Another year of birding in Costa Rica has come to an end, another one begins. What will the new year bring? I bet some tanager flocks will be in the cards; birding in Costa Rica tends to deliver. There should be a good number of hummingbirds and quetzals are waiting in the mountains. It’s 2023 already and I have already started this year of birding. No quetzal trips yet but a good start nonetheless. First birds came in the form of migrants and resident species that live in an oasis of precious green space near home.

An Ovenbird chipping from coffee bushes, a Mourning Warbler in the dense grass. A male American Redstart flashed its Halloween finery and other birds flitted into view. A flash of blue and red, male Painted Bunting! Slow movement in the foliage of a lime tree, there’s a Yellow-throated Vireo doing its deliberate thing. A squadron of Brown Jays flaps overhead and a White-tailed Kite hovers into view. I’ll take those first birds of the year, I celebrate them and look forward to more. With those birds, I already have some highlights for 2023. 2022 gave me a fair share of wonderful birds and birding experiences. Despite a fair degree of effort, I also had some unexpected misses. Those kept me below the 700 species threshhold but I won’t complain about 691 species. I talk about my “best” year birds at my blog.

These were some of the other many highlights of this past birding year.

48 Hummingbird Species

In Costa Rica, seeing 48 hummingbird species means seeing nearly all of the regular ones. The one resident I missed was the Garden Emerald. Based on unwritten, invisible birding laws, this means I’ll probably run into one tomorrow. But seriously, my hummingbird total is a reminder that if you go birding enough in Costa Rica, you have a fair chance of seeing all expected hummingbirds.

The White-bellied Mountain-Gem is one of my favorites.

Most Raptors

I also saw a high percentage of the raptor species possible in Costa Rica. No, there weren’t any sightings of ultra mega Crested Eagle or missing Solitary Eagle, or king Harpy Eagle on my part but I did connect with most of the rest. Hawk-eagles flapping butterfly wings high above rainforest, a Tiny Hawk at a popular feeding spot, cool Crane Hawks and Bicolored Hawk, and Hook-billed Kites and more. Missing was Great Black-Hawk, missing on account of not spending enough time looking in the right places and the species having undergone serious decline in Costa Rica over the past 20 years.

I also failed to see a Pearl Kite, maybe one of my biggest misses of the year. The small shrike-kestrel size and demeanor of this beautiful little raptor make it seriously unobtrusive. I looked in some of the right places but failed to connect. Which also means I’ll see one soon.

All Cotingas

The cotingas are special, weird, and wonderful birds. In Costa Rica, some of them are also rare and hard to find. I don’t usually see all of them in a year but in 2022, luck and being in the right places worked to give me the following cotinga sweep:

  • Rufous Piha– Go birding in the right lowland rainforest hotspots and you’ll hear the loud wolf whistles of this bird, probably see it too. I usually hear and see it in Carara, I may have also heard it at another one or two spots.
  • Three-wattled Bellbird– Another vociferous bird much easier to hear than see. The challenge to seeing it in the high season before March is that most birds are not at Monteverde, most are in other, less accessible areas. Luckily, in one of the most unforgettable birding experiences of my life, at Curi-Cancha, I shared wonderful scoped looks of a male bellbird with old and new friends and birding mentors from Buffalo, NY.
  • Turquoise Cotinga– Males at a patch of rainforest in the city of Perez Zeledon also seen with folks from Buffalo were the only ones I saw in 2022.
  • Lovely Cotinga– Once again, the continuing male at Rancho Naturalista was shared with the same group from Buffalo. We had a number of excellent birds on that trip!
  • Snowy Cotinga– Not seen that often but go birding in the right places and you will probably connect. I saw this cool bird near Limon, Sarapiqui, and at Cano Negro.
  • Yellow-billed Cotinga– I had excellent looks of this surreal, endangered species at Cerro Lodge, and Rincon de Osa.
  • Bare-necked Umbrellabird– Any view of this endangered species is a major event. Admiring a female at Centro Manu with my partner was a perfect way to end of a year of birding in Costa Rica.
  • Purple-throated Fruitcrow– Like the Snowy Cotinga, if you go birding in the right places and know how to look for them, you should see fruitcrows. They seem to be doing especially well in forests near and south of Limon.

Updating “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”

An edited version of my bird finding ebook for Costa Rica was long overdue. It took a while to update it but I’m glad I did; since 2015, some places have closed and lot more places have opened. This second version includes most of the new places for birding in Costa Rica along with updates for all of the older, classic locales.

Updating the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app

I’m also glad to have helped update the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app with more images, new birds (a couple of birds are still added to the Costa Rica bird list every year!), and more information. To make the app as thorough as possible, more than 60 additional species that could occur are also included in this birding app for Costa Rica.

Sharing Birds

As always, the biggest highlight is having the chance to share so many birds in Costa Rica with my partner and many other people. I hope you make it here to experience the incredible avian life of this birdy nation. There’s a lot of fantastic birding going on around here!

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.