Just a Few Costa Rica Birding Hotspots

With nearly 900 bird species identified, Costa Rica may have more birding hotspots than anywhere on earth.

Jill Staake

This time last week, I was in Costa Rica. During a 9-day trip to this small country, I visited a variety of places covering many of Costa Rica’s different ecosystems. That diversity is part of what makes Costa Rica such a rich environment for birds and birders. Nearly 900 different bird species have been documented in this Central American country that’s only about the size of West Virginia. (Compare that to the 914 species found in all of North America!) Not a day went by without adding new birds to my life list, often by doing nothing more than standing on a hotel balcony and looking into the trees around me. Here are some of the richest birding locations I found during my trip, along with just some of the birds I saw there.

Birding Hotspots Costa Rica

Jill Staake Even a hotel pool area can provide great birding in Costa Rica. I spotted a flock of Crimson-Fronted Parakeets soon after arriving to my hotel in San Jose on the first day of my trip.

  • Poás Volcano National Park: At around 7500 hundred feet above sea level, the crater of Poás Volcano is located in a cloud forest. The weather is often cool and misty, if not downright raining, but this is actually a favorite spot for hummingbirds. The trees along the main visitor path are also full of small songbirds, ready to be discovered by a sharp pair of eyes. Favorite Bird Spotting at Poás: Fiery-Throated Hummingbird. Other Spottings: Sooty-Capped Bush Tanager, Black-Capped Nightingale Thrush, Social Flycatcher.
Birding Hotspots Costa Rica

Jill Staake Black-Capped Nightingale Thrush, Poas Volcano National Park

  • Arenal Volcano: This volcano is located in the mountains northwest of San Jose. Though lava isn’t currently flowing from this still-active volcano, it’s still a popular tourist region. The birding here was as easy as falling off a log, with new species everywhere we looked at every time of day. Favorite Bird Spottings at Arenal: Toucans (Keel-Billed and Chestnut-Mandibled) and Rufous Motmot. Other Spottings: Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird, Bananaquit, Hoffman’s Woodpecker.
Birding Hotspots Costa Rica

Jill Staake Bananaquit, Arenal Volcano

  • Rio Frio near Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge: This area is so close to Nicaragua that we actually crossed the border for a few moments on our boat trip. These lowlands are hot and wet, and so full of birds and other wildlife that you almost don’t know where to look next. A boat trip is the best way to explore these wetlands. Favorite Bird Spottings at Rio Frio: Amazon and Green Kingfishers. Other Spottings: Sungrebe, Black-Cheeked Woodpecker, Northern Jaçana.
Birding Hotspots Costa Rica

Jill Staake Green Kingfisher, Rio Frio

  • Manuel Antonio National Park: This park on the Pacific Coast is not easy to get to, it’s true. A crowded winding road up the mountain takes you to the park entrance, from which you then hike about another mile into the park itself on foot. The hilly walk allows great opportunities for observing wildlife in this birding hotspot, though, making the hike to the beach worth the time. (This is also a terrific place for spotting monkeys and sloths.) Favorite Bird Spottings at Manuel Antonio: Golden-Hooded Tanager and Elegant Euphonia. Other Spottings: Blue-Gray Tanager, Roadside Hawk, Chestnut-sided Warbler.
Birding Hotspots Costa Rica

Jill Staake Roadside Hawk, Manuel Antonio National Park

  • Tárcoles River: This river drains into the Pacific, and borders the Carara Biological Reserve, a birding hotspot that is one of the last strongholds of the glorious Scarlet Macaw. The river is full of American Crocodiles, but wading birds fill the shorelines and the trees are full of raptors and other birds. Favorite Bird Spottings at Tárcoles River: Crested Caracara and Scarlet Macaw. Other Spottings: Mangrove Swallow, Yellow-Headed Caracara, Whimbrel.
Birding Hotspots Costa Rica

Jill Staake Crested Caracara, Tarcoles River

I spotted many more birds than the ones I’ve listed here, of course, adding more than 50 birds to my “life list” and seeing at least 100 species overall. Still, I find myself already longing to return to Costa Rica, to check out all the birding hotspots I missed. If you’re interested in hearing more about my trip, visit our Birding Community, where I’ll be sharing stories and more photos in the days ahead.

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