Birding Costa Rica

The feature photo is a Keel-billed Toucan on the Cecropia Tree by my terrace in Roca Verde, Atenas. My interest in birding began in 1999-2002 while living/working in The Gambia, West Africa in a climate very similar to the lower elevations of Costa Rica – though no mountains or Cloud Forests in The Gambia!   🙂 See my web page Birding Gambia.  And/or my Gallery  Gambia Birds  (58 species).

Costa Rica was introduced to me in  a 2009 “Exotic Birding” Trip here when I participated with only 3 of us birders, dividing our time between the Osa Peninsula Rainforest and the San Gerardo de Dota Cloud Forest. I immediately fell in love with Costa Rica and had 3 other visits here before becoming a resident.

My Birding Trips Today

To check out my experience in around 50 different birding spots in Costa Rica, see the photos by location in my COSTA RICA TRIPS Gallery including photos of the birds I found there, more than 50 species in some locations! And in 2019 after birding here for five years+ I ranked the bird lodges I have visited according to the number of bird species I photographed there and of course that ranking can change as I continue to explore new places. That list included Nicaragua and Panama lodges and in 2021 I found a new #1 and thus a new 2021 Ranking of Costa Rica Only Lodges by number of birds photographed.

My eBird Costa Rica Life List

It has been growing monthly with around 330 species seen and photographed in Costa Rica on my Costa Rica Life List. Click the column header to organize by that heading.

My Bird Photos

I am now up to more than 300 different species of birds in my COSTA RICA BIRDS Photo Gallery if you just want to just see the birds. And one level up in that gallery is birds from other countries. And if you like prints of any of those photos, you can order regular prints or wall art, my new favorite being prints on metal for wall display. Click the BUY button in the gallery.

And to see what my photo books look like go to my Bookstore. where there are free electronic previews of each book or you can see the full collection of books at my house or Xandari Nature Resort in Alajuela which houses a library of all my photo books which are mostly photos of birds!

Birding Guides Are Excellent in Costa Rica!

I need to remember to photograph all my guides, but here’s a slide show of the ones I do have a photo of (28) and since I don’t have all their names, I identify none:

The ones who are birding or nature guides must complete a university course of study and be certified to guide. Lodges can hire only certified guides.

Birding Club

There is a birding club for expats here called Birding Club of Costa Rica that you have to join to get access to all of the website. I was a member for about 3 years but dropped out after it became less helpful to me. I prefer to go birding alone which is when I get more photos. They have a birding trip somewhere almost every month and it is a great way to get started here and of course meet other birders.

Field Guides and Identification of Birds

Birds of Costa Rica_

If you want a Field Guide to help you identify your birds in Costa Rica, the only one in English was for a long time the Second Edition of The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide and with the rapidly changing of some bird names, a few birds in this book are out of date, i.e. Chestnut-mandibled Toucan became Black-mandibled and is now officially called Yellow-throated Toucan. See below for a Spanish translation of this book done originally in English.


On August 29, 2023 I picked up at the DHL office in Alajuela my Amazon book order of the newest and thus most up to date Costa Rica birding guide book: Princeton Field Guide: Birds of Costa Rica by Dale Dyer & Steve N.G. Howell (linked to Amazon but available from Princeton and many other sources including a few book stores and National Park Stores here in Costa Rica.

Front Cover: Birds of Costa Rica

In your cell phone app store you will find an app called Merlin. It is by far the best of all birding apps and is always up-to-date and the easiest to use in identifying a bird. I still like a book, but use both and Merlin saves me some time.

Before the new Princeton Field Guide introduced above for Costa Rica, some birders here, like me, were using the then newest book titled Birds of Central America by Andrew C. Vallely & Dale Dyer. It is what I was using exclusively until the new Princeton Costa Rica Guide came out, thus I recommend it highly and especially good if you will be birding in more than one Central American country!

And a great local help in your general plans for birding is Pat O’Donnell and his Birdingcraft website & blog, with a great little PDF electronic book titled  How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica for 700 plus pages of information on where to find birds in Costa Rica and how to see them. Glad I finally got this book. He has pages on finding birds in different locations. When I visit a location I print out the pages for that place. It helps prepare me for my visit and get more photos!   🙂

But to be candid, it is not perfect and I do not always agree with him. I also prefer nicer lodges/hotels while he is a champion of economy cabinas. But he knows the birds!  Pat is also the official guide for the Costa Rica Birding Club. His goal on their trips was seeing the highest number of birds possible and that was not always as helpful to me wanting to slow down for more photos, but he knows the birds here and is a tour guide if you are looking for one. He also has an ID App for your phone but I found it not as easy as Merlin with the Costa Rica download (Personal opinion) though I still use both or all the above options when I have difficulty identifying a bird photo.

And in 2019 while at Arenal Observatory Lodge I discovered the then fairly new Spanish version of the above English book, The Birds of Costa Rica Field Guide, Second Edition. I use it to get the Spanish names of birds which I put in some of my photo books and think it is probably more accurate than Wikipedia where I was getting bird’s Spanish names!   🙂   Also very helpful for English speakers is an English bird names index in addition to the Spanish Index which will get you to the bird’s page where you will find the English name included with each Spanish description. A very helpful book! And by the way, Nicaragua beat them to it with a bilingual book that came out before these two guys (Garrigues & Dean) did an English only bird book for Nicaragua. I like the bilingual better!   🙂  But both are good if you are going to Nicaragua!


And On Facebook?

The birding club mentioned above has a Facebook Group Page that was never helpful to me and is for members only. The best information by far to help you with birding through Facebook is to join the group:  Asociacion Ornitologica de Costa Rica  and though most posts are in Spanish, if you don’t read Spanish Google Translate will help you out with a right click.   🙂    The second best Facebook Group to help you in Costa Rica Birding, especially with identification of a bird in a photo, is:  Costa Rica Bird id   and all you have to do is post a photo you made of a bird and someone will identify it within minutes or hours at most. And if one member disagrees with another’s ID they will say so and why and that helps you narrow it down quickly when debatable!   🙂  You can of course post more than one photo, like of the front and back of a bird which helps people narrow it down. Very helpful group!

And if you come here birding or live here and like birding, contact me and maybe we can get together and share experiences sometime. And if you use a birding guide at almost any lodge or hotel you will find him or her to be excellent! All guides here are well-trained and licensed by the government and truly love their jobs!

“I think the most important quality in a birdwatcher is a willingness to stand quietly and see what comes. Our everyday lives obscure a truth about existence – that at the heart of everything there lies a stillness and a light.”
― Lynn Thomson, Birding with Yeats: A Mother’s Memoir

¡Pura Vida!