If you’re a birder, then you’ll fall head over heels for the beautiful birds of Costa Rica. With over 900 species of feathered friends, this tropical paradise is a haven for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. From the vibrant macaws and toucans of the rainforests, to the graceful flamingos and pelicans of the coast, Costa Rica’s avian inhabitants are a sight to behold.
In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the most beautiful birds in Costa Rica, and share some fascinating facts about each species. So come along with us on a journey through the colorful world of Costa Rican birds!
1. Scarlet Macaw
Scientific name: Ara macao
Length: 81 centimeters (31.8 inches)
Body mass: 1 kilogram
Wingspan: 1.1-1.2 meters (3.6-3.9 feet)
Lifespan: 40-50 years
The Scarlet Macaws are a large neotropical parrot species that inhabit the humid evergreen forests of Central and South America. Within Costa Rica, they’ve found a home on the Central Pacific coast and feed on the Almond Beach and Teak trees.
They’re the national bird of Honduras, and are highly popular in aviculture due to their attractive plumage.
Much like the other macaws, Scarlet Macaws are also long-tailed birds, wherein the length of their tail makes up for more than half their total length. As their name indicates, their plumage is primarily colored in scarlet.
Except for prominent white face patches, their head, mantle, throat, chest, belly, and rump are all scarlet, and so is the base (one-third) of their wings. The other sections of their wings are covered in yellow and green (blue in the subspecies), respectively. The upper half of their tail is also green (or blue, depending on subspecies), while the tip is scarlet.
As a typical macaw, the sexes of this species appear identical to each other, displaying no dimorphism.
2. Acorn Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes formicivorus
Length: 19-23 centimeters (7.5-9.1 inches)
Body mass: 85 grams
Wingspan: 35-43 centimeters (14-17 inches)
Lifespan: 9-16 years
Named after their unique technique of storing acorns, the Acorn Woodpeckers are a medium-sized woodpecker species found in the Americas.
Having a wide habitat range throughout America, these woodpeckers have a comic personality that birders find highly entertaining and are called avian clowns. Within Costa Rica, you can find them in the highland oak forests in the mountain ranges.
Acorn Woodpeckers have mainly black and white plumage, save for their red crowns. Their head and upper parts, including the wings and tail, are all black, with a white patch in the middle of their lower back, white forehead, and throat.
They also have a semi-circular black chest patch, below which the rest of their underbody is white with black streaking. Both sexes of this species appear almost identical but can be distinguished by their heads.
The males have a longer red crown that ends a little above their bills, whereas in the females, the upper half of the crown is black, with only the lower half being red.
3. Bay-headed Tanager
Scientific name: Tangara gyrola
Length: 14 centimeters (5.5 inches)
Body mass: 19.5-21 grams
The Bay-headed Tanagers are a brightly-colored tanager species endemic to the northern and western regions of South America. You can find them dwelling in the canopies of humid forests of Costa Rica, Ecuador, Brazil, and Bolivia.
Both sexes of Bay-headed Tanagers appear identical in plumage; only the plumage of the females is slightly duller in comparison.
Their plumage is mainly colored in green and blue, with a dark reddish-brown head and face. The underparts, right from their throat up to their lower belly, are light blue, while the vent is green. The upper parts, including their wings and tail, are green as well, with a yellowish wash in the middle.
Their irises are brown, while the legs and bulbous bills are both greyish.
4. Blue-capped Motmot
Scientific name: Momotus coeruliceps
Length: 38-43 centimeters (15-17 inches)
Body mass: 170 grams
Lifespan: 18-20 years
Also referred to as Blue-crowned Motmot in some regions, the Blue-capped Motmots have been named after the striking, turquoise blue crown that bejewels their head. These large motmots inhabit Mexico, and parts of Central and South America.
Considered the most widespread of all motmot species in Costa Rica, they’re the common residents in Guanacaste province and the city of Puntarenas.
The Adult Blue-capped Motmots lack any dimorphism, with each sex being a reflection of the other. Their plumage is a beautiful blend of green and blue; their face has a green base, with a dark blue mask around their eyes, the namesake turquoise blue crown, and faint rufous cheek shades.
