1st stop: Scarlet Macaws.
These rare and colorful massive birds are unmistakable as they dominate the sky with their oversized rainbow bodies and their high-pitched screeching calls. Macaws are the largest of the parrot family and their strong wings make their flight a noisy one. Between the loud, furious flapping of their wings and their ear-piercing shrieks, they are typically heard before they are seen.
Known as lapas in Costa Rica, the Scarlet Macaw has mostly scarlet colored plumage. Striped blue accents run along their tails and bright patches of yellow and blue cover their wings. They are loyal birds, as they are monogamous and mate for life, and it is unusual to spot one flying solo. These majestic birds can live up to 40 years or longer, and when one loses its mate it is not uncommon for the remaining macaw to die shortly after.
Two scarlet lovers sharing a sunset kiss:
Scarlet Macaws are endangered throughout much of their territory, as deforestation has negatively impacted their natural habitats. With such a reduction of areas for them to nest in, they stop laying eggs, and they begin to have a hard time finding food which results in a major population decline.
These well known and easily recognizable birds can only be seen in three small sections of Costa Rica. We just happen to be lucky enough to be currently living in one of these areas. We like to plan our day around what Andy and I call “bird hour”, the time between about 3:45pm-4:45pm when birds are most active, especially the macaws. Typically this is the only time of day we get to see them and we hate to miss it.
Just down the road from our village there is an abandoned animal sanctuary. Filled with empty, rusty cages that are being swallowed up by the jungle, it reminds me of a scene out of Jurassic Park. A winding path of steps leads down to a wooden hut that overlooks the jungle and valley below with a distant ocean view. This special place always seems to be abandoned and I’m convinced someone built this just for us.
The incredible ocean/valley/jungle view from our sunset platform:
Most evenings we head to our scarlet-macaw-watching-jungle-platform, loaded up with our camera, binoculars, bird book and occasionally a picnic dinner, some alcoholic beverages, and a hammock or two. We get to be spectators as the family of macaws that inhabit our neighborhood approach us, greet each other, tree-hop and share dinner.
The rainforest insects provide a steady buzz as the jungle turns from day to night. Booming howls fill the muggy air as competing packs of howler monkeys egotistically holler back and forth. We enjoy the incredible sun as it sets over the distant ocean, lighting up the jungle wall below us with a soothing, orange glow.
The loud, frantic flutter of the scarlet macaws wings slowly decrease, as they call it a night and disappear into the valley.
The Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica is over-flowing with abundant, exotic bird species. Every enthusiastic birder should put this area at the top of their list of places they must go. The scarlet macaws are just one of many unique and colorful bird species that regularly inhabit this section of the country. Each time we step outside our front door we are bombarded with new bird sightings.
One evening on our sunset-bird-hour-outing we immediately spot 6 Scarlet Macaws, 5 Black-mandibled Toucans, and a flock of Red-lored Parrots, all within 20 minutes. The toucans put on quite a show for us as they played follow-the-leader just a few feet above our heads. One Black-mandibled Toucan lands on a low, sturdy tree branch and slowly scans the scene below. He makes eye contact, tilts his head from side to side, analyzing our potential threat. After a few tense moments he decides we are harmless and turns his back. He takes a calculated, fluttered leap and soars over to the next tree, his shadow toucan trailing a moment behind.
How many toucans can you count in this tree?
Toucans are Neotropical birds readily recognized by their oversized beaks. The key to distinguishing between species is recognizing difference in bill coloration. These birds are typically seen feeding on fruit trees, or perched on branches calling to each other. Toucans are known predators as they steal eggs and nestlings of other birds.
Here is a Fiery-billed Aracari, only found in this area of Costa Rica. This member of the toucan family has a red-orange upper mandible in addition to a red belly band. It makes a high-pitched, two-note hiccup call.
Below is a Black-mandibled Toucan beside a Crested Guan in a tree:
The Crested Guan is a large, chicken-like bird that can fly well despite it's size. The white flecks on its chest and the red flap of skin on its throat makes this bird easy to identify.
Next up is the Summer Tanager, a glowing, bright red bird that is small in size. A common bird in Costa Rica, it can be found throughout the regions in almost any habitat.
Below is the Cherrie's Tanager, which is known for its bright orange backside and thick, light blue bill with a dark tip.
The Laughing Falcon is next on the list. He is identified by his broad black mask and feeds primarily on snakes (which is why I like him so much - he's good to have around, especially since there have been a few recent sightings of venomous snakes near our villa).
The last bird on our bird nerd tour is the Swallow-tailed Kite. A predatory bird known for its keen vision, this bird is graceful and classic during flight. The long, forked tail is the identifiable trait and they often travel in groups and consume their prey while in flight.
Hasta luego and pura vida fellow bird nerds :)
Kari Pinkerton Silcox
It would be a tragedy to die, having never really lived. Which is why my husband Andy and I quit our jobs, sold our house and decided to chase our dreams. We moved to Costa Rica without a plan, and this is the story of our adventure.