Seeing some of the birds of Costa Rica is a must do for every visitor, especially as they’re quite hard to miss! There are an astonishing 812 species flying throughout the country so if you’re a bird lover, Costa Rica is one of the best countries for you to visit.
Bird watching is actually pretty exciting, even to the ones that aren’t as enthusiastic. It’s fascinating to learn about the different types of birds, their calls and characteristics and what makes them so special. People from all over the world come to see the magnificent birds of Costa Rica!
So here are some of the most famous birds of Costa Rica you may see on your trip and who knows? You may turn into bird fans like we did!
Click the bird you’d like to read about.
Six species of toucan are found in Costa Rica: Black-mandibled, Keel-billed, Emerald Toucanet with a dark blue throat, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Fiery-Billed Aracari which is endemic to Costa Rica and Western Panama and the Collared Aracari in the Caribbean lowlands and Northern Pacific.
The biggest toucan is the Black-mandibled and the Keel-billed which has a rainbow beak, yellow chest and blue feet. The Keel-billed or rainbow toucan is the one most people want to see because of their pretty colors. To spot a Keel-billed toucan, first listen for them as they have a very unique call. They sound like frogs!
Depending on which toucan it is, they are seen in Arenal, Manuel Antonio, Jaco, the Central Valley, the South, Osa Peninsula, Caribbean, Monteverde and the Guanacaste province. Many wildlife reserves and rescues have a toucan or two. The Black Mandibuled toucan is particularly common and easily seen in the South Pacific and Osa Peninsula due to their large size. Keel-billed toucans are very common on the Caribbean side and you can usually see both Keel and Black Mandibuled together.
The Emerald Toucanet is seen up in high elevations areas like Monteverde. The Yellow Eared Toucanet is very hard to see.
These birds have a distinct call and like to fly in groups so if you see one, there’s most likely a few other ones around. Read more about the 6 toucans in Costa Rica here.
The scarlet macaw is a member of the parrot family and it is the biggest parrot in the world. They mate for life so you’ll most likely see pairs of macaws flying together. If you see three, the third is most likely the juvenile who stays with the parents for 1-2 years. These birds are native to Central and South America but are endangered due to deforestation.
The most popular parrot most people want to see is the Scarlet Macaw. Scarlet macaws are known for being extremely colorful and are an impressive sight to see when their wings are fully expanded.
Other parrots you can see are the Great Green Macaw found in the Caribbean side, the Red-lored Parrot, White-crowned parrot, Orange-fronted Parakeet and Blue-headed Parrot.
Trogons & Resplendent Quetzal
The Resplendant Quetzal are prized birds as they are a hard to see so if you spot one in the wild, feel exceptionally blessed. Due to their connection to Mesoamerican myths, this bird is of great importance in Central America. Guatemala named their currency after it and it is their national bird.
The long tail is the quetzal’s defining characteristic and both males and females are vibrantly colored. You can spot the resplendent quetzal in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, Santa Elena Cloud Forest, San Ramon and San Gerardo de Dota.
One of the best places to see Quetzals in Monteverde is Curi-Cancha Reserve. We saw 5!
The quetzal is part of the Trogon family, which has many others such as the Barid’s Trogon, Collared Trogon and Black Headed Trogon. All the trogons have a different distribution so if you want to see them, research the birds beforehand.
Male trogons are fairly colorful and their eye-ring color, bill and undertail pattern are particularly unique to this species.
Around 50 species of hummingbirds are found in Costa Rica and they are a dazzling sight to see. They have a distinctive chirp as they fly around from tree to tree.
Hummingbirds are found in every part of the country with the forests of Monteverde, Poas Volcano National Park and Santa Elena Reserve home to some of the most beautiful ones. There are some hummingbirds in Costa Rica that you can only see in certain parts of the country, mostly the ones that live in higher elevation.
The coloration varies between species from a dazzling green to vibrant purple. Some species you can see are the Green hermit and Violet sabrewing. The most common hummingbird in Costa Rica is the Rufous-tailed and the migratory Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
Herons and Egrets
Herons are commonly seen in Costa Rica as they are freshwater and coastal birds. You can find them in almost all wetland habitats. Egrets are are herons but are normally smaller with a mostly white body or decorative plumage.
Some species of heron are migratory and can be seen in many national parks like Palo Verde, Tortuguero, Corcovado, and Rio Tarcoles. Common ones to see are the Green heron, Little-blue heron, Snow egret and Great-blue heron.
Known for a colorful plumage and long tail, Motmots are a beautiful bird to see.
They can be found in a variety of habitats but it likes tropical forest and the forest edge. They’re commonly seen commonly in Guanacaste, northern Puntarenas and in the lowlands.
Turquoise browed motmots love to perch in plain view on wires, trees and fences and they have a unique call.
Other species are the Blue-crowned Motmot (the most common), Rufuos motmot, Keel-billed motmot and the Broad billed motmot.
The Tanagers have a huge range of characteristics and distribution in Costa Rica. They are generally small birds and are mainly split into “dull coloration” and “typical colorful.” Tanagers have a sole American distribution.
Some common Tanagers are the Cherrie’s Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Rufus-Winged Tanager, Summer Tanager and Gray-Headed Tanager.
For beginner bird watchers, tanagers are a great place to start since they are fairly common and there is such a wide variety of tanagers.
These birds have a great sense of smell and are essential to keeping the circle of life how it is as they eat the flesh of dead animals. They are common throughout the country and you can see them flying high in the sky as they search for their next meal.
There are 4 vultures in Costa Rica: Lesser Yellow Headed, Black, Turkey and King. They aren’t the prettiest of birds, but they are incredibly important.
Other Birds of Costa Rica
Here are some other birds we’ve seen in Costa Rica such as Wrens, Hawks, Seedeaters and more.
Read about other wildlife in Costa Rica!
If you’re interested in reading about the different birds of Costa Rica, here are some great resources. I personally love the birds of Costa Rica field guide book, it has all the information you ever want to know.