Their underparts are pale olive-green, and so are their mantle and primary feathers. However, the secondary feathers turn darker, with a bluish wash that grows more prominent towards their tail.
Their most attractive feature is two racquet-like small feathers attached to the bottom of their tail. These ornamental feathers add more charm to the motmots’ appearances, making them stand out in a crowd of birds.
5. Golden-hooded Tanager
Scientific name: Stilpnia larvata
Length: 13 centimeters (5.1 inches)
Body mass: 17-19 grams
Lifespan: 4-5 years
Commonly spotted in mixed-species feeding flocks, the Golden-hooded Tanagers are a tanager species with a widespread distribution in America.
Their range lies between the southern parts of Mexico and western Ecuador. Within Costa Rica, you can spot them in the high-elevation forests of the Pacific slope.
Both sexes of the adult Golden-hooded Tanagers sport the same plumage; only that of the females is somewhat duller in comparison. Their appearance most closely resembles the Masked Tanager (Tangara nigrocincta); the heads of both species are a major distinguishing feature between the two.
These tanagers have a golden-brown head, a dark blue eye mask, and slightly lighter cheek patches. Their throat and chest are dark, almost bluish black and slowly fade into blue towards the belly and rump.
The mantle is dark as well, with similarly colored wings and tail. The only traces of light blue you’d find on the back is on their shoulders and mid-lower back.
6. Great Green Macaw
Scientific name: Ara ambigus
Length: 85-90 centimeters (33-35 inches)
Body mass: 1.3 kilograms
Wingspan: 1.1-1.2 meters (3.6-3.9 feet)
Lifespan: 60-70 years
Alternatively known as Great Military Macaw and Buffon’s Macaw, the Great Green Macaws are large parrots that inhabit the lowlands and tropical forests of Central and South America. These critically endangered species are found in Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Colombia.
The largest macaws you’ll find in Colombia, these macaws are found in the wet tropical forests, where they’re often found perched on the almendron trees.
Like most macaw species, dimorphism isn’t visible in the adult sexes of this species. They possess primarily green plumage, just as their name indicates. Their forehead is vibrant red, with pale reddish bare patches around their eyes.
The bills are slate-grey, with a rusty touch on the upper mandible. The secondary feathers on their wings are bright blue, while their tail has a red base and blue tip.
Scientific name: Microchera albocoronata
Length: 6.5-7 centimeters (2.6-2.8 inches)
Body mass: 2.7-3.7 grams
Belonging to the genus of the emerald hummingbirds, the Snowcaps are a tiny hummer species endemic to the lowland and montane forests of Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Within Costa Rica, you can commonly spot them in the forests of the Pacific Slope.
The adult Snowcaps display a strong dimorphism between their sexes, with only the males possessing the fluffy-white forehead which lends them their name. The rest of their body is covered in iridescent plumage, with olive-green chin and throat and pink and rufous wash on their underparts and upperparts.
On the other hand, the females have a faint green head with a metallic green back and bronze-colored tail. The black eyes, straight, greyish bills, legs, and feet are common to both sexes.
8. Baird’s Trogon
Scientific name: Trogon bairdii
Length: 25-28 centimeters (9.8-11 inches)
Body mass: 93-95 grams
Named in memory of Spencer Fullerton Baird, an American ornithologist, the Baird’s Trogons are an American trogon species that find home in the humid rainforests of Costa Rica and Panama.
The adults of this species display a significant dimorphism in their plumage. The males have a dark, bluish-black head, throat, and chest, with an iridescent blue mantle and tail, and dark wings. Their belly and rump are bright red, while the undertail is pure white.
Their female counterparts also possess a black head, chest, and back, but with no iridescence. Their wings and tail are also black, with faint white streaks covering the former. They have orange belly and rump, while their undertail is strongly marked with black and white bars.
However, their dark eyes, pale blue eye rings, and grey bills are common to both sexes.
