Searching for Bird Species at Canopy Tower in Panama

Canopy Tower offers the chance to see an incredible number of bird species!

Rob Ripma

Last week, my wife and I spent four days at an amazing eco-lodge called Canopy Tower in Soberania National Park in Panama. This is no ordinary eco-lodge –  it was a US Air Force radar tower located in the former Panama Canal Zone that has been converted into lodging. Ever since I started birding, I have wanted to visit this site.  Not only are the accommodations extremely unique, the birding in the area is out of this world!

I've never been to such a unique eco-lodge!

I’ve never been to such a unique eco-lodge!

In addition to the unique lodge, the vehicles we birded from were also unusual!

In addition to the unique lodge, the vehicles we birded from were also unusual!

As we arrived, there were a number of hummingbirds at the feeders around the entrance to the lodge which was the perfect start to our stay. After dropping some of our gear in our room, we headed straight up to the observation deck to look out over the rainforest.  The observation deck at Canopy Tower actually sits above canopy level, which is such a great vantage point for looking for bird species that may not venture much into lower levels of the rainforest. You have 360 degree views where you can see for miles and miles, including the Panama City skyline and the Centennial Bridge over the Panama Canal. Although there weren’t very many bird species moving in the middle of the day, there were Mantled Howler Monkeys and Three-toed Sloths in the trees around the tower!

This is just part of the view from the observation deck.

This is just part of the view from the observation deck.

Although this Mantled Howler Monkey might look cute, the noise it makes can be quite scary if you don't know what it is!

Although this Mantled Howler Monkey might look cute, the noise it makes can be quite scary if you don’t know what it is!

I was really hoping to see sloths on this trip and I wasn't disappointed!

I was really hoping to see sloths on this trip and I wasn’t disappointed!

Over the next four days, we went to many birding sites near Canopy Tower and found 232 bird species! All of the birding sites offered an incredibly diverse set of birds, and there were many new things to be seen every time we went out. My favorite place that we birded was the famous Pipeline Road which is one of the best birding sites in all of North America!

Our guide for our time at Canopy Tower was my friend Carlos Bethancourt. I've known Carlos for a long time and it was so much fun to bird with him in his home country for the first time!

Our guide for our time at Canopy Tower was my friend Carlos Bethancourt. I’ve known Carlos for a long time, and it was so much fun to bird with him in his home country for the first time! He is truly one of the best guides in Central America.

Broad-billed Motmots are extremely common in this part of Panama and also posed nicely for photos.

Broad-billed Motmots are extremely common in this part of Panama and also posed nicely for photos.

My favorite hummingbird that we saw during our stay was the Violet-bellied Hummingbird.

My favorite hummingbird that we saw during our stay was the Violet-bellied Hummingbird.

Although our focus was primarily on birds, we found out that Canopy Tower offers a variety of tours that allow you to see some historical locations in addition to the typical birding trips. While at the Tower, we met a couple that was doing the birding and history tour package, and they were loving every bit of it! My wife and I also had the opportunity to visit the Miraflores Locks section of the Panama Canal and spent an afternoon seeing the Canal up close and personal and touring the museum, where we learned about both the history of the Canal and future plans for another set of locks.

Whether you’ve birded in the tropics many times or if you are considering making your first trip to see some tropical bird species, I highly recommend that you look into visiting Canopy Tower!

  1. Corinne says

    i went birding on Pipeline Road back in 1996 with one of the top birders in the country. It was spectacular! — and so close to the city. The Gamboa area and the Canal itself had lots of bird action too. I believe that the presence of the Canal (and the necessity to preserve its banks in order to keep it viable) helps keep the wildlife from being impacted by the growth of Panamá City.

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