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12 Rare Target Birds to Photograph in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is such a fantastic destination for bird photography. Toucans, macaws, dozens of hummingbirds, glittering tanagers...the list goes on!

There's that Resplendent Quetzal too...

As with any birding destination, for the best bird photography in Costa Rica, you have to know about the best sites, including lesser known hotspots. Visit those special spots and you'll also have opportunities at pictures of some of the most coveted birds in Costa Rica.

These are the rare and endangered species, birds that aren't as easy to photograph but are no less spectacular. Since they are also bird species easier to see in Costa Rica than other places, these photogenic beauties are good birds to target!

Costa Rica has so many beautiful and cool birds, it was hard to limit this list to 12 species. There are more but these birds are especially good ones to focus in on!

Maroon-chested Ground-Dove

This special dove has a big distribution but it can a tough one to see. Fortunately, in Costa Rica, we have a couple very good sites for it. You may have to do some high elevations hiking but the walk will be worth it!

Mangrove Hummingbird

The Mangrove Hummingbird is another major target for bird photos in Costa Rica. You simply can't see it anywhere else! This shy hummingbird is a local and endangered species restricted to mangrove sites on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

Unspotted Saw-whet Owl

This small owl of high elevation forest can be very tricky. You have to look for it at night and in just the right places. Even then, it might not appear.

This picture is from the "Proyecto Lechucita Parda Unspotted Saw-whet Owl - Aegolius ridgwayi", an excellent local project studying the Unspotted Saw-whet Owl in Costa Rica.

"Puntarenas" Screech-Owl

No, you won't find this bird in your field guide but that's because it hasn't been officially described! It is sometimes lumped with the "Choco Screech-Owl" but eBird currently refers to this enigmatic bird as the "Puntarenas" Screech-Owl. This small owl is an uncommon species restricted to southern Costa Rica and probably westernmost Panama. Luckily, we know spots to see it!

This image is from the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app.

Great Green Macaw

I was hesitant to include this bird because it's not that hard to see. However, it is a spectacular, critically endangered species that is far easier to see in Costa Rica than other places.

Lattice-tailed Trogon

Quetzals are fantastic, must-see birds but they aren't the toughest trogon to see in Costa Rica. That title goes to this bird! Since it only occurs in large areas of mature foothill rainforest, there are few accessible places to see and photograph the Lattice-tailed Trogon.

Three-wattled Bellbird

When these amazing birds are calling, they aren't too hard to find. However, they move around quite a bit, are local, and you still have to know where to see them.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird

This mega cotinga is one of the toughest birds to see in Costa Rica. That makes it even tougher to photograph! Fortunately, we keep track of the best sites to connect with this dream bird.

Yellow-billed Cotinga

Another rare cotinga, unfortunately, this species is highly endangered and could even become critically endangered. It is limited by its unique habitat requirement, that of lowland rainforest next to mangroves. This is another bird we keep careful track of.

Turquoise Cotinga

The gorgeous Turquoise Cotinga isn't as rare as the Yellow-billed Cotinga but it's still a threatened and uncommon species. Like the other "blue" cotinga species, its habit of sticking to rainforest canopy makes it a tough one to see. Luckily, there are at least a few very reliable spots for it.

Cabanis's Ground-Sparrow

Costa Rica's most recent endemic species can be a challenging bird to see. It is restricted to coffee farms and similar brushy habitats in and near the Central Valley, lives in low density populations, is threatened for various reasons, and loves to skulk in dense vegetation. It can be seen and photographed but once again, you have to know where to go and how to look for it.

Blue-and-Gold Tanager

In Costa Rica, we are lucky to have several gorgeous tanager species. This beauty is one of them but it's not nearly as common as other tanager species. This beautiful bird only occurs in a narrow elevational band of wet foothill and middle elevation rainforest. It's another bird we keep track of for our clients!

They are other rare birds in Costa Rica to photograph too but this birder's dozen are a fantastic bunch of birds to start with. As a bonus, while looking for these birds, we also see literally hundreds of other bird species!

Do you have target birds you would like to photograph in Costa Rica? Tell us about them, we would love to help you see them!


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