Finding Birds in Costa Rica

Planning on birding in Costa Rica? Want to maximize the number of birds seen and/or concentrate on endemics during your visit? Then read on, because you've come to the right place.

Some say, "Birds are where you find them." Certainly there's an element of truth in that statement, otherwise rare bird alert hotlines would not exist. Nonetheless, most birds have specific habitats that they prefer, and if you want to see them, you'd better know where to look.

Written accounts of where to find birds in particular localities are of aid to newcomers to a region, but are no substitute for an experienced local guide. Several such books are now available for Costa Rica, which is additionally blessed by having an excellent field guide (A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander F. Skutch, Cornell University Press, 1989) that covers more than 850 species. But if you were on your first visit to the neotropics and you saw a woodcreeper foraging in the midst of a mixed species flock, would you be certain of which species it was when things quieted down and you finally had a chance to check the field guide?

Basically, there are two ends to the birding tour spectrum: you go it on your own, or you travel with an organized group. Each has its advantages (and also disadvantages), and I'll leave it up to you to figure them out. What I want to offer is an alternative that combines the best of both worlds: the flexibility and freedom of individual travel, and the enriched experience that can only be had in the company of an expert tour leader. I'm referring, of course, to privately guided birding tours.

I am Richard Garrigues and I'd like to put my years of experience in Costa Rica to work for you! Just drop me a line at the e-mail address below and tell me when you'd like to visit Costa Rica and what birds you're especially interested in, and I'll design an itinerary that will give you the best possible chances of seeing what you want to see.

Wondering who I am? Here are a few of my credentials:

To spare you the trouble of sifting through the field guide to come up with a list of the endemic (including regional endemic) bird species for Costa Rica, here they are:

Mangrove HummingbirdAmazilia boucardi
Coppery-headed EmeraldElvira cupreiceps
White-throated Mountain-gemLampornis castaneoventris
Black-cheeked Ant-TanagerHabia atrimaxillaris

Cocos CuckooCoccyzus ferrugineus
Cocos Flycatcher Nesotriccus ridgwayi
Cocos FinchPinaroloxias inornata

Black GuanChamaepetes unicolor
Black-breasted Wood-QuailOdontophorus leucolaemus
Buff-fronted Quail-DoveGeotrygon costaricensis
Chiriqui Quail-DoveGeotrygon chiriquensis
Sulfur-winged ParakeetPyrrhura hoffmanni
Red-fronted ParrotletTouit costaricensis
Dusky NightjarCaprimulgus saturatus
Fiery-throated HummingbirdPanterpe insignis
Black-bellied HummingbirdEupherusa nigriventris
White-tailed EmeraldElvira chionura
Purple-throated Mountain-gemLampornis calolaema
Magenta-throated WoodstarCalliphlox bryantae
Scintillant HummingbirdSelasphorus scintilla
Volcano HummingbirdSelasphorus flammula
Orange-bellied TrogonTrogon aurantiiventris
Prong-billed BarbetSemnornis frantzii
Ruddy TreerunnerMargarornis rubiginosus
Streak-breasted TreehunterThripadectes rufobrunneus
Silvery-fronted TapaculoScytalopus argentifrons
Golden-bellied FlycatcherMyiodynastes hemichrysus
Dark PeweeContopus lugubris
Ochraceous PeweeContopus ochraceus
Black-capped FlycatcherEmpidonax atriceps
Zeledon's TyrannuletPhyllomyias zeledoni
Silvery-throated JayCyanolyca argentigula
Ochraceous WrenTroglodytes ochraceus
Timberline WrenThryorchilus browni
Sooty RobinTurdus nigrescens
Black-faced SolitaireMyadestes melanops
Black-billed Nightingale-ThrushCatharus gracilirostris
Long-tailed Silky-FlycatcherPtilogonys caudatus
Black-and-yellow Silky-FlycatcherPhainoptila melanoxantha
Yellow-winged VireoVireo carmioli
Flame-throated WarblerParula gutturalis
Collared RedstartMyioborus torquatus
Black-cheeked WarblerBasileuterus melanogenys
Zeledonia (Wrenthrush)Zeledonia coronata
Golden-browed ChlorophoniaChlorophonia callophrys
Spangle-cheeked TanagerTangara dowii
Sooty-capped Bush-TanagerChlorospingus pileatus
Black-thighed GrosbeakPheucticus tibialis
Peg-billed FinchAcanthidops bairdii
Slaty FlowerpiercerDiglossa plumbea
Large-footed FinchPezopetes capitalis
Yellow-thighed FinchPselliophorus tibialis
Sooty-faced FinchLysurus crassirostris
Volcano JuncoJunco vulcani

White-crested CoquetteLophornis adorabilis
Garden EmeraldChlorostilbon assimilis
Beryl-crowned HummingbirdAmazilia decora
Snowy-bellied HummingbirdAmazilia edward
Baird's TrogonTrogon bairdii
Fiery-billed AracariPteroglossus frantzii
Golden-naped WoodpeckerMelanerpes chrysauchen
Turquoise CotingaCotinga ridgwayi
Yellow-billed CotingaCarpodectes antoniae
Orange-collared ManakinManacus aurantiacus
Riverside WrenThryothorus semibadius
Whistling Wren*Microcerculus luscinia
Spot-crowned EuphoniaEuphonia imitans
Cherrie's TanagerRamphocelus costaricensis
*also present on Caribbean slope

SnowcapMicrochera albocoronata
White-bellied Mountain-gemLampornis hemileucus
Lattice-tailed TrogonTrogon clathratus
Rufous-winged WoodpeckerPiculus simplex
Streak-crowned AntvireoDysithamnus striaticeps
Snowy CotingaCarpodectes nitidus
Bare-necked UmbrellabirdCephalopterus glabricollis
Tawny-chested FlycatcherAphanotriccus capitalis
Stripe-breasted WrenThryothorus thoracicus
Black-throated WrenThryothorus atrogularis
Nicaraguan GrackleQuiscalus nicaraguensis
Yellow-crowned Euphonia**Euphonia luteicapilla
Blue-and-gold TanagerBangsia arcaei
White-throated Shrike-Tanager**Lanio leucothorax
Sulphur-rumped TanagerHeterospingus rubrifrons
Black-and-yellow TanagerChrysothlypis chrysomelas
Nicaraguan Seed-FinchOryzoborus nuttingi
**also present on southern Pacific slope

And then there’s the Three-wattled Bellbird (Procnias tricarunculata) that breeds in the highlands and wanders widely throughout the lowlands after the breeding season—a bird radio-tagged in Monteverde, Costa Rica was even located in eastern Honduras!—and so does not easily fit in any one of the above geographical divisions. All in all, about 10% of Costa Rica’s avifauna is restricted to very limited ranges within the southern half of the Central American isthmus, which is an exceptionally high rate of endemism, even for the neotropics.

So, interested in the idea of a tropical sojourn in search of these and other goodies? E-mail me at:

And let’s go birding!


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