9. White-throated Magpie-Jay
Scientific name: Calocitta formosa
Length: 43-56 centimeters (17-22 inches)
Body mass: 205-213 grams
Lifespan: 15-25 years
Found in the thorn forests in the Pacific Slope from Mexico all the way to Costa Rica, the White-throated Magpie-jays are an American corvid species known for their remarkably long tail and curled crest. A highly gregarious species, these jays are almost always spotted in large flocks and have an abundant population in Guanacaste.
White-throated Magpie-jays have long, slender body colored in white and blue. Their face is white, with blue curling crest feathers atop their head, blue cheek marks, and throat band. Their mantle, back, and wings are all cerulean blue, while a darker shade of blue covers their tail.
The underparts of these birds are stark white in contrast, with their undertail coverts being white as well. Although both sexes of this species possess the same plumage, there are subtle differences between males and females, such as a narrow throat band and a shorter tail.
10. Resplendent Quetzal
Scientific name: Pharomachrus mocinno
Length: 36-40 centimeters (14-16 inches)
Body mass: 200 grams
Lifespan: 20-25 years
The largest and most beautiful of all trogons and quetzals, the Resplendent Quetzals are one of the fairest birds you’ll see, not just in Costa Rica but in all of South America.
These quetzals have two subspecies, the nominate subspecies, and P. m. costaricensis. While the former is native to southern Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, the latter (having shorter wings and tail) is found in Costa Rica and Panama.
The adult Resplendent Quetzals display a strong sexual dimorphism, with only the males possessing the long, streamer-like tail. Their plumage is mainly iridescent golden-green in color, with a crest of fine golden feathers resting atop their head.
Their face, chest, neck, mantle, back, and tail are covered in iridescent green, while the belly and rump are vibrant red. Some of the red shade extends to their undertail, with its lower half being white. The flight feathers of these birds are black, while their bills are yellow.
On the other hand, the female Resplendent Quetzals have a much duller plumage. They have a crestless, olive-green head and underparts, with a shiny green throat patch, mantle, and back. Their wings and tail are green as well, with a red rump and strongly bar undertail.
11. Rufous-crested Coquette
Scientific name: Lophornis delattrei
Length: 4-4.5 centimeters (1.5-1.7 inches)
Body mass: 2.6-3.6 grams
Of all three coquette species that occur in Costa Rica, the Rufous-crested Coquettes are the most beautiful ones. These American hummers prefer to inhabit the high-elevation humid forests of Costa Rica, Bolivia, Panama, Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador.
The adults of this species display a strong sexual dimorphism in their plumage, with only the males possessing the striking rufous filamentous crest. This crest originates from their bill, which is red but has a black tip.
The rest of their body is covered in bronze-green plumage, with a white band across their rump. Their wings and tail are darker, somewhat purplish-bronze in color.
On the other hand, the crestless females have a rufous forehead, with a duller green head and upper body, dark brown wings and tail, and pale rufous undersides with green flanks. Their bills have lesser red and more black than their male counterparts.
12. Yellow-billed Cotinga
Scientific name: Carpodectes antoniae
Length: 20 centimeters (8 inches)
Body mass: 70-75 grams
A common resident in the Pacific lowlands of Panama and Costa Rica, the Yellow-billed Cotingas are a near-threatened cotinga species of South and Central America.
The appearance of Yellow-billed Cotingas closely resembles that of the Snowy Cotingas (Carpodectis nitidus), with the major difference between the two being the color of their bills.
The adults of this species are strongly sexually dimorphic, with the males possessing pure white plumage with a pale-grey crown. On the other hand, the females have a pale slate-grey that grows paler towards their belly and rump. Their wings and tail are slate-grey with black edges. However, the yellow bills are common to both sexes.
13. Social Flycatcher
Scientific name: Myiozetetes similis
Length: 16-18 centimeters (6.3-7.1 inches)
Body mass: 24-27 grams
Wingspan: 24 centimeters (9.7 inches)
Lifespan: 3-5 years
A common resident of the neotropics, the Social Flycatchers are an American large tyrant flycatcher species found between Mexico and Costa Rica.
