Bird is the word
Bird biodiversity in Costa Rica attracts animal lovers from around the world. But is the country’s avian life under threat?
There is only one feeder at the 350-hectare Arenal Observatory Lodge and Spa, and it attracts birdwatching fanatics from around the world. Colorful melons hang off the contraption, luring giant turkey vultures and tiny hummingbirds, as well as playful coati, who wait on the ground and fight over pieces of fallen fruit. Nearby is a patio packed with binocular-armed tourists attempting to catch a glimpse of the 500 species of birds that live on the lodge’s property.
Costa Rica, with an area of less than 20,000 square miles, has more bird biodiversity than most of the other nations in the world. The country is in the top five destinations for bird watchers, many of whom flock to Arenal Observatory Lodge and Spa, a hotel and conservatory at the base of the Arenal Volcano, according to Christian Campos. Campos, a self-described “naturalist guy” who has worked at the lodge for 14 years, said Costa Rica’s terrain, geography and location in Central America as well as the country’s climate work together to create an ideal location for bird biodiversity.
“Birdwatchers say they love Costa Rica because you can see many different environments just by driving,” Campos said. “In Brazil and Colombia, you have to get on a plane to see different parts of the country. In Costa Rica, you can just drive.”
"Birdwatchers say they love Costa Rica because you can see many different environments just by driving"
Campos said some birdwatchers come to the observatory on a mission to spot a specific bird. On birdwatching tours, depending on the length, visitors can see between 50 and 100 species. Campos said he thinks the sporting appeal of birdwatching came from the vast number of beautiful species it is possible to see.
“In Costa Rica, we have only four species of monkeys,” Campos said. “We have 940 species of birds. For people, it’s like a challenge to try and see some.”
Campos told the story of an American tourist who once offered him cash to help him find a specific bird. After three days of looking to no avail, the tourist left disappointed. Then the bird showed up at the reception area the next day.
Throughout the park, visitors can hear a variety of bird songs and calls, some of which are completely unlike any that may be heard elsewhere in North America. Birds use these sounds to attract mates or to warn other birds of dangers. An experienced guide can identify species of birds by their calls alone.
The workers at Arenal Observatory Lodge and Spa try to recreate the natural environment that animals live in. Instead of attracting hummingbirds with sugar water, they use naturally occuring flowers.
Many other birding opportunities exist in Costa Rica. Sloth Tours in La Fortuna offers a natural trail where visitors can spot many forms of wildlife, including birds. Tour guide Brian Ramirez has had a lifelong love of birds, which started when he got an unexpected present from one of his cousins.
“They [gave] me the gift of binoculars, and I got involved in biology and birdwatching,” he said.
Ramirez carries a dog-eared field guide with him in the park, and checks off birds as he spots them. He explained that birds flourish in Costa Rica because the country exists as both a bridge and a barrier between North and South America, and because it touches both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The country also has both mountainous and lowland areas.
However, Costa Rica’s status as a paradise for birds might be threatened. Deforestation affects the creatures in many ways. Some birds nest or feed only from specific, endangered trees. Global warming has also hurt birds by altering the patterns of the rainy and dry seasons. This can affect the schedule of reproduction and feeding.
“This is a big worry,” Campos said. “[Birds] will have babies born but have no food for them.”
To fight against the threat of deforestation, efforts to protect animal life, such as those taken by conservatories in Costa Rica, are certain to benefit bird biodiversity. But for now, it seems the country will remain a mecca for birders everywhere.