Costa Rica is without a doubt “for the birds.” But in a good way. There are almost 900 species of birds that dwell (at least off and on) within its borders. That is more than in the U.S. and Canada combined…in a country the size of West Virginia!

I love pretty much all Costa Rica birds. Well, there is that one species, the Zanate. Those brownish crow-like creatures that always gathered in the stand of trees that bordered the parking lot where my old office use to be. The cacophony of sound emitted in the late afternoons would drown out even the loudest possible train of thought. And if you were forgetful enough that day to leave your car parked under those trees. Well, the next day certainty meant a trip to the car wash. But almost all the others I am particularly fond of. And out of all those, the following four Costa Rica birds are perhaps my favorites.

The Lapa Roja (pictured above)

That is the name we use down here. You might know them as the Scarlet Macaw. Their numbers once dwindled in areas such as the Central Pacific. But lately they have made a dramatic comeback. The best place to see them is the Osa Peninsula, where they gather in trees in numbers that would rival the infamous Zanate (well, not really, but the hyperbole does paint a nice picture). The Lapa Roja can actually live to 50 years and they mate for life. You will always see the two mates together, either in the air or in a tree. They are perhaps Costa Rica’s most beautiful bird with bright red, yellowish-green and blue plumage. They are large birds and you can easily spot them by their shape and color as they fly by. They sound much like other parrot species, with a typical squawking call. They are particularly sought after by poachers who sell them to zoos and to individuals to keep as pets. If you ever see someone with a Scarlet Macaw in their home, you might want to remind that person that their “pet” really belongs in the jungle.

The Resplendent Quetzal


Perhaps the most decorative of Costa Rican birds. It almost looks too fanciful to be a living thing, with its awkwardly long tail feather and plumage that resembles a green, white and red tuxedo. There is also the roundish green head with short plumage that gives it a crew-cut like appearance and that little yellow beak. God was really in a good mood the day he crafted the Quetzal. The Quetzal prefers cold climates and you find them in high elevations of the cloud forest. They particularly like the fruit of one tree, a type of avocado, so if you can find those trees, in the early mornings you might indeed find a Quetzal feeding. They are reclusive and shy birds. It is not that easy to spot one, but if you do, get ready for one heck of a photo opportunity. The picture attached to this paragraph was taken by yours truly (with the help of my naturalist guide) in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. That is a good place to see them, but perhaps the best place is San Gerardo de Dota. Oh and I also should mention that the Mayans revered the Quetzal (along with the snake) as a symbol of creation. It is the national bird of Guatemala.

The Jilguero

This is a tiny bird that lives high in the cloud forest canopy. You will likely never see one in the wild, but you will definitely hear them. They have perhaps the most melodic and hypnotic sound of any bird. It has an almost metallic twang. I have embedded a video of the Jilguero’s call so that you can hear for yourself. It is very difficult to describe. There is one section of the trail up to the summit of Chirripo called “el jilguero.” That is perhaps my favorite section because for the hour or so that you are on it you will be treated by a classical symphony that only this little bird can provide. Ticos are rather fond of taking them as pets in order to hear its call. But that is sad, because the best place to hear it is in the forest, not in the kitchen.

The Montezuma Oropendola

If the Jilguero has the most beautiful call, the Oropendola certainly has the most distinct. I can’t even begin to describe it with words, so once again I embedded a video for you to hear for yourself. Since moving to Costa Rica’s southern zone I never see this species, so I guess it doesn’t inhabit this area. But over to the east and northern parts of the country, like Arenal or the Caribbean, they are plentiful (basically along the entire Atlantic slope). The Oropendola is a beautiful bird with a black body, yellow fan tail and black and white triangular head capped off with a brilliant orange beak. It just amazes me how oddly colorful God decided to paint so many of Costa Rica’s birds. But perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of the Oropendola is its nest. Costa Rican mothers have a way of scolding the messiness of their children by likening the appearance of the room to the nest of the Oropendola. This bird builds the most unusual nest woven from fibers and vines and that hangs from high branches in tall trees. Again, a picture is worth the many words I could possibly use to describe the messiness of the Montezuma Oropendola.

My 4 Favorite Costa Rica Birds - nest of Montezuma Oropendola

Of course there are many others I could have mentioned, such as the Costa Rican mascot, Toucan Sam.  I made it a hobby some years ago to become a Costa Rica bird aficionado. In a country with so many of them, it is an easy and fun part-time hobby to engage in. I also have my trusty office manager and fellow blogger, Yahaira, who is a true birding expert, to help me along.

So next time you’re in Costa Rica, keep an eye and ear out for the birds, especially the four mentioned above.  And yes we have some great Costa Rica vacation designs that will put you up close and personal with many Costa Rica birds (and the bees).

Post by CRG

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