The appearance of these flycatchers is almost identical to that of the Boat-billed Flycatcher (Megarhynchus pitangua), except for their namesake bills that set the two apart. The adults of this species are monomorphic, with both sexes appearing identical in plumage but the males being larger in size.
They have a dark, greyish head with a bold white stripe running above each eye and white chin patch, and a red coronal patch. Their underparts are bright yellow, while the upper parts are greenish grey, with darker wings and tails. They have brown irises, greyish bills, legs, and feet.
14. Mangrove Hummingbird
Scientific name: Amazilia boucardi
Length: 9.5-11 centimeters (3.7-4.3 inches)
Body mass: 4.5 grams
Lifespan: 3-5 years
Belonging to the genus of Emeralds, the Mangrove Hummingbirds are an endangered species native to the mangrove forests on the Pacific slope of Costa Rica. The restricted range of these hummers is a major threat to their dwindling population.
Both sexes of this species sport similar plumage, with a paler shade of green on the females’ underparts. Their head, upper parts, and throat are covered in iridescent bronze-green, while the belly and rump are white. The wings and tail are dark brownish, with long, straight greyish bills and dark eyes.
15. Speckled Tanager
Scientific name: Ixothraupis guttata
Length: 13.2 centimeters (5.2 inches)
Body mass: 18 grams
The Speckled Tanagers are a medium-sized South American tanager species that dwell in the forests of Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Suriname, and Trinidad. These tanagers closely resemble their cousins, the Spotted Tanagers (Ixothraupis punctata), a species that replaces them south of their range.
True to their name, much of these birds’ plumages are covered in black speckles, under which their face is yellow, with light green mantle, flanks, and rump. There are touches of sky blue on their wings, tail, and lower belly, while the rest of their underbody is white.
They also have black spots right between their eyes and bills, which might appear as false eyes to many and is an important field identification mark.
Both sexes of this species appear somewhat similar, but upon closer examination, you’ll notice how the plumage of females is slightly duller than that of their male counterparts.
16. Turquoise Cotinga
Scientific name: Cotinga ridgwayi
Length: 17.18.5 centimeters (6.6-7.2 inches)
Body mass: 51-65 grams
Lifespan: 15-18 years
Endemic to the canopies of the humid lowland forests in Costa Rica, the Turquoise Cotingas are a vulnerable American cotinga species. You can also find a stable population of these birds in Panama.
The adult Turquoise Cotingas are strongly sexually dimorphic, with only the males harboring the turquoise plumage that lends them their name. Their overall plumage is covered in turquoise blue, coating most of their dark-edged wings and tail as well. Only their belly and throat are covered with an iridescent purple patch.
On the other hand, their female counterparts are covered in a pale buff plumage, with heavy speckles, particularly around their throat, and dark brown wings and tail. Both sexes share their black eyes, greyish bills, legs, and feet.
17. Turquoise-browed Motmot
Scientific name: Eumomota
Length: 34 centimeters (13 inches)
Body mass: 65 grams
Lifespan: 12-20 years
The Turquoise-browed Motmots are a colorful motmot species with a wide range of habitats between Mexico and Costa Rica. They’re the national bird of two Central American countries – Nicaragua and El Salvador – where they’re colloquially called Guardabarranco and Torogoz, respectively.
Both sexes of the adults of this species possess similar plumages; only the males’ plumage is considerably brighter. They’re also the larger of the two.
Their plumage is mainly colored in shades of brownish and olive green, with their head, throat, and chest covered in the same. Only their lower belly and rump are rufous-colored.
Their wings are olive-green, with a blue patch followed by a black tip. The tail is blue as well, with two racquet-like ornamental feathers extending from it, colored partly in blue and black.
On their face, you’ll notice a black eye mask, with a turquoise blue eyebrow streak running over it. Their eyes are dark, with greyish, hooked bills with a slight decurve.
18. Violet Sabrewing
Scientific name: Campylopterus hemileucurus
Length: 13-15 centimeters (5.1-5.9 inches)
Body mass: 9-12 grams
A common visitor in banana plantations, the Violet Sabrewings are a hummingbird species belonging to the Emerald genus. These hummers occur between Mexico and Costa Rica, and are the largest of all hummingbirds found in their range.
