Resplendent Quetzal

All birds have value. I do believe that but…if I had to choose between a Rock Pigeon and a Golden-hooded Tanager, you can guess where I’d be focusing the binos!

It’s hard not to look at the Golden-hooded Tanager.

Let’s face it, some birds are more popular than others. There are bird species with the power of personality and feathered friends with super migratory prowess. Some of us are captivated by the fierce stares of hawks and the raptorial majesty of a diving falcon. A fair subset of birders are even crazy about gulls (!).

Such birds have their fans but the ones that usually win the avian prize, the birds that walk the red carpets of our birding dreams, those are the pretty ones. Just take a look at a Northern Cardinal. In a lot of places, this backyard beauty is the most popular bird on the block!

Cardinals win us over with stunning colors, a pretty song, and common presence. I grew up with the crested red birds but I don’t see them any more. It’s not that they don’t still occur in Niagara Falls, New York. They do indeed but I haven’t resided in the Cataract City for some time. I live in Costa Rica, a place that makes up for the lack of cardinals with trogons, motmots, and like 900 other bird species.

I wonder which birds are most popular in Costa Rica. With so many birds to choose from, it’s hard to say. However, I think these five are some good candidates.

Clay-colored Thrush

This bird might not look pretty but, locally, it’s long been popular in Costa Rica! People in Costa Rica have probably been paying close attention to these tropical cousins of the American Robin for thousands of years. When the Clay-coloreds start singing, folks know it’s time to plant The Three Sisters (corn, bean, and squash), and other crops. The thrushes know that the rains are just around the corner and they remind us by filling the countryside with their robin-like songs. This is why Costa Rica picked the “Yiguirro” to be the national bird, even with so many other prettier birds to choose from.

Scarlet Macaw

A massive red parrot with blue and yellow highlights is a hard bird to miss! At one time, Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica were greatly reduced. It was like so many other places where the young birds were stolen from nests, habitat was destroyed, and adult macaws occasionally hunted.

Thankfully, In Costa Rica, that ignorance ended some time ago. Long enough, in fact, for Scarlet Macaws to become common birds in many parts of the country. They are also popular, it seems like a lot of locals are proud of the majestic birds and their conservation success story.

Keel-billed Toucan

I dare say a lot of locals like this bird too. Like the macaw, it’s another hard one to ignore! In Costa Rica, it’s also a fairly common bird, I’ve even seen them a short drive from the airport!

However, visiting birders like them even more. Most ask me if they’ll see a Keel-billed Toucan, or where they can see them. I’m happy to give an easy reply; lots of places! Of the many bird species visiting birders hope to see, these incredible rainbow-beaked birds are one of the easier birds at the top of the target list.

Scarlet-rumped Tanager

Bold and beautiful, easy to see and vocal, these striking tanagers just might be our cardinal. Although you can’t see them in dry forest or in the mountains, they are common garden birds everywhere else. When you drive to lower elevations, it won’t take long to see a flash of red and black in roadside vegetation.

Resplendent Quetzal

The fifth bird on our list is royalty among birds. Heck, it looks so crazy incredible, some cultures took it to be a divine messenger! Espy one in the wild and it’s easy to see why. If you want a bird to take your breath away, one to maybe make you cry, the Resplendent Quetzal just might do the trick.

In Costa Rica, this mega trogon is popular among locals and a must for visiting birders. Thankfully, it’s also fairly common and accessible in most of our highland forests.

In Costa Rica, we’ve got a heck of a lot of birds to choose from. It’s probably impossible to pick the five most popular ones but I bet the species mentioned above are good candidates. Of course the best way to find your favorite birds is by coming to Costa Rica and seeing them for yourself. Will you like a quetzal over a Black-hooded Antthrush? Prefer a White-fronted Nunbird or an Ornate Hawk-eagle? Snowcap anyone?

The best answer is “all of the above and some”. From the tiny, plain Slaty Flowerpiercer to the gaudy Red-headed Barbet, I know I like them all.

Written by Patrick O'Donnell
Patrick O'Donnell became a birder at the age of 7 after seeing books about birds in the Niagara Falls, New York public library. Although watching thousands of gulls in the Niagara Gorge was sublime, more bird species (and warmer weather) eventually brought him to Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and other very birdy tropical places. A biologist by training, he has worked on bird-related projects in Colorado, Washington, Peru, and other locales, and has guided birders in Peru, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. These days, he lives in Costa Rica where he juggles guiding, freelance writing, developing bird apps for Costa Rica and Panama, posting on his Costa Rica birding blog, and discussing dinosaurs with his young daughter.