Utah Birds, Utah Birding, and Utah Birders. Promoting the sharing of information, and the conservation of habitat for birds in Utah and elsewhere. We are a group of people who want to share what we know, and create a positive birding experience in Utah.


a blog by and for Utah Birders

My Top 10 List – Costa Rica Planning Part 3

posted by Tim Avery at
on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 

At some point in most people lives I assume they have made a “top 10” list of one sort or another. Maybe the top 10 places they want to go, the top 10 things they want to do, the top 10 songs on their iPod. You get the idea. I have done a few top 10 lists over the years—and as it’s probably no surprise, more than a few of those have involved birds. While I am on my Costa Rica kick (this will be a couple more months long I’m sure) I figured I would throw out there my “top 10 birds to see in Costa Rica” list.

Now for everyone there are probably a couple of birds that are obvious, like the Resplendent Quetzal, or Scarlet Macaw that will be on the tops of the lists. These obvious species both make my list, but neither are in the top 5. I went a little obscure, with my picks, not because they were odd birds, but because they are interesting to me for one reason or another. So here goes.

First the honorable mentions. I am a bit of a Tanager freak and there are so many types of tanagers in Central and South America that I was bound to have a few favorites. I decided to only have one in my top 10 but I have three runners up. The Spangle-cheeked Tanager, the Rosy Thrush-Tanager, and the White-throated Shrike-Tanager are three species I would love to see. They are up there, but not quite in the top 10.

#10 – Scarlet Macaw
This large parrot is somewhat of an icon for habitat destruction. It is large, loud, and highly noticeable. I really want to see one, and probably will as there are a couple of very reliable locations along the Pacific coast. To see a Scarlet Macaw soaring over the forests might be one of the most majestic sights in the country.

#9 – Common Potoo
Is it a nighthawk? Is it an owl? Really what is a Potoo? A Potoo is very similar to a nighthawk, but they sit upright when they roost. It is kind of comical too see and quite unique. I can’t leave Costa Rica with out seeing one of these—I will probably hear them, but finding one roosting might be a little more difficult.

#8 – Red-headed Barbet
It’s like a mini-toucan almost—it’s in the same family s the toucans and the colors make it a perfect fit. In my opinion it is one of the most spectacularly patterned birds in terms of their colors and how they work together. This species should be on the easier side of the species in my top 10 list.

#7 – Tiny Hawk
It’s tiny, and it’s a hawk. Only slightly larger than an American Kestrel, it looks sort of like an accipiter but is either all dark gray, or all rufous brown in markings and pattern—never combining the two like our North American accipiters. Where I will be it is only found in a small region so it might be a long shot, but one can always hope!

#6 – Resplendent Quetzal

The quintessential icon of Costa Rican birding. This species is the highlight for many going to Costa Rica and it surely is an amazing creature. I hope our last morning in the country ends with a handful of these close enough to get some killer photos. The only reason it doesn’t make it in the top 5 or even the top spot is that this is for so many people the bird of choice. I decided to throw 5 less common and harder to find species ahead of it for my own personal satisfaction.

#5 – Bran-colored Flycatcher
Its name brings to mind cereal for me, and I don’t know why but that makes it interesting. It doesn’t have an interesting pattern, or bright colors, but the subtle browns, along with the streaked breast, and yellow crown make it unique. It’s only found in the extreme southern part of the country where I will have one afternoon to scare one up.

#4 – Three-wattled Bellbird

I think the name says it all for this species. If you have never seen a picture of one you will never forget it when you have. Aside from the three strings that hang from the bill, the white head along with rufous body make it a sight. Perhaps the only thing more interesting is that this species is that it sits at 12” in length—seemingly large for a “songbird”. Definitely one of the coolest birds in Costa Rica.

#3 – Silvery-fronted Tapaculo
This rather drab skulker might leave a few people wondering what am I thinking? For starters the name is pretty cool, Tapaculo. This is the furthest north any member of the family goes and is found high in the mountains of Costa Rica. If I get to see one it will probably be a few minutes after I see my first Quetzal—but I will just have to wait and see.

#2 – Yellow-billed Cotinga
Truth be told this species has juggled for the number one spot recently. In the field if you are lucky enough to see one of the remaining 250-1000 of these that still roam the coast of the south pacific side of Costa Rica you will see a startlingly white bird with a yellow bill. It is quite a spectacular bird and how rare it is makes it a very desirable sighting. There are several spots where I might get lucky enough to see one, but the best is probably the bridge of the Rio Rincon on the Osa Peninsula. I will only have a little bit of time here, but I hope that I will get lucky as many others have in the past couple years.

#1 – Speckled Tanager
Last but definitely not least, and as probably not a surprise to many, a tanager tops my list. This species is hardly rare, but has a pretty limited range in the country and very specific habitat needs. When I started looking for places to find them the same name kept popping up again and again: Wilson Botanical Gardens. Just a few miles from the Panama border on the edge of one of the intermontane valleys in the south Pacific this place is a hotspot that is pretty remote—meaning most birders don’t go there while visiting the country. We are going to be within a two hours drive so I couldn’t say no to making the trip there. Aside from the tanager there are a number of other specialties I will probably see here, but his gem is the target. So you may be asking why? Well that is pretty simple for me. It is simply a beautiful bird. The pattern is so intricate and colorful that it makes all other tanagers seem a bit bland. Now this is highly debatable as everyone sees things differently—but for me the pattern of this striking bird makes it my most highly sought after species for Costa Rica. It tops the top 10, the top 50 and the top 100 lists.

