by Shannon Farley
Christmas is a special time of year for birdwatchers. Equipped with binoculars, bird guides and checklists, avid birders throughout the Americas brave snow, wind, rain, and even tropical sun, to take part in the annual Christmas Bird Count.
Costa Rica holds the record in Central America for the highest number of birds counted in a 24-hour period, during the Christmas Bird Count on December 5, 2012. A record number of 417 bird species, and 12,665 individual birds, were identified in Costa Rica’s Central Caribbean region, including Veragua Rainforest Eco-Adventure which organized the count.
“The area is very rich in bird species. It’s incredible to see nearly half the species of birds in all of Costa Rica in our area in 24 hours,” said Daniel Torres, Site Manager at Veragua Rainforest Eco-Adventure.
With 918 bird species recorded, Costa Rica is among the top five favorite countries for bird-watching. Given Costa Rica’s size – just smaller than the U.S. state of West Virginia – it sports the greatest density of bird species of any continental American country.
Travelers flock to the Central American nation to see exotic and beautiful birds, and bird watching tours in Costa Rica have really taken off. The Costa Rican Tourism Board launched a “National Birding Route” earlier this year of 12 strategic observation spots that boast a large diversity of bird species.
The Christmas Bird Count by the U.S. National Audubon Society is in effect an annual census that assesses the health of bird populations and provides critical data on bird population trends. Since its start on Christmas Day in 1900, the Christmas Bird Count has grown exponentially in popularity from Canada down to Central America.
In Costa Rica, birding clubs to tourism businesses with nature preserves hold their own Christmas Bird Counts. Some are affiliated with the Audubon Society, and others are just for fun and their own information. Either way, the counts assist the country’s official tally of bird species recorded.
This year on Dec. 27, Veragua staff will do an informal bird count within its own 3,400-acre property and along a few routes bordering the property, said Torres, who is an avid birdwatcher. He said the Caribbean region is a hotspot for bird-watching in Costa Rica.
“On a nice sunny day you can easily see at least 80 bird species in a day at Veragua,” noted Torres. The most common kinds of birds to see at Veragua Rainforest include hawks, vultures, tanagers, hummingbirds, toucans, woodcreepers, warblers, wrens, motmots, oropendulas, parrots and parakeets.
About 600 bird species are resident in Costa Rica, while most of the other regular visitors are winter migrating birds from North America. Many songbird species in the United States and Canada spend the winter in Central America. From August to December, the Costa Rica Caribbean region becomes the second largest migratory passage of birds of prey on the planet, when millions of eagles, hawks, falcons, buzzards, owls, etc. fly south along the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts from North America, escaping cold weather.
Seeing birds while bird-watching in Costa Rica depends on many factors – weather and time of day, explained Torres. The best time of day to go bird-watching is either at dawn or dusk. “Between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m. the birds begin to sing and are active until mid-morning; and then again from about 3:00 in the afternoon until after sunset,” Torres said.