Like most hummers, the Violet Sabrewings also display a strong dimorphism between the adult sexes, with the males possessing the metallic violet plumage that they’re named after. Their wings and tail are darker, with a green-bluish touch around them. Their decurved bills are violet as well.
Much duller in comparison, their female counterparts have a greyish head with paler undersides. The crown of their head as well as the rest of their upper body, have a glossy green wash. Unlike the males, their bills are black.
19. Fiery-billed Aracari
Scientific name: Pteroglossus frantzii
Length: 43-45 centimeters (16.9-17.7 inches)
Body mass: 220-260 grams
Lifespan: 15-20 years
Also referred to as Frantz’s Aracari to commemorate the German naturalist Alexander von Frantzius, the Fiery-billed Aracaris are an American toucan species found on the Pacific slopes of Panama and Costa Rica.
In appearance, these aracaris closely resemble the Collared Aracaris (Pteroglossus torquatus); only their bills have more fiery shades in them than the latter.
Their plumage is primarily black, much like the other toucans and aracaris. Their head, back, wings, and tail are all black, with yellow undersides except for a red patch on their belly. Their lower back is red as well, and so is the base of their tail.
Their large, bulbous bills are bi-colored, with the upper mandible having a reddish-orange shade, while the lower one is black. The irises are golden, with a red, triangular mark beside each one. Both sexes of this species appear identical, displaying monomorphism.
20. Gray Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo plagiatus
Length: 46-61 centimeters (18-24 inches)
Body mass: 465-475 grams
Lifespan: 12-13 years
Also referred to as Mexican Goshawk, the Gray Hawks are one of the smaller hawk species found in the Americas. These raptors occur between the southern United States and Costa Rica, and are closely related to the Red-shouldered and Swainson’s Hawks.
Gray Hawks might have a smaller size and wingspan than the other members of their genus, but when it comes to the tail length, they surpass them all. Their plumage is distinctly colored in a pale smooth gray shade, with broad, rounded wings and yellow legs.
While their head and back are unmarked, the undersides are strongly barred with black and white. Their eyes are dark, while the greyish bills have a yellow tip. Both sexes of this species possess identical plumages, making it impossible to tell them apart.
21. Coppery-headed Emerald
Scientific name: Microchera cupreiceps
Length: 7.5 centimeters (3 inches)
Body mass: 3-4 grams
The Coppery-headed Emeralds are one of the smaller hummingbird species found in Costa Rica, where they dwell in the high-elevations forests of the Pacific slope.
Strongly dimorphic in nature, the males of this species possess the copper-colored forehead that they’re named after, which is absent in their female counterparts. The rest of their plumage is covered in dull bronze green, with bright coppery wings and tail.
The females of this species lack any copper in their plumage and have a metallic greenhead and underparts, with wings and tail like that of the males. Both sexes possess black eyes, bills, and feet.
22. Clay-colored Thrush
Scientific name: Turdus grayi
Length: 23-27 centimeters (9.1-10.6 inches)
Body mass: 74-76 grams
Lifespan: 9-9.5 years
Also referred to as Clay-colored Robins, the Clay-colored Thrushes are a thrush species commonly found in Middle America. Their range stretches from South Texas all the way to Colombia. A common resident of Costa Rica, they’re the national bird of the country and are colloquially called Yiguirro.
Both the body structure as well as general behavior of these thrushes closely resembles that of the American Robins (Turdus migratorius); only the color of their plumage varies.
True to their name, their overall plumage is colored just like clay, with the undersides paler than the upper body. Their irises are brown, bills are yellow, and their legs and feet are bone-colored. The adult sexes of this species lack any dimorphism, with both males and females appearing identical to each other.
23. Red-headed Barbet
Scientific name: Eubucco boucierii
Length: 15.5 centimeters (6.1 inches)
Body mass: 30-41 grams
Lifespan: 4-5 years
Belonging to the family of the New World Barbets, the Red-headed Barbets are a small but strikingly-colored barbet species found in the montane forests of South America. You can spot them in Costa Rica, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia.
