Guides And Resources


Bird Field Guides - The 1989 Skutch and Stiles "The Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica" (below, far right) was a classic as a tropical field guide, but it is both heavy and out-of-date. The newer Garrigues and Dean field guide, "The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide" (below, far left, 2nd edition) is a lighter, more efficient guide when out on the trails. Trying to carry the older Skutch and Stiles guide is like carrying a cord of wood. To be fair, other great field guides for the neotropics are at least as heavy. Few countries, however, have the same tourist industry Costa Rica has. This country can truly use a second field guide. The newer Garrigues and Dean guide has good color plates and, finally, easy-on-your-eyes range maps. It's generally a more user-friendly field guide.

Still, for avid birders, some of the maps of Costa Rica at the front of the Skutch and Stiles guide are important references, and I continue to use them even after 20 trips to Costa Rica. In fact, I have two of the old S&S field guides, so I've cut the plates out of the Skutch and Stiles guide and pack them with the Garrigues field guide.

Bird References


The Birds of Costa Rica
by Richard Garrigues

Costa Rica Bird Checklist
2014 (from Amazon)

Bird ChecklistsOne that gets updated frequently is from the Spanish web site Aves de Costa Rica  (above, left-center) and there is a downloadable checklist in excel format (.xls) on that page as a hyperlink. The actual list itself is in English. One may also purchase a hard copy from Amazon. However, the newer AOU changes (57th supplement) is not always available online. You can download it here.

Nearly all regional web-based checklists I've seen of specific Costa Rican parks and refuges were found lacking in some way. Most are overly generic. Several, like the web checklist for Cano Negro, are very poor and are missing several obvious species. It's difficult to find any good web checklists that have information on status and distribution or have even seasonal information. In short, don't rely heavily on any web checklists of parks or refuges. Even some birding lodges have rather poor ones on their websites.

That said, good location-specific web checklists exist for at least four of the important birding areas. The bird checklists for Carara National Park, Rancho Naturalista, La Selva, and Savagre Mountain Lodge can be found at the Costa Rica Gateways site here... Bird Checklists (hat tip to Kevin Easley). 

Another good checklist exists for the Arenal Volcano region by Rafael Campos and Leo Chavez. It is available online at .Outside of these lists, the pickings are slim for local area checklists.

Finding Birds in Costa Rica - Available now is the publication Bird Finding Guide to Costa Rica (right-center). This book is a site guide to finding Costa Rican bird species by region. Several birding locations in this recent publication have not otherwise received much publicity in print form. This book currently supersedes all other Costa Rica bird-finding guides of this type which have long since been out-of-date. Although this book would have only marginal use if one is on tour with a group, it has enormous benefits if one is driving a vehicle.

Personalized Services

Guided Birding Tours - Several Costa Rican, Canadian, European, and American birding tour companies offer trips to Costa Rica. They are generally first rate. Because of Costa Rica's infrastructure, tourism capabilities, and birding guides, Costa Rica is an easy and well-known destination for birders. Museum's and other organizations also tap into this market. The Costa Ricans themselves have set up very strong competition to American and British tour companies for birding and natural history tours. They are capable of doing this in ways other Central American countries cannot. Costa Ricans have extremely capable bird guides, a strong tourist infrastructure, a good fleet of vehicles, and a very good understanding of the needs of travelers. I have more about this towards the end of this page.

I cannot rate these companies - primarily because I am not so inclined to larger group tours. I used to lead tours for a living, but I've never been one to really enjoy visiting a foreign country entirely through a bus windshield. I prefer renting a vehicle or shuttle and managing my own itinerary. Costa Rica is a great place to do that. I wouldn't hesitate to use a tour company, Costa Rican companies included, but it is not my preferred choice of travel.

Personal Guide Services (birding only) - It's possible that Costa Rica has the highest density of qualified bird guides of any country in the world. There are some birding guides that may be available for customized day trips around some of the better-known parks if they are not doing tours at the time. I'm speaking of thoroughly trained professional bird guides and ones who, depending on the trip, will likely show up with a scope and playback system.

Juan Diego Vargas (R) and myself - Cano Negro Wetlands - Gretchen Peterson

On several occasions, I have hired specific, qualified bird guides - once for a day tour at Carara, once for a day near Manual Antonio National Park, twice near the Arenal and Heliconias lodges, and once again at San Gerardo and Savegre Lodge for target birds. All were well worth the money. One reason birders might consider this is the difficulty of deep-rainforest birding. A guide becomes more important in this particular habitat. It's a place where birds sounds and play-back are more critical to seeing the bird. A guide will likely know where the manakin lek is or where the antpitta is more likely seen. A few birds like Silvery-throated Jay or Bare-shanked screech-Owl are sometimes easy birds for guides who know in advance where those birds are more likely to be seen.

