Keel-billed toucan in Costa Rica

Brief Guide to Mammals & Birds of Costa Rica

Keel-billed toucan in Costa Rica

Home to more than 500,000 species of flora and fauna, Costa Rica is widely considered to have the highest density of biodiversity of any country on the planet. Despite comprising just one-third of a percent of the earth’s landmass, this tropical isthmus contains a whopping 5% of all species estimated to exist across the planet.

Tropical rainforests, deciduous forests, canal networks, Atlantic and Pacific coastline, cloud forests, mangrove forests, coral reefs and volcanic rims all offer sanctuary to the remarkable wealth of wildlife in Costa Rica. Here are just a few examples of the many mammal and bird species you’re likely to catch sight of during your Costa Rica tour…

Mammals of Costa Rica

Despite Costa Rica’s wealth of biodiversity, just 200 mammal species (half of which are bats) call the lush green landscapes and warm temperate waters of the country home. Of these, some of the more intriguing species include:
Baird’s Tapir
Native to Mexico, Central America and northwestern South America, the tapir can be identified by distinctive cream-colored markings across its chin and dark spots on each cheek. Often found close to water, these solitary herbivores are good swimmers and can actually sink to the bottom of a riverbed to feed on submerged vegetation.

Costa Rica has three species of anteater– lesser, giant and silky– the most common of which is the lesser (a.k.a. collared anteater). A tree-dwelling species that nimbly navigates through the treetops using its prehensile tail, it extends its long, sticky, barbed tongue to collect termites and ants from their nests and underground colonies. Visit the Osa Peninsula to catch a glimpse of the elusive giant anteater, which is threatened by loss of its native habitat.
Consuming a diet of fruits, insects and ants, the kinkajou also feeds on nectar and is an important disperser of pollens from various species of plants. Covered in dense, soft, short fur, kinkajous are reddish to smoky grey-brown in color and boast curved claws and a distinct tapered tail that allows them to live high in the forest canopy. Though they’re nocturnal creatures, sightings are common in Monteverde National Park.

Birds of Costa Rica

Around 600 species of bird reside in Costa Rica. Of those, eight are endemic and 19 are globally threatened. During your visit you’re likely to see:
Clay colored thrush
Clay-Colored Thrush
Ubiquitous throughout Central America, the clay-colored thrush is the national bird of Costa Rica, where it is known as the yigüirro. Recognizable thanks to its brownish plumage (somewhat lighter on its breast), which appears darker on those living in humid regions, its throat is faintly streaked and its bill is greenish-yellow with a dark base.
Blue-throated Toucanet
Blue Throated Toucanet
Commonly spotted in Costa Rica’s humid mountain forests, blue-throated toucanets are cavity nesters and often make use of abandoned woodpecker holes to lay their clutch of eggs. Easily distinguished from their cousins, the emerald toucanets, by their distinctive sapphire-blue throats, their plumage is a palette of green hues apart from a chestnut brown tail-lip and crissum.

Roughly 50 species of hummingbird live or breed in Costa Rica’s lowlands and lush cloud forests. Vibrant in color and energetic in flight, their fearless nature and remarkably small size have made them a favorite among birders and wildlife enthusiasts. Co-evolving with the region’s flora by developing long, slender bills and even longer tongues with which to harvest the crop of nectar, hummingbirds will aggressively defend nectar sources from rival hummers, bees and butterflies.


Discover the Wildlife of Costa Rica

Join International Expeditions' Master Naturalist Jonathan Sequeira in Costa Rica. International Expeditions has offered small-group Costa Rica tours for 35 years. Choose between naturalist-guided adventures encompanssing the natural and cultural history of Costa Rica, or enjoy our bespoke journeys, ideal for families. 


Read our Guide to Reptiles, Amphibians and Insects of Costa Rica!

British travel writer Charli Moore is a digital nomad blogging at An avid Scuba diver and adventure traveler, she advocates sustainable experiences in off- the-beaten-path destinations.

 Photos: Clay colored thrush Andy Morffew; Kinkajou Carol Farneti Foster; Bluethroated toucanet Francesco Veronesi