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Toucans of Costa Rica- Expectations, Photography, and Best Sites

The toucans of Costa Rica are six of the most exotic bird species in the country. I admit, that's quite the statement! After all, Costa Rica also hosts quetzals, Snowcaps, guans, and 100s of other beautiful bird species.


The Red-headed Barbet is one of them!


Even so, how many other birds boast over-sized, naturally painted beaks and beautiful colors? Not to mention, toucans are intelligent, vocal birds with cheeky attitudes. It's hard to think of better attributes for bird photography! Perhaps being showy and willing to pose for the camera?


As luck would have it, toucans in Costa Rica do that too!



These are the toucan species found in Costa Rica. Read on to see expectations and best sites for viewing and photographing these fantastic, fancy birds.


Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus)


The toucan with the rainbow beak is a big toucan that lives in rainforest and moist forest in many parts of Costa Rica. Although they are mostly associated with the Caribbean slope, we also see these birds in many parts of western Costa Rica, even in parts of the central Valley.



Once in a while, I even see this fantastic bird ten minutes drive from the airport! To find them, we listen for their frog-like call and scan treetops. They also like fruiting trees and aren't that tough to see. To photograph this toucan species, we look for fruiting trees and bring clients to sites with feeding stations.


Yellow-throated Toucan (Ramphastos ambiguus)


Previously known as the Black-billed or Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, this species is fairly common in rainforests of both the Pacific and the Caribbean slopes. It's the largest toucan in Costa Rica and, like the Keel-billed, is pretty easy to see. They also like fruiting trees and pairs often give loud, yelping calls from high in a tree.



To get good pictures of this spectacular bird, we also visit sites with feeding stations and keep an eye out for low fruiting trees.


Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus)

Yes, aracaris are toucans too. If the big toucans of Costa Rica were crows, aracaris would be jays. Like jays, they also travel in larger groups than the big toucans, and are opportunistic birds always on the lookout for fruiting trees, small animals, and other feeding opportunities.



This fancy bird is fairly common in and near rainforests on the Caribbean slope, and in moist forests of the Nicoya Peninsula. Once in a rare while, we also see them in Guanacaste.


We get pictures of Collared Aracaris at feeding stations, while watching the forest edge, and at fruiting trees.


Fiery-billed Aracari (Pteroglossus frantzii)


This counterpart of the Collared Aracari only occurs on the Pacific slope of southern Costa Rica and parts of western Panama. Small numbers also occur in the Central Valley! This fantastic regional endemic lives in and near rainforest, and moist forest.



If you know where to look, the Fiery-billed Aracari is not a rare bird. For good shots, we look for fruiting trees, and visit certain sites with feeding stations that provide excellent, close views.


Northern Emerald Tocuanet (Aulacorhynchus prasinus)


The Northern Emerald Toucanet is a small, beautiful green toucan of highland forest habitats. Although they are fairly common, they can be tricky to see. For the best photo opps, we try for them at feeding stations and fruiting trees in and near cloud forest.



Note that some bird lists have considered this taxon to be a species that only occurs in Costa Rica and Panama, the Blue-throated Toucanet.


Yellow-eared Tocuanet (Selenidera spectabilis)


Last not far from least, we have this fancy bird! The Yellow-eared Toucanet is definitely the toughest toucan in Costa Rica to see and photograph. Unlike the other toucans, they don't usually come into the open. Instead, this is more of a shy forest bird that prefers to forage with its mate in dense foothill rainforest.



They don't come to feeding stations either (at least not yet) so how do we see them? As with any challenging bird anywhere, you have to know where they live and how to look for them. That means mature foothill and middle elevation forests on the Caribbean slope. We also know the best spots for them and of course bring clients to those sites.


Although we usually see this bird quietly foraging in the canopy, we keep an eye out for fruiting plants that can coax them lower and into the open.


FAQs about toucans in Costa Rica


How many toucan species live in Costa Rica?

6 toucan species live in Costa Rica. There are two large tooucan species and four smaller species. All are colorful and fairly common.


Where are the best places to see toucans in Costa Rica?

The best places to see toucans in Costa Rica are in and near mature forest. They are especially common in larger areas of mature forest but can also visit hotel gardens in some places.


What do toucans sound like?

Toucans sounds like frogs and yipping dogs. Keel-billed Toucans and Yellow-eared Toucanets make creeking frog-like sounds, the other toucans of Costa Rica make yelping or barking noises, and high-pitched sounds.


These are the toucans of Costa Rica. Visit the right places and they are pretty easy to see! Seeing the Yellow-eared Toucanet and getting good pictures can require a bit more local knowledge but we're always here to help. To get the best photos of toucans and 100s of other birds in Costa Rica, contact us today. Happy birding from Costa Rica!



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