Although the resplendent quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala, one of the best and most beautiful places to see them is in the cloud forest of Costa Rica. A bird watching holiday to this part of the world will reward you with the opportunity to spot unique wildlife in lush rainforests, jungle waterways and stunning white sandy beaches.

Cloud Forest

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is considered the most well known cloud forest in the world with a rich variety of biodiversity. The cloud forest houses 2.5% of the world’s species, including 755 species of trees and 500 species of orchids including 34 that were discovered in the reserve as new to science.

A 5 hour drive away is Manuel Antonio National Park, home to the magnificent frigatebird as well as toucans, tanagers and brown pelicans, while to the north is Arenal Volcano National Park, one of the most majestic volcanoes in Costa Rica and popular with birders and wildlife watchers because of its interesting flora and fauna.
What to see

Here are 5 birds to look out for in the cloud forest:

Resplendent Quetzal
Image credit: Frank Vassen
Resplendent Quetzal
One of the highlights of any bird watching holiday to the Costa Rica cloud forest is the chance to catch a glimpse of the rare and beautiful jewel-toned resplendent quetzal, and tour guides will be keen to point them out. Their feathers shimmer in sunlight showing patches of red, gold and silver and they have green iridescent tail feathers that are 3 feet long. Quetzals were considered sacred by the ancient Aztecs and Mayans and there are many myths and legends associated with this spectacular bird.

Three-wattled bellbird
Image credit: ryanacandee
Three-Wattled Bellbird
The three-wattled bellbird is a rare bird whose conservation status is listed as 'vulnerable'. Male birds are chestnut brown and white while females are duller in appearance. It gets its name from the 3 wattles that hang from the base of its bill. The wattles look a bit like worms and can extend up to 10 cm, although they remain flaccid when extended and they are not controlled by muscles. Three-wattled bellbirds are secretive and can be hard to spot, but they can be identified by their distinctive song; a bell-like call which gives the bird its name.

Blue-Crowned Motmot
Image credit: Brian Ralphs
Blue-Crowned Motmot
Of the 6 species of motmot living in Costa Rica, the blue-crowned motmot is the most common. It has colourful turquoise, green and yellow plumage and a black crown with a bright blue border. Like many motmots, blue-crowned motmots have two long tail feathers that they swing in a pendulum-like motion which has earned them the nickname 'clock birds'. Motmots can be found in trees near the forest floor, usually under 10 feet of the ground and can be identified by their low, husky call.

Keel-Billed Toucan
Image credit: Doug Greenberg
Keel-Billed Toucan
The keel-billed toucan can be seen throughout Costa Rica. It inhabits lowland and mid-elevation forests and is commonly spotted in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Also, known as the rainbow toucan, the keel-billed toucan has yellow and black plumage with a multi-coloured bill with a scarlet tip. Like most toucans, keel-billed toucans are social birds and rarely found alone. Look up to see flocks of up to 15 birds, shrieking as they fly overhead. You may also see them flinging fruit at each other in pretend fights.

Scintillant Hummingbird
Image credit: Carol Foil
Scintillant Hummingbird
The scintillant hummingbird is the smallest Costa Rican hummer weighing just 2 grams and measuring 6-8 cm. It is only slightly larger than the world's smallest bird, the bee hummingbird. The male has bronze-green upperparts, a rust and black-striped tail and a bright red-orange throat. Females are similar but her throat is pale with green spots. Despite its small size, the scintillant hummingbird is difficult to miss and the hum of its wings can be heard from some distance. They are found on the edge of forests, in coffee plantations and will occasionally venture into gardens.

Where To Stay

Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodge

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodge is an eco-lodge that brings a positive experience to local people and guests without interfering with the natural habitat of the flora and fauna in the region. The lodge is a mountain hotel set in 72 acres of natural cloud forest and just 10 minutes from the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

The balcony of the lodge is a wonderful spot to relax with a glass or wine or a good book and has an exhilarating view over the forest and Nicoya gulf. The hotel has hung hummingbird feeders so you are sure to see one of these little jewel-like birds visit for a drink of nectar. The Motmot restaurant offers a variety of Costarian dishes including sizzling fajitas, gallo pinto (rice and beans) and homemade bread.


Things To Do

Early Bird Watching Tour
With more than 400 species of birds, arenal turns into a very rich area for birding, in three hours we can easily see more than 40 bird species. For the visiting birder, this tour presents the obvious advantage of tropical biodiversity combined with excellent tour guides, delicious breakfast in front of bird feeders, stunning scenery and friendly staff. Our bird watching tour concentrates on the best birding areas, from the opening to deep in the forest. FIND OUT MORE ...

Bird Watching Tour In Monteverde
Go bird watching in Monteverde on a half-or full-day private tour led by an experienced naturalist guide. Choose between early morning and afternoon departures, then watch for resplendent quetzals, black guan, silvery-fronted tapacul, and more. This 3-hour or 6-hour private birding tour includes pickup and drop-off in Monteverde, with the flexible, personal experience of a private guide. FIND OUT MORE ...

Cloud Forest Bird Tour
Immerse yourself in the bird lover’s paradise of Monteverde cloud forest on this 2.5-hour early-morning bird-watching tour. With up to 450 species of birds, including the rare Resplendent Quetzal, Monteverde is a natural playground for wildlife enthusiasts and your expert guide will ensure you tick off as many as possible. Don’t just train your binoculars on the treetops either – white-throated capuchin monkeys, coatis, agoutis and deer are also common sightings. FIND OUT MORE ...

Bird Watching AMA
Bird Watching AMA
Just as the sun comes out we will begin the journey through the Gallery Habitat Trail with 380 species of birds, decorated with small lakes and grasslands ideal for birdwatching. During the entire tour, our naturalist guide will accompany you and teach you about all of these natural marvels. Hawks, orioles, toucans, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, sunbittern, bare-throated tiger heron, and more will capture your attention throughout the tour and give you an unforgettable experience in Costa Rica. FIND OUT MORE ...

Keel-Billed Toucan
Bird Watching Near the Arenal Volcano
Rise for an early morning chorus of tropical birdsong with a bird watching tour from La Fortuna, or take an afternoon stroll while the birds are most active. Walk near the Arenal lake or near your hotel, and try to spot toucans, parrots, parakeets, tanagers and hawks; more experienced birdwatchers can add to their life lists by finding royal flycatchers, cinnamon woodpeckers and white-fronted nun birds with help from a professional guide. FIND OUT MORE ...

Costa Rica Canopy & Coast 15 Day Tour


On this journey through Costa Rica, you'll discover rich nature and unique wildlife as you explore the towering volcanoes of Arenal and Poas, the lush rainforests of Monteverde and Manuel Antonio, and the thriving waterways of Tortuguero. The birdlife is a particular highlight and you should spot the rare and beautiful quetzal, as well as colourful toucans, hummingbirds, kingfishers and parrots.


Essential Reading

A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica
Birds of Costa Rica
Where to Watch Birds in Costa Rica

About British Bird Lovers


It's Good To Talk

For More Inspiration

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