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10 Shocking Birds in Costa Rica (And How to See Them!)

Birds in Costa Rica include hundreds of species. No exaggeration! Our country might be as small as West Virginia but its jam packed with biodiversity. At last count, the official bird list for Costa Rica had 935 species. Yeah, much more than the 860 species mentioned at some other websites!

That's a lot of birds; they keep us happy, and busy watching them. But which ones stand out from the rest? Are there some birds in Costa Rica that look beyond incredible?

We love watching every bird in Costa Rica but we do believe that some species are simply spectacular, maybe even shocking. The following are ten such bird species along with tips to see them.


Is it a heron? Some kind of odd rail or crane? Despite appearances, none of the above! The Sunbittern is a unique waterbird that has its very own family. In Costa Rica, these beautifully patterned birds are not at all rare and live in many parts of the country.

However, they can be shy and hard to see. We admire the shocking wing blaze of Sunbitterns by carefully watching for them on forested rivers and streams, mostly in hilly and mountainous areas.

Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo

This rainforest roadrunner is a mysterious and challenging bird to see no matter where you look for it! During the past few years in Costa Rica, we have been regularly encountering them in places like the Pocosol Station, Rincon de la Vieja, and other foothill sites with mature rainforest.

They are usually at Army Ant swarms where they chase other birds away while snapping their beaks, and raising and lowering their crests!

King Vulture

Don't vultures have dark plumage? Not this one! The striking King Vulture is a regular sight in areas with rainforest. It usually soars high overhead but, at a few sites, they come close for fantastic King Vulture photography opportunities.

Great Potoo

Most nocturnal birds are impressive. They often have incredibly camouflaged plumage, fly with silent wing beats, and are always s treat to see. One of the more spectacular of those nocturnal birds is the Great Potoo.

This large, pale nightbird is around 20 inches long, flies into the night to catch big beetles and moths with its huge mouth, and makes loud and frightening calls!

We see Great Potoos in a number of places, mostly in the lowlands of the Caribbean slope. During the day, we sometimes find roosting birds after carefully checking odd pale lumps high in trees.

White-tipped Sicklebill

Every hummingbird is impressive and some are simply breathtaking. The White-tipped Sicklebill is one of the few hummingbird species that actually lacks bright colors. However, it makes up for that with a long, incredibly curved beak!

We find this special bird by watching for them in places with lots of their favorite food; big, hanging Heliconias.

Resplendent Quetzal

This bird is simply amazing. We mention this species a lot at this blog but it's hard not to! Honestly, the Resplendent Quetzal really is one of the top birds on the planet. It's iridescent green plumage with hints of gold and blue will leave you speechless.

It does that for us! Even after seeing them time and time again, the vibrant colors and appearance of a quetzal is pretty shocking. Quetzals are fairly common in many cloud forest areas. We find them by listening for their calls and watching for the trees they feed on.

Keel-billed Toucan

Keel-billed Toucans are shocking birds! These large toucans have big, colorful beaks and make frog-like calls from high rainforest perches. Even better, in some places, these magnificent birds come to fruit feeders!

In Costa Rica, Keel-billed Toucans are fairly common and easy to see in most places with rainforest or moist tropical forest. We get good pictures of them at fruiting trees and fruit feeder platforms.


One of the most evocative scenes in the avian world is a pair of macaws "calling" as they fly overhead. In Costa Rica, we are lucky to have good populations of two macaw species; the Scarlet and the Great Green. Thanks to protection, Scarlet Macaws have become common birds in many areas of the low Pacific slope. Great Greens aren't as common but still regular in various parts of northern Costa Rica.

We find macaws by listening for their loud, far-carrying calls. When they are around, these amazing birds are hard to miss!

Three-wattled Bellbird

Another breathtaking bird in Costa Rica is this one. Three-wattled Bellbirds are pigeon-sized cotingas that breed in some areas of cloud forest and then migrate to scattered lowland sites.

The spectacular males give their loud and distinctive calls throughout the year. It's what we listen for to find them.

Crimson-collared Tanager

Costa Rica has several gorgeous tanagers but this one might be the most shocking. The deep red of the Crimson-collared Tanager contrasts perfectly with its black plumage to make it one of the most photogenic birds in Costa Rica.

Happily, it's also pretty common in second growth habitats of the Caribbean slope. We see them in lots of places and get close pictures at fruit feeding stations.

These are some fantastic birds but believe it or not, they are just a small sampling of the birds you can see in Costa Rica! There are literally hundreds of bird species to watch, and many are spectacular, beautiful birds. Want to see and photograph them? Tell us which birds in Costa Rica you want to see the most!


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