Birds of Costa Rica

B&B owner: “Are you guys big bird watchers?”

Jenny: “I mean, if they’re there, we’ll look at them”

B&B owner: “That’s good. Birders are a weird bunch.”

Bird watchers flock from around the world to catch a glimpse of the aerial wildlife in Costa Rica. While Jenny and I aren’t exactly avid about avians, it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the excitement of looking for the rare and resplendent residents of the rainforest. As I joked on Instagram, “I’ve decided that bird watching is just Pokemon GO for old people. Think about it: you chase around technicolor animals with silly names that you can only see in a camera.”

There are 921 species of birds in Costa Rica, which is more than the United States and Canada combined. That’s not bad for a country that’s the size of West Virginia!

While we’ve seen far more birds than we could ever identify just by walking around town, we’ve been on the lookout for certain marquee species and we’ve been fortunate enough to see quite a few. Here are some photos of our favorites:

A chestnut-mandibled toucan
A Resplendent Quetzal. This guy was resplendent and he knew it. Don’t let it go to your head, buddy!
A Blue Crowned Motmot
This Rainbow-Billed Toucan had a nest inside a tree. Local guides are great because they know the locations and habits of the animals.
A couple parrots

The best way to get a glimpse of these critters is to hire a guide who knows their territory and habits. The guides usually carry high-powered scopes to help you get a glimpse of far-away birds, though it’s unbelievable what they can see with just their naked eyes. The guides can see a tiny dot in a distant tree and correctly identify it as a Broad-Billed Motmot or whatever. Here are a few shots taken through our guide’s scope:

There are so many hummingbirds here it’s unbelievable. The other day at breakfast I wished I had safety goggles to protect me from the darting, diving, fighting, and playing hummingbirds that were buzzing around our heads!

Seven hummingbirds at one bird feeder!

Here’s a video of a bird that you can hear all over the forest due to its unique song. We called it the “Rusty Swing Set Bird” because that’s what it sounds like!

And last but not least I have to mention one of my favorite birds, the Great-tailed Grackle. They’re really common and usually appear in cities. We saw them in Costa Rica and in Mexico. They’re an iridescent black color, and most people probably just ignore them because they don’t have any bright plumage, but they always make us laugh with their songs. We call them “robobirds” because of all the beeps and boops they make. They impersonate car alarms and cell phones and make all sorts of robotic noises. I captured some audio of them roosting for the night in a tree:

For the photographers out there who are curious as to what kind of camera you need to capture these avian wonders, I’ll tell you that I took all these photos on an Olympus E-P5 at 150mm (that’s a 300mm equivalent on a 35mm camera). I didn’t use a tripod for any shot. My camera is smaller and less powerful than your average DSLR, so what I’m saying is that if you’re lucky like we were then you can get pretty close to these birds!

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