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With such a wide variety of habitats encompassed in such a small area, and a temparate climate all year round, Costa Rica is a perpetual birdwatcher's paradise. However, many travelers choose to come during the peak dry season from December and February, when trails are most accessible and less muddy. The country is home to almost 900 different species of birds – more than that of the USA and Canada combined.

Birdwatching in San José
While it is highly recommended to venture outside the capital city for the best birdwatching experiences, San José does offer a few opportunities for some exotic sightings. Check out the Parque del Este located in San Rafael de Montes de Oca, where you can spot Oropendolas, Blue-crowned Motmots, Brown Boobys, and a variety of woodpeckers and hummingbirds. Several kinds of birds can also be seen at the University of Costa Rica, whose main campus is located in San Pedro de Montes de Oca.

Birdwatching in the Southern Pacific Coast

Carara National Park is home to the Carara Biological Reserve, which hosts the largest population of scarlet macaws. It's about a 2 hour drive southwest of San José.

Birdwatching in the Caribbean Coast

La Selva Biological Station, which is about a 2 hour drive north of San José, contains a large area of tropical rain forest populated by more than 400 species of resident and migratory birds, including the Great and the Little Tinamaou, as well as a variety of herons, egrets, hawks, eagles, crakes, woodpeckers, and flycatchers.

From the wildlife refuge of Aviarios del Caribe, which is about a 3 hour drive from San José, over 300 species of birds have been sighted, including white-fronted nun birds, cinnamon woodpeckers, toucans, parrots, oropendolas, and royal flycatchers.

Birdwatching in the Northern Pacific Coast

Palo Verde Biological Station is about 4 and 1/2 hours outside of San José, located within the Palo Verde National Park. Here you'll find hundreds of marsh and stream birds along the Rio Tempisque Basin, including the black-bellied whistling duck, roseate spoonbill, the blue-winged teal, and a number of hummingbirds, flycatchers, warblers, tanagers, orioles, vireos, owls, gallinules, jacanas, limpkins, herons, kingfishers, and falcons.

Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge is very close to the country's northern bordern with Nicaragua, and can only be explored by boat because of the wetlands. The aquatic birds to be spotted here include the jabiru stork, glossy ibis, black-necked stilt, snail kite, green-backed heron, roseate spoonbill, blue-winged teal, American anhinga, northern jacana, American widgeon, wood stork, white ibis, black-bellied tree duck, northern shoveler, and the Nicaraguan grackle, which can't be found anywhere else in Costa Rica.

Birdwatching in the Central Northern Mountain Chains

Cerro de la Muerte is best known for its sightings of the Resplendent Quetzal, one of the most famous birds in all of South America, aptly named given the colorful splendor of its plumage. In pre-Columbian times, they were thought to be divine. Remember, your best chance to catch the Resplendent Quetzal is between December and June.

Monteverde Biological Cloud Forest Reserve, located 167 km/104 m northwest of San Jose, provides another opportunity to see the Quetzal.

Wilson Botanical Gardens is home to more than 7,000 species of tropical plants and flowers, and more than 330 bird species.

For those who wish to link up up with other birdwatching enthusiasts, contact the Birding Club of Costa Rica at This group often organizes expeditions throughout the Central Valley and other areas.

It is recommended to hire the services of local guides or join a birdwatching tour for the best birding experiences. The following books also provide extensive guides to birdwatching in Costa Rica.

1.The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean
2. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch
3. A Travel and Site Guide to Birds of Costa Rica by Aaron Sekerak
4. Birds of the Rainforest: Costa Rica by Carmen Hidalgo

Even with one of these books, hiring a local guide who is intimately familiar with the sounds, appearances and hiding places of each bird will make the most worthwhile experience. There are many operators to choose from, some of which are based out of North America and Europe. Here are a few suggestions:

UK: Journey Latin America (

USA: Hollbrook Travel ( Cheeseman's Ecology Safaris ( WINGS (

Costa Rica: Horizontes ( Costa Rica Expeditions ( Costa Rica Sun Tours (

One more tip: Don't forget your binoculars!

21 Oct 2010

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