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The most spectacular native bird is the quetzal !!

If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes. ~ Charles A. Lindbergh, quote recalled on his death, 26 Aug. 1974

When birdwatchers die, they want to go to heaven in Costa Rica. Over 850 species of birds make their appearance in the diverse ecosystems here, many on migratory vacation from colder climes.

The national bird of Costa Rica is the yigüirro (Turdus grayii), pronounced ii-GWEE-row. But the most spectacular native bird is the quetzal (pronounced KATE-zal), a brilliant green cloud forest dweller with a wispy, 60-cm/24-inch plumed tail. These large birds (up to 35 cm/ 14 inches tall) are found only at altitudes between 1,200 and 3,000 meters (4-10,000 feet). They are most commonly seen at mating time between February and April, feeding in fruit trees, notably in Monteverde and Tapantí-Macizo de la Muerte parks. In the belief that they could not survive in captivity, they became a symbol of freedom in Central America.

Oropéndolas are the large black birds with yellow tails that build those fascinating pendulum-shaped nests you see hanging from branches. The nests look like woven Christmas tree decorations. And where would the tropics be without the symbols of tropical climates, the toucan and the scarlet macaw (lapa roja). The macaw’s vibrant colors begin with red and orange and then add yellow, gold, blue and green. Because of its beauty, and its apparently monogamous mating characteristic, it is prized as a pet. Export is illegal, but still this Pacific coast dweller – and its cousin, the green macaw in the Caribbean – are in great danger of extinction in the wild. The toucan’s big multi-colored beak is equally distinctive and a thrill to see.

Dedicated birdwatchers should pick up Birds of Costa Rica, by Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch (Cornell University Press) or Travel & Site Guide to Birds of Costa Rica, by Aaron Sekerak (Lone Pine Press).

To make birdwatching easier, many forest hotels and lodges put fruit out on stands to attract a large variety of birds. We also enjoy watching the many different colors of hummingbirds Of the 330 known hummingbird species, about 65 are native to Costa Rica.

Voices of the forrest: You can listen at home to the sounds of Costa Rican nature with a stereo CD called Voices of the Cloud Forest, depicting a day in Monteverde, and the Costa Rican Bird Song Sampler, an audio guide to recognizing forest bird songs. Both are produced by David Ross at Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology (www.birds.cornell.edu/lab_ cds.html).

The large blue morpho butterfly is quite a stunning sight against the deep green of the forest. Brilliant and plain butterflies abound in gardens, as well as in the warm rainforest. . If you’re a serious fan of these fascinating, delicate insects, pick up Butterflies of Costa Rica, by Phillip de Vries, a huge paperback for US $37.50.

Don't bug me: My favorite rejection letter came from an airline magazine to which I’d pitched an article about Mexico’s Monarch butterflies. ‘No thanks,’ they wrote back, ‘we featured Costa Rica last year.’ ~ Ron Mader, editor, www.planeta.com

Dr. Richard Whitten has assembled a world-class collection of weird and wonderful insects in his Jewels of the Rainforest Museum at the Hotel Chalêt Tirol near Heredia His colorful butterfly and bug displays are as much works of art as they are educational tools. Get him talking about his work and you’ll never get away. But what a genuine pleasure to meet someone who really loves his work.


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