FAQs About Birding in Panama
Is birding in Panama similar to watching birds Europe, Canada, or the USA?
Birding in the temperate zone is quite different from bird watching in Panama. Although a few species will be familiar (especially species that spend the winter in Panama), most of the birds pertain to tropical families that don’t occur north of Mexico. These are birds like motmots, trogons, antbirds, puffbirds, parrots, manakins, and many more. Many species also occur in low density populations, move around in flocks made up of a dozen or more species, and frequent the tall canopy of rainforest or skulk in the dim understory. However, the main difference is that you will see a lot more bird species in Panama than birding your favorite reserve in Europe, the USA, or Canada.
Which birds will I see in Panama?
In Panama, there will be birds just about everywhere you go. Panama City has the distinction of being the birdiest capital city on the planet, and there are plenty of parks and preserves that host a huge variety of species. The following are just a few of the many birds commonly seen in Panama:
What about hiring a birding guide?
If you prefer to bird on your own, don’t hire a guide but don’t expect to see as many species either. A good, local birding guide will help you see and learn about a lot more species no matter how much you study before the trip.
Where can I see birds in Panama?
The easiest place to start when birding in Panama is in the gardens of your hotel. A surprising number of bird species can be found on the grounds of hotels and eco-lodges and there may also be someone present to help you identify them. However, the places with the highest number of bird species are protected areas like national parks and preserves.
Some of the more popular sites for birding and frequently visited places are:
• Boquete: Quite a few middle elevation species can be seen in and around this beautiful town. It’s also close to other well known high elevation sites such as Finca Lerida and the Sendero los Quetzales; the best site in Panama for seeing the stunning Resplendent Quetzal, Prong-billed Barbet, and a variety of high elevation species that only occur in Costa Rica and western Panama.
• Bocas del Toro: Although this popular destination isn’t on the regular birding tour circuit, a large number of rainforest species can be seen there including toucans, several parrots, wrens, antbirds, manakins, and other species.
• Las Macanas: This is a wetland site situated in the province of Herrera. Easy to access and close to the Pan-American highway, Las Macanas is a great area to see Aplomado Falcon, Snail Kite, and a variety of wetland species.
• Metropolitan Park, Panama City: The tropical forests in this park help make Panama City one of the birdiest capital cities on the planet. A large number of species can be seen including parrots, toucans, many flycatchers, antbirds, raptors, and Rosy Thrush Tanager.
• The Pipeline Road: This famous birding site offers fantastic rainforest birding and chances at seeing trogons, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, raptors, antbirds, and many other species.
• Cerro Azul: This a foothill site east of Panama City with many tanagers, hummingbirds, and other species of humid forest, including the rare Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker.
For more detailed information on these and many other sites, we recommend “A Bird Finding Guide to Panama” by George Angehr, Dodge Engleman, and Lorna Engleman.
What do I need to watch birds in Panama?
The most important piece of equipment is a good binocular. The small travel binos that are 10 x 20 aren't very suitable for birdwatching because they don't let in enough light to see the birds very well. Binos that are 8 x 35 or 8 x 42 are ideal and even better if they are waterproof and have coated lenses. If you are just getting started with birding, mid-priced binos such as Nikon Monarchs and Vortex are very good for birding in Costa Rica. A scope can be very handy in looking for seabirds and checking out distant species perched in the rainforest canopy but isn't as necessary as binoculars.
Is there a field guide for Panama?
At the moment, there are two primary field guides for the birds of Panama. A Guide to the Birds of Panama: With Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras by Ridgely and Gwynne is one and The Birds of Panama: A Field Guide by Angehr and Dean is the other. Both are good field guides but Angehr and Dean is a bit smaller and more up to date than Ridgely and Gwynne. For an even smaller, lightweight field guide with photos and bird sounds, try our Panama Birds Field Guide app.