Red-headed Barbets have six subspecies and display a strong sexual dimorphism among adults. The males possess their namesake red head, with a pale-white ring around their hindneck and black skin surrounding their eyes.
Their underparts are yellow, with an orangish wash covering their throat and chest, and green flanks. The back, wings, and tail are colored in different shades of green, while the tip of their wings and tail are black.
On the other hand, their female counterparts lack any red in their plumage. Their head is pale green, with light blue cheek patches and eyebrow stripes, and a faint yellow ring around their neck. The chest and belly are pale greenish, rump is white, and the wings and tail are dark green. Both sexes possess yellow bills; however, males have red irises, while females have brown ones.
24. Ocellated Antbird
Scientific name: Phaenostictus mcleannani
Length: 19-19.5 centimeters (7.5-7.7 inches)
Body mass: 44-58 grams
Named after the eye-like markings that cover their plumage, the Ocellated Antbirds are a large antbird species found in Central and South America. They have three subspecies, out of which the P. m. saturatus inhabits the eastern and northern regions of Costa Rica.
Ocellated Antbirds have a chocolate-brown head, with a bright blue bare skin patch on their face that sets them apart from other antbirds. A black extends from their chin to their throat, followed by an unmarked rufous chest band.
The rest of their body, both front, and back, is covered in ocellated markings, including their wings. Only their dark tail remains unmarked. They have brown irises, dark bills, and pale pinkish feet and legs.
Both sexes of this species look identical in their plumage, with the males being the larger of the two in size.
25. White-naped Brushfinch
Scientific name: Atlapetes albinucha
Length: 17-21 centimeters (6.6-7.8 inches)
Body mass: 31-37 grams
Also referred to as Yellow-throated Brushfinch, the White-naped Brushfinches are a Middle American brushfinch species that primarily inhabit the high-altitude shrublands and montane forests of their range. They’re common residents of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, and Colombia.
White-naped Brushfinches lack any dimorphism between the sexes, with both males and females possessing identical plumages. They have a black head with a thin, white stripe running from the middle of their crown. Their chin is yellow, a shade that extends to the rest of their underbody all the way to their rump.
Their upper parts are covered in greyish black, including the wings and tail; only the rump has a greenish-grey tinge.
26. Scintillant Hummingbird
Scientific name: Selasphorus scintilla
Length: 6.5-8 centimeters (2.6-3.1 inches)
Body mass: 2-2.3 grams
Lifespan: 2-5 years
Endemic to the Pacific slopes of Costa Rica and western Panama, the Scintillant Hummingbirds are a tiny hummingbird species that inhabit the brushy forest edges and coffee plantations within their range.
While they’re the smallest hummers you’ll find in all of Costa Rica – often hard to spot – their striking plumage is quite unforgettable. Their appearance resembles that of the Volcano Hummingbirds (Selasphorus flammula), a species that replaces them at the higher altitude of Pacific slope.
While both sexes of this species possess almost identical plumages; only the glossy cinnamon throat patch of the males is absent in their female counterparts. Their head and upper parts are bronze-green, with rufous wings and tail, and a black stripe running down the length.
The underparts are off-white, with a faint rufous wash on them. Their eyes are dark, and so are their short, straight bills.
27. King Vulture
Scientific name: Sarcoramphus papa
Length: 67-81 centimeters (26-32 inches)
Body mass: 2.7-4.5 kilograms
Wingspan: 1.2-2 meters (4-7 feet)
Lifespan: 30 years
The largest member of the New World Vulture family, the King Vultures are an American vulture species that are found in the lowland forests ranging from Mexico all the way south to Argentina.
They’re also the only vulture species to possess a predominantly white plumage. Their head and neck are bare, with their skin color ranging from yellow, orange, red, blue, and black. There are bright orange caruncles around their bills.
Their chest and underbody are all white, with a pale brownish wash on their upper back. Their primary feathers are white, with the secondary feathers and tail being black. The sexes of this species display no dimorphism in plumage and little dimorphism in size.