird watchers.
♦ Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
With about 52 different species of Hummingbirds in Costa Rica, the Central American country is a Hummingbird paradise. At 4,724 ft. above sea level, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve gives you the opportunity to spot 30 different, brightly colored species of Hummingbirds.
With around 90% of its 26,000 acres completely untouched by man stunning, the untouched ecosystem of Monteverde attracts over 400 different species of birds.
One of the best times to visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and see the legendary Resplendent Quetzal and the endangered Three-Wattled Bellbird is during the nesting season which runs from March to May.
♦ Tortuguero National Park
On the northeastern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is the Tortuguero National Park. As its name suggests, Tortuguero (Land of the Turtles) is one of the best places to see turtles in Costa Rica but the 47,000-acre natural reserve is also a haven for over 300 different species of birds.
The remoteness of Tortuguero National Park has made this untouched area of Costa Rica a birding gem where you will be able to encounter species that you wouldn’t be able to anywhere else in the world.
With no roads in the National Park, you explore this wildlife sanctuary by boat, sailing along the verdant canals in search of Grebes, Herons and if you are lucky a Roseate Spoonbill may make a rare appearance.
♦ Caño Negro Wildlife Reserve
Known for being one of the most important conservation sites in the world, the Caño Negro Wildlife Reserve is situated just a few miles from the border with Nicaragua and makes for a great day trip from Arenal.
The 25,000-acre Caño Negro Wildlife Reserve consists of wetlands, rainforest and swampland that has made it into such a phenomenal bird-watching destination and attracts more than 200 different bird species.
The most notable bird found within the Caño Negro Reserve is the endangered Jabiru Stork which is the tallest flying bird found in Central and South America. During the dry season (February – April), many of the swamps and wetlands dry up, and the resulting lagoon filled basin becomes filled with thousands of birds making it one of the best times to visit the region.
♦ The Osa Peninsula
The Osa Peninsula is often referred to as the last wild frontier of Costa Rica. With over 400 different bird species of which about a dozen are endemic and restricted to the Osa region, the lush tropical forests and coastal mangroves are a joy to explore.
As one of the world’s best birding destinations, the Osa Peninsula, particularly within the Corcovado National Park, is perhaps the best place in the country to spot Scarlet Macaws.
Known as ‘Ara’ in Costa Rica, you will often see these magnificent red birds and parrots flying overhead in pairs in the late afternoon. Beautiful Honeycreepers, Tanagers, White Crested Coquettes, Toucans and White Hawks await you in the world’s most bio-diverse ecotourism destinations.
♦ San Gerardo de Dota
Thanks to its colorful plumage, the Resplendent Quetzal is one of the most celebrated birds of Central America.
The ancient Maya viewed the Quetzal as the god of the air and its stunning green feathers which were seen to signify wealth were often plucked and put onto nobility headdresses.
Outside of Costa Rica Quetzals are extremely rare but in San Gerardo de Dota in the south central region of Costa Rica, Quetzals can be spotted in the region’s many avocado trees. The best time to see this bird in San Gerardo de Dota is during the dry season and is an experience that cannot be missed.
♦ Useful Information on Bird Watching in Costa Rica
The value of having a knowledgeable guide cannot be underestimated with their keen eyes and ability to recognize the exotic calls of the wild around you. Their knowledge of the local habitats greatly improves your chances of finding the most exotic birds whether that is the fact that they know the avocado trees where Quetzals congregate or a specific mouth of a river to where birds like to catch fish.
There is no bad season for going bird watching in Costa Rica although during the dry season the trails are less muddy and more accessible.
Visiting Costa Rica between December and February gives the added bonus of being able to see many of the wintering migrant birds from as far as Alaska and Australia. Traveling to Costa Rica during the green (wet) season may mean fewer birds but you get to experience the dried forest springing into life. The wet season also marks the beginning of the nesting season for the resident birds in Costa Rica’s verdant green forests.