• Welcome to BirdForum, the internet's largest birding community with thousands of members from all over the world. The forums are dedicated to wild birds, birding, binoculars and equipment and all that goes with it.

    Please register for an account to take part in the discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.
ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

Costa Rica birding advice (1 Viewer)


Well-known member
United States
I'll be leaving for a trip to Costa Rica before the end of the month. This will be my first experience with the Neotropics and the first outside the ABA area. It's not really a birding trip per se but I should have plenty of time for birding while I'm in the country. Does anyone have any general helpful tips for birding the country? Especially related to bird finding and ID (I think I'll be able to recognize most species by sight, but I wouldn't begin to know the calls. Any particularly easy and iconic ones I should probably learn? Does Merlin work okay in the country?)
Download one of the birds of Costa Rica databases to your smartphone and you are set. Easiest to take an unlocked quad band phone like the iphones, and then buy a SIM for $10 in the airport before you pass through customs. Unless you use the phone for GPS mapping the data usage will be small.
Birding by ear is probably the most common way the locals identify birds here. If you’ve seen 30 species in a single morning I can almost guarantee you’ve missed another 40 by ear, ask me how I know😉
My own ear is getting better but I’ll still use Merlin. It seems to hover around 75 to 85% for accuracy for the more common species. I have seen a steady improvement in Merlin’s accuracy for Costa Rica over the last couple years..

If you’re staying in a hotel, lodge or resort that doesn’t cater to birders ask the staff about where you can go birding locally. Everyone down here gets that birding is a thing and they’ll usually be able to point you to a local road or patch. Walking along with a pair of bins hanging from my neck has often resulted in a local stopping his car just to tell me about a good place to see birds.

There’s a large Costa Rican (Tico) birding community here consisting mostly of a generally younger and enthusiastic crowd. if you’re lucky enough to meet any of them you’ll be inundated with lots of good advice.

A difference in elevation of 500 to 1000 meters can give you a whole new set of species without having to travel too far so there’s that.
Tree species will produce their fruit at slightly different times from other species so keep an eye out for that. A tree with its fruit at peak ripeness can be packed with birds.
Just before and immediately after a rain shower will often see an uptick in bird activity.
Any suburb or country road will also work for a bit of casual birding. Even a seemingly non birding spot such as a power station can suddenly become bird heaven if a mixed flock shows up.
Heck, I’ve even birded successfully in downtown San Jose of all places. Costa Rica has some spectacular world class birding destinations but I never rule out birding that mundane street corner or any ordinary location for that matter.
Hope this helps.
Does anyone have any general helpful tips for birding the country?

Visit the national parks, vary the habitat and cover as much of the country as you can.

Especially related to bird finding and ID

This is basically the same question hence it gets almost the same answer - Visit the national parks and hire a guide at each park, most parks have numerous guides, touting for business at the gates.

The only other tip I'd give, if you're capable and I'm not, learn as many calls as you can. If you have any particular issues with using a guide, remember, unless your are extremely adept at learning calls, you won't see half as much without a guide, that I can guarantee.

I don't know when you planned this trip but I presume you've had some time to research the birds, did you buy a country guide such as this?

– "Pishing" usually doesn't work in the Neotropics. But, in appropriate habitat, playing calls of small owls (usually "pygmy" owls, but you need to figure out the appropriate one for the area and elevation) can attract birds seeking to mob/scold the owl.

– Birding in closed canopy tropical forests can be difficult. They often have high species diversity, but low bird density – so it may seem like there is little there to the casual observer.

Users who are viewing this thread