Villa San Ignacio | Hotel near San Jose and Alajuela | Costa Rica

3 Overlooked Tips for Better Bird Photography in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a fantastic destination for bird photography. Toucans, parrots, Scarlet Macaws, trogons, and hundreds of other tropical birds, many at close range; it can make you feel like a kid in a candy shop!

Purple-throated Mountain-gem in Poas Volcano
Hummingbirds provide a fine assortment of optical flavor. The Purple-throated Mountain-gem (Colibrí Montañés Gorguimorado) occurs in cloud forests on Poas Volcano.

More than 900 species of birds have been found in this small, beautiful nation. That makes for a big number of potential subjects but they don’t occur everywhere.  Various species are rare, many depend on certain specific habitats, and, because of lighting, some sites are better for bird photography than others.

There are a number of techniques to take better pictures of more birds in Costa Rica. These frequently overlooked tips are a good place to start:

Set Up Near Fruiting Trees and Flowering Bushes

Birds can be a lot like people. For example, when they are hungry, they go where the food is. Since birds use up a lot of energy, they can’t afford not to be frequent visitors to the natural buffet. That means spending more time in places with big trees and other types of natural habitats that have plenty of fruit, seeds, and insects.

However, even though tropical ecosystems are chock full of life, you won’t find birds hopping in every tree and bush. The complex nature of such habitats means that one tree might have fruit in June and another in August. Another species might bloom in October and January could be the best time for more insects. This unreliable dynamic can be a challenge but it also has a big advantage; concentrating birds at food sources. Set up near those temporary hotspots and you might be treated to several hours of exciting bird photography.

To find those bird photography hotspots, look for any trees or bushes with fruit and flowers. If you notice a few birds flitting around, find a good spot to set up and wait for the avian show.

A toucan or two might even make an appearance. The Fiery-billed Aracari (Aracari piquinaranja) is one of two species of toucans that occurs at Villa San Ignacio.
A toucan or two might even make an appearance. The Fiery-billed Aracari (Aracari piquinaranja) is one of two species of toucans that occurs at Villa San Ignacio.

Take Advantage of the Rain!

Rain is a challenge but it doesn’t have to cancel out your bird photography. As long as it’s not raining too heavy, find a sheltered spot close enough to exposed branches, a flowering bush, feeders, or fruiting trees. Open air restaurants at eco-lodges can be ideal. Set up, try some test shots to figure out your settings and wait for the birds. Tropical birds are well adapted to rain and more can appear than you expect! They can take natural showers while perched on an open branch and can still forage for fruits and nectar. Not to mention, during a light rain, the lighting can be superb and the falling water can lend a dramatic touch.

A Great Kiskadee (Bienteveo Común) in the rain
A Great Kiskadee (Bienteveo Común) in the rain

Hotel Gardens Can be Excellent Places for Bird Photography

Rainforest in national parks have the most bird species but they don’t have the best conditions for bird photography. If you don’t feel like trudging through wet forest and trying for brief shots of furtive birds in dim settings, check out the gardens back at the hotel. Much better lighting combined with plantings that attract birds makes for much easier bird photography. Make sure the hotel has extensive gardens with plenty of natural habitat and the photography can be fantastic. 

The beautiful tropical gardens at Villa San Ignacio are excellent for getting pictures of the exquisite Blue-vented Hummingbird (Colibri vientriazul) and many other species.
The beautiful tropical gardens at Villa San Ignacio are excellent for getting pictures of the exquisite Blue-vented Hummingbird (Colibri vientriazul) and many other species.

Not to mention, as a bonus, bird photography at the hotel makes it simple to take a break, or go back to the room to change lenses or a charge a battery. Celebrating your shots at Happy hour can be nice too! 

Try these tips on your next trip to Costa Rica and get ready for dozens of excellent photo opportunities. The birds will be waiting!

>Book your Birding Trip now in Costa Rica at Villa San Ignacio

Blog by Patrick O’Donnell

Patrick O’Donnell started birding at the age of 7 in Niagara Falls, NY. A biologist by trade, he has worked on bird-related projects in a number of places and has guided birders in Ecuador, Peru, and Costa Rica. Patrick has lived in Costa Rica since 2007 and when not birding, writes about birds, travel and tourism, and other topics.