Long-billed Starthroat (Heliomaster longirostris)

The Heliomaster genus contains four species, two of which occur in Costa Rica, including the Long-billed Starthroat that can be spotted in the Caribbean and northern lowlands, as well as in the south Pacific. It also includes the Plain-capped Starthroat, which is mostly seen in the north Pacific, central valley and some valleys in the south Pacific. Both Starthroats have longer than average bills which are straight, although both species have similar bills. The main difference between the Long-billed and Plain-capped is that the former displays a colorful blue-green forecrown, while the latter lacks that crown. To aid in identification, it can be noted that the Long-billed has a postocular spot, while the Plain-capped has a postocular strip. Other than those two specific traits, the two species are very similar, with olive upperparts and gray to white underparts, and a magenta throat that is iridescent. The tips of the tail feathers are white, which can be seen the most dramatically during flight.

Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher (Phainoptila melanoxantha)

The Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher is one of the four species in a unique family around the world, with the Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher being the only other species to be seen in Costa Rica. The male shows a combination of yellow rump, chest and undersides, with gray belly and vent; its throat and head it black, as well as it tail and wings. The Female has a gray throat with a black cap, olive chest, wings and tail. Their shape is similar to other Costa Rica thrushes, as they look rather plump when compared with the Long-tailed. Although Flycatchers by name, they prefer to eat fruits, specializing in berries that are abundant in the highlands; indeed their range is restricted to Guanacaste, Tilaran, Central and Talamanca Cordilleras. They are endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama, thanks to the fact that the Talamanca Cordillera stretches out into Panama.

Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, (Eupherusa eximia)

Stripe-tailed Hummingbirds are distinguished from other hummingbirds by its rufous wing patch, although that characteristic is shared with the Blue-tailed (rare in Costa Rica) and Black-bellied Hummingbirds. It has a white vent and tail underside, along with the outer two feathers of the tail being white on the upperside. The male shows a dark blue patch on the throat which continues until the chest. During flight, the wings look almost entirely rufous, with only a lining of green feathers on the shoulders. The female has a white throat and chest. Both sexes resemble the Coppery-headed Emerald, although the latter is smaller.

Band-tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata)

The Band-tailed Pigeon has an overall dull coloration, with gray upperparts and purplish underparts and head. A white band on the nape, iridescent green patch on the back of the neck, red eye ring and yellow bill distinguish it from any other pigeon or dove in Costa Rica. They inhabit the highlands, sharing habitat mostly with the Ruddy Pigeon, but the latter has an entirely different body color, hence they should not be easily confused.

Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)

The Hairy Woodpecker is a common inhabitant in Costa Rica’s highlands. It is the same size as the Black-cheeked Woodpecker (which only inhabits the Caribbean lowlands), and hence smaller than the Acorn Woodpecker (which does occur on the highlands). It resembles both species by having black wings, but the face patterns is very different to them, with black and white stripes and just a small reddish patch on the nape. They also lack the barring and streaking that the Black-cheeked and Acorn show on their underparts. Normally woodpeckers are seen, well… pecking at wood, but we saw this individual pecking at the ground, which seemed pretty unusual. It was also totally unconcerned with our presence; a whole group of 15 people could get to within two meters and it would still not fly away. That’s when I decided to follow it around, trying to get a close up portrait, and this was the result.

Torrent Tyrannulet (Serpophaga cinerea)

The Torrent Tyrannulet is a very small flycatcher; few other flycatchers are smaller like the Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher. The Torrent Tyrannulet inhabits river and torrents in the highlands of Costa Rica, which commonly feature rocks in and alongside the stream. It is rather dull, with overall white to gray body but black wings, tail and face. They catch insects in the air using acrobatic motions. They usually perch on rocks instead of branches, which means they are found close to ground or water level. While spooked easily by an approaching person, standing or sitting motionless for a while allows them to become used to a person’s presence, resulting in natural and even curious behavior. One such time, a bird perched on branch at a distance where my lens would not even focus (less than 2.2 meters away), and would look at me, like it was trying to decipher what I was.

Purple-throated Mountain-gem (Lampornis calolaemus)

The Purple-throated Mountain-gem is a striking hummingbird, where the male has a brilliant, iridescent throat the turns purple. The crown also changes color, from dark purple to metallic blue, all due to the angle of light that is hitting it. The upperparts are mainly green, although the belly is gray and the chest has a broad metallic green band as well. The female is similar but has a cinnamon belly, chest and throat, which does make it look very contrasty and eye catching. Both sexes have a white postocular line that reaches down and back almost to the neck. They are mostly seen in mid elevation cloud forests. The iridescence in hummingbird means that there is something different about each picture, even of the same individual.

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)

The Acorn Woodpecker is one of Costa Rica’s largest species, only topped in length by the Lineated and Pale-billed Woodpeckers. The funny-looking pattern on its face earns it the local name “little clown”, with a conspicuous red crown, and a black and yellowish-white mask that cover the face and throat. The iris is almost white, and the bill is black. While the back and wings are entirely black, the chest has black and white streaking, and the belly is white. The female can be identified by a small black patch on the front of the crown, whereas the male’s crown is entirely red. Their inhabit the highlands, particularly Cerro de la Muerte (Buenavista) and Cordillera de Talamanca, where they are very common. Their call display is also very showy when compared with other Costa Rica woodpeckers, swinging their body from one side to the other while giving their calls away.

Large-footed Finch (Pezopetes capitalis)

The Large-footed Finch is large in comparison with most other species in the finch family. They prefer to stay on the ground, and at first might resemble small chickens due to their common behavior of scratching the leaf litter for food with their legs. Their overall color is olive, with a gray head and black face; also note the black strips running from the face to the back of the neck. Their main habitat is the highlands at Central (Volcan Barva, Cerro Buenavista) and Talamanca cordilleras. It delivers a song at intervals, composed of high-pitched whistles.

Scintillant Hummingbird (Selasphorus scintilla)

The Scintillant Humminbird is, together with the Snowcap, the smallest hummingbird species that can be spotted in Costa Rica. It is not the smallest bird in the world though, that record belongs to the Bee Hummingbird. The male has an iridescent orange gorget, while the female has buffy throat with speckles, mostly green ones. It can be seen in the highlands, particularly around Cinchona and Cerro de la Muerte.