Abraham Gallo - Bosque del Rio TigreTwo places - Bosque del Rio Tigre in the Osa Peninsula and Rancho Naturalista near Turrialba - can budget in their own guided birding package. These lodges have expert guides at the lodge. In my opinion, it's worth it to purchase their services rather than relying on your own skills (unless perhaps you are a bird guide in tropical America).

Abraham Gallo - Bosque del Rio Tigre Ecolodge, Osa Peninsula - Jim Peterson

Personal Guide Services
(natural history) - On at least two occasions, we sought out a personal "natural history" guide to drive us into areas in which we were not familiar. We could not find qualified bird guides at the time as they were not available around the areas we were staying. English-speaking natural history guides are not difficult to find in Costa Rica as they have a much wider audience of tourists than qualified bird guides. I recommend asking someone at your hotel for information or a local phone number. Just remember, natural history guides are not the same as birding guides. A natural history guide should not be expected to name every bird observed in the field. They can be useful if you are unfamiliar with the terrain or the least bit uncomfortable in driving off the beaten path, but they probably won't add anything to your birding experience.

For birders asking at the hotel desk for a bird guide, the hotel receptionist's understanding of a “bird guide” may be open to interpretation. They may be thinking "parrots and toucans" while birders might be thinking "Long-tailed Woodcreeper and Bicolored Antbird". One will likely end up with a natural history guide. Do not expect spur-of-the-moment "nature" guides to be strong bird guides. To find a birding guide, do the homework in advance through email. Don't expect to acquire a skilled birding guide on a day's notice.

Having said all that, let me make one thing clear. Getting anyone advertised as a natural history guide will likely be better than no guide at all. One just needs to lower expectations a bit. Should birders take advantage of a local natural history guide for a day, one should at least get some value. Ask them to be on the lookout for interesting mammals (sloths and monkeys) and to point out the more conspicuous plants and trees. But make sure they know the mission is to see the biggest variety of bird life and that this will not be a typical natural history tour. One should not expect full identification of every species by a natural history guide. Only the very specific bird guides have that kind of knowledge. 

Juan Diego Vargas - Bird Guide

Juan Diego Vargas currently works with the Costa Rica national park system, but has worked as a bird guide both independently and with the birding tour company Costa Rica Gateway. 

Juan Diego Vargas, Arenal Hanging Bridges - Jim Peterson

For the Arenal and Cano Negro areas, birders should make an effort to acquire Juan's services. He lives and works within the Arenal Volcano National Park on specific research projects and stays current on the country's bird sightings. He has near-perfect English and his history as a bird guide is obvious when you are with him in the field. Juan can work with advanced birders on a target list or lead birders on their first trip to the tropics. Juan will need some advanced notice for guide services because of his current job, but he answers email regularly. 

Visit his website at
He can be reached at

Patrick O'Donnell - Bird Guide

Patrick is the author of the "Costa Rica Living and Birding" blog. He also does birding tours around central Costa Rica and in Carara National Park. His favorite patch of ground is the bird-rich Braulio Carrillo National Park, but he also does tours for high-elevation endemics as well lowland Pacific birding at Carara. Patrick originally hails from New York, but now lives near San Jose. It's easy to get to know Pat since his birding blog is updated frequently and is well worth a visit even if you're just mildly interested in birding Costa Rica. Patrick can be reached at his birding blog web site at

Johan Chaves - Bird Guide

Johan Chaves is a bird guide who specializes in the area around Manuel Antonio National Park. With enough notice, he can also guide in Carara National Park to the north. Johan has been guiding birders for several years into the Pacific foothills near the small community of Esquipulas - about a 20 minute drive from Manuel Antonio National Park. Esquipulas is at about a 400 meter elevation and has far better birding than Manuel Antonio National Park. This habitat is good Pacific rainforest habitat. Johan can also take you to the coastal marsh of El Rey which can be very productive for marsh birds and lowland species.

Johan Chaves . Esquipulas near Manuel Antonio National Park - Jim Peterson

One can follow Johan at - his birding blog. His contact information can be found there. Johan's Facebook page is at . Also, please see my section on Manuel Antonio National Park and check out my commentary specific to the area in which Johan can assist in guiding, and is particularly gifted in taking pictures through his scope with the client's smartphone. You can go home home with videos like this.
Esteban Mendez Vargas - Bird Guide
Esteban Mendez Vargas generally does guided bird tours in the Monteverde area but will also do the Guanacaste region if the tour is at least two days of guiding. His email is . He has his own website at

Esteban Mendez Vargas. Heliconias Lodge Canopy Bridges - Jim Peterson

Rudy Zamora - Bird Guide and Tour Operator

In 2009 through a recommendation, we contracted Rudy Zamora - a well-known guide in Costa Rica - for some target species at Carara National Park. I can recommend his services. His English is impeccable. You can contact him at

Finding a Bird Guide in Guanacaste

Finding a bird guide in the drier Guanacaste region has become significantly more important since Liberia has been opened to international travel. It's not nearly as easy to find a good bird guide in this area, so you must plan in advance.