And that’s that. If you were going to Costa Rica, what would your #1 target species be? Leave a comment and let’s get a conversation going!

All photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons except for:
Silvery-fronted Tapaculo copyright Worldtwitch
Yellow billed Cotinga copyright Michael Lindsey

Labels: ,

Anonymous Robert Williams said...

If i were to take a trip to Costa Rica i would likely just plan on never coming back, then i could bird until i killed over! Perhaps the most intriguing birds of Costa Rica in my opinion would be the Wrens like the River Side Wren for example! Also a comment on the Potoo, I was able to see a Northern Potoo in Jamaica, what an amazing bird! defiantly one that would score high on my top ten!

January 26, 2011 at 7:07 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...


No doubt! Costa Rica happens to top one of my lists, my "top 10 places to die" list. I was tempted to put Great Potoo on my list, but they are extremely rare where I am going to be so I didn't press my luck. I have a shot at both Common and Northern so we'll see what I am able to pick up.

As for the wrens there are some sweet looking ones--the Rufous-naped Wren is perhaps my favorite in terms of pattern.


January 27, 2011 at 9:09 AM  
Blogger Apteryx said...

Tough to single out particular birds in Costa Rica, but Violaceous Trogon, Rufus-tailed Jacamar, White-necked Jacobin, and the less flamoyant Plain Xenops were among my favorites. And then there are the manakins.

January 27, 2011 at 11:21 AM  
Anonymous Tony Jones said...

Male Snowcap Hummingbird would top my list. Cute little fella. I am planning a trip to either Costa Rica or Peru. Not sure which yet.

January 27, 2011 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

@Apteryx: Those are all pretty sweet birds too. I had a couple other like the Thrush-like Schiffornis or Rufous Piha that aren't as flashy either--Prong-billed Barbet is also a pretty sweet bird with that bill.

It is hard to make a top 10 and truthfully there are so many cool birds there that a top 100 would probably be more fitting.

Tony, If I were doing a complete Costa Rica birding trip, Snowcap would be my #3 species as it is absolutely awesome looking. Tiny little hummer, with the purplish body and white cap--awesome!

Here is a picture of one in flight

January 27, 2011 at 11:52 AM  
Blogger Ryan O'Donnell said...

I made a list of my top ten most wanted before my trip last year:
1. Volcano Junco
2. Volcano Hummingbird
3. Collared Plover
4. Blue Ground-Dove
5. White-necked Jacobin (saw and photographed, but only one distant female)
6. Snowcap
7. Pale-billed Woodpecker (saw, photographed, recorded audio of double-rap!)
8. Black-capped Flycatcher
9. Red-breasted Blackbird
10. Oropendola - any species (saw two sp., photographed and recorded one)

Plenty left for my next trip, whenever that is!

January 27, 2011 at 2:53 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

Great list, wow! Tim, are going on a guided tour, or creating your own routes/schedule?

Are those colorful side-ways sliding Red-capped Manakins anywhere near, or different area (or country)?

Jon W.

January 27, 2011 at 8:31 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

@Ryan O'Donnell: Nice list! Volcano Junco is definitely in my top 20. I should be able to pick one up on Cerra de la Muerte pretty easily. I know that I am going to miss a lot of the things I want to see due to the limited time--but lie you say it leaves plenty for the next trip!

@Jon: My fiance and I are doing our own thing. I have laid out most of the birding during the trip to fit in our schedule. There is a ton of information and a couple of books that are really helpful (see Costa Rica Planning Part 1 on this blog). As for the manakins they are indeed where I will be, along with about 3 other species that are all equally amazing!

January 27, 2011 at 11:25 PM  
Anonymous Margaret Sloan said...

Great topic! You've got me actively planning since I'm heading to CR in a couple of weeks. Some of the birds I've chosen may be rare in the areas I'm visiting, so I may be updating this list every 12 hours or so. There are so many great birds there! Here's my list in random order:

1. Agami Heron
2. Black-throated Wren
3. White-throated Magpie-jay
4. Sharpbill
5. Bare-necked Umbrellabird
6. Long-tailed Manakin
7. White-necked Puffbird
8. Bare-shanked Screech-Owl
9. Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo
10. Scarlet-thighed Dacnis

I visited Costa Rica a couple of years ago (my first non-US birding trip!). My photos can be seen here: http://www.pbase.com/laumakani/birds_of_costa_rica They are "for the record" photos, so vary greatly in quality. In most cases, I list the specific locations of the shots.

February 1, 2011 at 11:33 AM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...


That's a nice list! And your pictures are great! Very lucky that you get to go again, you'll have to let us know how many of these you pick up!


February 2, 2011 at 10:39 AM  
Anonymous Margaret said...

Here are some photos to whet your appetite (and mine). The photographer is excellent! http://www.pbase.com/davehawkins/rancho_naturalista_costa_rica Rancho Naturalista is the first stop on my trip.

February 5, 2011 at 9:43 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Back to Previous