Teen Take on Bird Watching in Costa Rica

Our young writer shares his excitement and avian finds while bird watching on a family vacation to Costa Rica.


Ever since I was 10 years old, I have enjoyed bird watching. I usually look for birds in my neighborhood, or I visit one of my local Audubon Society Sanctuaries. Over the years, I’ve spent hours birding—a popular term for bird watching. I sit quietly waiting for a bird to wander close to me, and I try to identify it, writing the details in my “life list”—the birding record that I keep for each time I first see a new type of bird in the wild.

Living in Massachusetts, my life list is full of the common birds of New England. So, when I found out that my family and I were going to visit Costa Rica for our summer vacation, where there are more than 850 different species of birds—I was ecstatic about the idea of birding in the rain forest!

A New Life List

At the beginning of our vacation, as we were driving from the airport through the mountains to our resort, I saw the first birds on my adventure. I noticed a kettle of turkey vultures scavenging the sky near a mountaintop. (When they’re circling in the air, the group is called a “kettle.”) As we entered the resort, I saw some black-bellied whistling ducks in a nearby pond. Without getting in bird watching mode, I already spied birds that I had never seen before. Right away I knew that there would be a lot of new birds to put on my life list throughout the vacation.

Even though my parents did not arrange for any specific bird watching trips, I was pretty sure that when we went to the Punta Leona Wildlife Refuge, I would see some tropical birds. At one point during our zip-line canopy tour, our guide pointed out a scarlet tanager. A few minutes later we saw a keel-billed toucan. Seeing the toucan was particularly exciting because I was always interested in how a bird with such a heavy-looking bill is able to fly without tipping over.

During another excursion, we visited the Playa Blanca where I saw a brown pelican and several types of sandpiper. I had never seen a pelican before so it was fascinating watching the bird survey the ocean and dive into the water to scoop up fish with its massive bill.

Tips for Bird Watching in Costa Rica

Bird watching in Costa Rica was an unforgettable experience. I’ve never seen so many diverse and colorful birds in one place. This was my first time birding outside of the United States and now I’m inspired to continue bird watching in other parts of the world, when I travel to learn about the wildlife in other countries.

The best way to see a lot of birds on your trip is to visit any one of the numerous national parks in Costa Rica and take a guided tour. Guides are often great at identifying a bird by merely hearing its call and providing interesting background information. But if you’re on a tight budget, you can see tropical birds almost everywhere you go in the country. I guarantee that you can see the avian wonders of Costa Rica without changing your plans.

If you are planning to bird watch in Costa Rica, I recommend that you pack your binoculars, some bug spray, comfortable walking shoes and sun block. It’s also a good idea to bring a Costa Rica field guide. Birding is a big tourist activity in Costa Rica—so you can pick up birding books and pocket guides in gift shops all over the country. 

Destinations: Costa Rica

Themes: Ecotourism, Family Travel, Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Bird Watching, Zip Lining

User Comments

Great article! I went to Costa Rica last year. Before that I had just a slight interest in bird watching at home in England, but when I got a book about the wildlife of Costa Rica before we traveled I decided to try to see as much as I could. Like you, I started spotting new birds straight away on the trip from the airport to our resort - Turkey Vultures and Grackles. As soon as we got to the resort in Arenal I saw hummingbirds, and soon saw 2 species of Toucan, and the splendidly named Montezuma's Oropendola! Costa Rica is a great place for bird watching, and it's also got butterflies, reptiles, mammals, plants and volcanoes! So if you want a holiday but don't want to just sit on the beach there is plenty of adventure to be had. I hope to go back one day.

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