There are at least two competent bird guides working with natural history tours who are sometimes available if their time permits. Oliver Esquivel is both a bird guide and a natural history guide with a company called "Natural History Costa Rica" and may be available for personalized bird tours.

Carlos Luiz Jimenez works for a company called "Eco Explorer Costa Rica" and also doubles as a bird guide. Carlos has been written up in

Birding Tour Companies within Costa Rica

Birding Tour Guide, Ernesto Carman 

Born and raised in Costa Rica to American parents, Ernesto has been birding and exploring Costa Rica since the late '90s.  He has been leading bird tours throughout the entire country and enjoys both target trips as well as general bird tours.  His involvement in research projects adds a great bonus to his guiding, because his research subjects are some of the most sought after targets in Costa Rica, such as Unspotted Saw-whet Owl and Cabanis's Ground-Sparrow.  

Ernesto Carman - Bird Guide

Ernesto has experience at the well known birding sites in Costa Rica, but he has made the effort of exploring new, fresh birding sites unknown to most.  He has his own company (Get Your Birds!) and also works as a free-lance guide for several other companies within Costa Rica, Central and South America. 

Ernesto has also authored several papers for ornithological journals and bulletins including Cotinga, the Neotropical Bird Club's annual journal, and Zeledonia, the bulletin for the Ornithological Association of Costa Rica.

On his website you can follow his blog about birds and natural history. Ernesto's web site is 

Birding Tour Guide, Steven Easley - Costa Rica Gateway

If one has a target bird list or is looking for a specialized bird tour, Costa Rica Gateway is a company that is known for its guide services in this regard. This company is tailored for putting together customized tours for groups or providing services on a daily basis where birders are seeking help with specific birds or specific locations. I have used their guides and consider them some of the best qualified guides I have seen in any country. They are a good company to use when ready-made clients are available through non-profit organizations, small private groups, museums and Audubon chapters.

Other professional birding tour companies that provide tours to Costa Rica are well-established in the the United States. Companies like WINGS, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, and Field Guides have been providing quality field trips to Costa Rica for many years. Several European birding companies also provide tours to Costa Rica. While relatively expensive, these companies provide a well-guided tour service for individuals who are not part of any ready-made group or do not like the stress of driving. These tours are usually made up of individuals from various backgrounds who are seeking a well-packaged tour with a small group of like-minded people. 

Other Resources

Bird Vocalizations - For bird vocalizations of Costa Rican birds, the only good commercial recording I've found is "Voices of Costa Rican Birds, Caribbean Slope". Many places currently show it "currently unavailable" but it can be found. There is also a nice, compact playback mechanism for the iPod and iTouch called Birdjam. If a new one is purchased, they will pre-load the Costa Rica audio CD. For a fuller discussion of the Birdjam, see my section called "Bird Notes." I now use something called "Birdseye" - an app for the iPhone. The proper Birdseye App of Costa Rica I believe has almost all the species one could want with both photographs and audio playback.I have also made my own personalized Costa Rica recordings from Xeno-Canto - a web site of bird calls recorded by amateurs and available for free. Usually, I download very specific birds to my iPhone that I think I'll be hearing on my next trip.

Web Sites - Richard Garrigues Costa Rica Birding Web Site. Definitely worth poking around for several reasons. Richard is the author of the newest bird field guide. There's also a country-wide checklist and some photos of specific birds. I think the "Provincial Overviews" at the bottom of the page are particularly good. Richard Garrigues also has some valuable information about finding birds in Costa Rica which I link here. I personally recommend Richard's web site because of the depth of information. Richard can also be hired as a personal guide. His email is on his web page.

For trip reports on Costa Rica, I recommend Fatbirder. This web site also has the most complete links to Costa Rica birding information, tours, reserves, and places to stay.

New in November of 2009, is Barrett Lawson's Bird Finding Guide to Costa Rica. This book is a new site guide to finding Costa Rican bird species by region. Several places in this recent publication have not otherwise received much publicity in print form. 

For birders, I also recommend the "Costa Rica Living and Birding" blog. This is frequently updated, and is good bird reading.