With more than 850 species of birds, all found within a tight geographic area, Costa Rica offers birders of all levels of expertise and unrivaled birdwatching experience during their stay in the country. From the oak forest of the Talamanca Mountains, Central America's highest mountain range, to the cloudforests of Monteverde or Braulio Carrillo National Park, to the lowland rain forest of the Osa Peninsula, birders will discover a rich variety of habitats filled with wonderfully diverse groups of birds.
The best advice for birding in Costa Rica is to visit several different habitats, hire a local guide who specializes in birdwatching and come prepared with the "Birds of Costa Rica". This excellent guide, written by Gary Stiles of the University of Costa Rica and Alexander Skutch, is readily available from Cornell University Press. Birders will find well - drawn illustrations as well as helpful information about habits, calls and plumage in this classic book, which also lists key areas for productive birdwatching and provides useful hints about clothing, insect repellents, etc.
Some of the birds described could have sprung straight from the imagination of Dr. Seuss. Take the Umbrella Bird, for example, with its topknot of fine feathers that make the bird look like it's wearing an umbrella on its head (which would be just the thing in the wet cloud forest where it lives). Or the Three - Wattled Bell bird, which doesn't say "Ding, dong", or sound like a bell at all. It goes "BONK!"
Other birds could have materialized from the pages of childhood books of fantasy. The unbelievably beautiful Resplendent Quetzal, with its iridescent plumage that gleams emerald green or shines like polished metal, is a bird that figures prominently in pre - Columbian mythology throughout Central America and whose feathers were prized like gold or jade. The quetzal can be easily seen in Costa Rica, at Cerro de la Muerte or Monteverde, an awe - inspiring sight that will stay with birdwatchers forever. The Scarlet Macaw, another beautiful bird whose populations are dwindling throughout Central America, can still be seen in Costa Rica, especially at the Carara Biological Reserve.
Birders out on the trail in Costa Rica's forests should keep an eye out for mixed flocks foraging on certain types of food, especially fruit, in the forest canopy.
They should also watch for ant swarms, a tropical phenomena in which migrating groups of vicious army ants stir up other insects and even small animals as they move along the forest floor. Ant swarms are accompanied by a number of bird species, which feast not on the army ants but on the insects they stir up. Species most frequently seen with an ant swarm are antbirds (naturally), tanagers, manakins and wrens.
Thanks to the excellent diversity of birds living in a variety of habitats that are easily accessible, to the availability of knowledgeable, local guides, and to safe, convenient trails, Costa Rica has become one of the worlds' most popular birdwatching destinations. Few, if any, birdwatchers leave the country without having exceeded their highest expectations in a tropical country!