The 6 Toucans in Costa Rica
Toucans are one of my favorite birds and if you are a bird watcher/wildlife photographer, Costa Rica is a great place to see them. There are 6 different species of toucans in Costa Rica: Keel-billed toucan, Black-mandibled toucan, Yellow-eared toucan, Fiery-billed Aracari, Collarred Aracari and Emerald Toucanet.
If there is a certain bird you can want to see, you will need to research where in Costa Rica they live because not all toucans live in the same areas. Some are easy to see, some are hard so make sure to hire a guide if you are a birder or photographer so they can take you to the best places to see them.
In this post, you’ll find out some toucan facts and the best places to see toucans in Costa Rica including where we have seen them. When it comes to spotting these birds, you will most likely hear them before you see them as they are quite vocal birds and have a unique call.
Costa Rica toucan facts
Toucans have oversized beaks, travel in small groups and are omnivores. They eat fruit, berries, insects and eggs/nestlings of other birds. They travel in groups and always in pairs when they’re adults. You’ll notice that toucans will exhibit a follow-the-leader behavior, whenever one toucan flies off, the others will follow a few seconds later so if you’re a wildlife photographer, you can predict which direction they are flying to and how long you have before they fly off again.
When their territories overlap, it is common to see different species of toucans together. We’ve seen Keel-billed, Chestnut-Mandibled and Collared Aracari toucans in the same tree!
Of the 6 toucans in Costa Rica, the Emerald Toucanet is the smallest standing at 12 inches (30 centimeters). This is the only toucan with a green chest and stomach and they are hard to see since they’re so small and bend in well in the trees.
They also have a distinctive dark blue throat, making them different than the other Emerald Toucanets found in Mexico and South America. Some classify them as a subspecies of the Emerald Toucanet and call them Blue-throated Toucanet.
They’re live in elevations from 2600-8000 feet (800 to 2400 meters) and are commonly seen in Monteverde, Turrialba and in the Caribbean mountains. These toucans are also found in Nicaragua and western Panama.
We saw Emerald Toucanets in Monteverde at the Children’s Eternal Rain forest Bajos del Tigre station and around our Airbnb. We also saw them up in the mountains of Turrialba, specifically the small community of Santa Cruz.
The Collared Aracari toucan stands 16 inches tall (41 centimeters) and look very similar to the Fiery-billed Aracari except for the mandible. The Collared Aracari has a white beak and a black belly stripe. They have in my opinion, the cutest call!
If you see one, you will most likely see more as they travel in groups of anywhere from 4-12. They are common in the mountains of Guanacaste, the Caribbean coast and the Northern Lowlands such as Arenal and Monteverde. They’re usually found in elevations up to 3000 feet (1000 meters).
The Fiery-billed Aracari toucan has the coolest name! They look like the Collared Aracaris except for their chest and beak, which have red and orange stripes instead of white (hence the name Fiery). They’re around the same size as the Collared ones as well.
You can see Fiery-billed Aracaris only in the Central and South Pacific of Costa Rica so places like Manuel Antonio, Uvita and the Osa Peninsula. They are endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama and don’t usually live up high in elevation.
We’ve seen them in Manuel Antonio and Uvita. I absolutely adore the aracari toucans, their striking colors and call make them my favorites of all the toucans!
The Yellow-eared Toucanet is the hardest toucan to see of the 6 in Costa Rica. As you can tell, I have yet to see and photograph one! This is the only toucan with a full black throat, breast and stomach but males and females are completely distinguishable (unlike the other toucans). Males have a yellow color on the side of their head whereas females do not.
These guys are found in only a tiny area of Costa Rica, from the Guanacaste corridor to the Caribbean lowlands in elevations of 300 to 4000 feet (100 to 1200 meters).
I have talked to people who have seen them in Arenal and Monteverde. Hopefully I will be able to see one one day and photograph it!
The Keel-billed toucan is the one most people relate to Costa Rica since it’s used as the symbol and logo for many companies. It’s also known as the Rainbow toucan because of the stunning colors of their beak.
This toucan has the funniest call, instead of a high pitch chirp like the Aracaris and Black-mandibled toucan, it has a croak which sounds like a frog!
You can see these toucans on the Caribbean side, in the Pacific coast mountains of Guanacaste, Monteverde, Turrialba, Cartago, mountains of the Central Valley and Arenal. They prefer an elevation of around 500-1500 meters.
Black-mandibled toucan (or Chestnut mandibled toucan)
The Black-mandibled toucan is the biggest of the 6 toucans in Costa Rican and they are known as bullies. Since they are bigger than the others, they will bully the others for food and territory. For some reason, their name keeps changing too from Black mandibled to Chestnut.
They have a high pitched call and are the most common toucans to see. They are found in Arenal, Monteverde, mountains of Guanacaste (not the coast), the Caribbean side and the South Pacific.
Where to see Toucans in Costa Rica
To see toucans in Costa Rica, you don’t necessarily need to go on a bird watching tour but I do recommend it if you’re a birder or photographer. Some hotels are designed for bird watching in mind (observation tower, bird watching platform, etc.) such as Macaw Lodge, Danta Corcovado Lodge, Casitas Tenorio, Maquenque Lodge and Lapa Rios Lodge so check those out if you’re a bird watcher.
The best places for bird watching in Costa Rica are Carara National Park, Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge, Curi-Cancha Wildlife Reserve, Osa Peninsula, Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge and Tortuguero National Park.
One of the best bird watching experience we’ve had was actually at the Airbnb we stayed in La Fortuna. This house was out in the rain forest and we saw more birds from the backyard than many bird watching tours we’ve been on! We saw falcons, toucans, tanagers, motmots and hummingbirds of all sorts.
If you’re a photographer, don’t forget to bring a telephoto zoom lens (at least 400mm), a steady tripod and gimbal head to get those sharp photos. For our camera set up, I use a Canon 5d Mark III with a 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 extender. If it’s a sunny day, I’ll use the lens + extender on my Canon 80D which is a crop sensor so I can get even more length.
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