Panama is one of the best places for bird watching in the world. The country includes a jaw-dropping 996 recorded bird species. To give you context, the entire United States has 993 species of birds, and Panama is only about the size of South Carolina. Going on a birding Panama vacation is a great way […]
Panama is one of the best places for bird watching in the world. The country includes a jaw-dropping 996 recorded bird species. To give you context, the entire United States has 993 species of birds, and Panama is only about the size of South Carolina. Going on a birding Panama vacation is a great way to observe a variety of birds in their natural habitats.
One of the reasons why Panama is such a fantastic birding destination is that you can find a huge number of species close to Panama City, Boquete, and other major towns. This proximity makes bird watching in Panama easy and convenient. You don’t have to leave civilization completely behind to enjoy the wonders of nature.
At the same time, Panama also offers wonderful off-the-beaten path birding destinations that take some more effort to reach but more than make up for the trouble with their breathtaking landscapes and pristine ecosystems. If you like, you can venture to birding spots such as La Amistad International Park and Coiba Island, where humans rarely tread.
Read on to learn more about the fantastic birds of Panama, where to see them, and when to go.
Of the 996 bird species in Panama, 13 are endemic, meaning you can only find them in Panama. Another 105 are regionally endemic to Central America. The Panama endemic species are:
See the interactive map below for general outlines of where these birds live, along with markers on some of our favorite birding spots. Click on the top left corner to see the full list of items on the map.
Other than these special birds found only in Panama, you can see a variety of hummingbirds, owls, colorful wood-warblers, toucans, trogons, parrots, and puffbirds.
There is a particularly large proportion of trogons in Panama in comparison with the rest of the world. 11 of the 39 types of trogons call Panama home. While toucans and parrots are pretty common, especially the red-lored parrot, you’ll have to search diligently if you want to see a rare scarlet macaw.
Hummingbirds also present a birding challenge due to their small size and quick flight patterns. However, there are plenty in the rainforest. You could spot: white-necked jacobin, violet-bellied hummingbird, blue-chested hummingbird, rufous-tailed hummingbird, and long-billed hermit, among many others.
If you’re lucky, you could even see Panama’s national bird, the harpy eagle. It is the biggest and most powerful raptor in the rainforest. While it has nearly been eradicated in the rest of Central America, you can still find the harpy eagle in Panama.
The best time to see birds in Panama is between January and March. This is just after the rainy season, when many animals are most active. March to May is also a great time for birding because it is still during the dry season – you won’t get rained on as much – and many birds are migrating. During this period, warblers are more active and raptors make their way north.
Although we recommend planning your Birding Panama trip sometime between January and May, don’t let the rainy season of June to December keep you away! You can still see a ton of birds during those months and it doesn’t usually rain all day. Head to the Chiriqui highlands for a lesser chance of rain. Plus, this is nesting season, so you could hear more bird calls. If you visit in October, you can catch the migration of the raptors returning south.
Be aware that whenever you visit Panama, it will be hot in the rainforest. For example, Gamboa – the town in Soberania National Park beside Panama City – ranges between lows of 75°F (24°C) and highs 88°F (31°C) year-round. Make sure to bring plenty of water, dress appropriately, and know your hiking limits.
On the other hand, Chiriqui Province’s main mountain town of Boquete has cooler temperatures, between about 59°F (15°C) and 75°F (24°C), also with little variation year-round.
For more information about birding Panama seasons, check out this helpful website.
What to Bring on a Birding Excursion
Whether you’re in the steaming jungle or the cool highlands of Panama, make sure you’re prepared with proper outdoor hiking and birdwatching gear. We recommend including these items on your packing list:
Pipeline Road in Soberania National Park
Undoubtedly the best place closeby Panama City to see rainforest birds is Pipeline Road, within Soberania National Park. This 10.8-mile (17.5-km) road was originally built to service an oil pipeline, a project that has since been abandoned.
Today, you can take the road deep into the jungle to encounter wildlife and 239 bird species. In addition to falcons, parakeets, parrots, toucans, woodpeckers, and hummingbirds, you can find five species of trogons and three species of puffbirds along Pipeline Road. White-whiskered puffbirds, pied puffbirds, and white-necked puffbirds live in the area. Click here to view the full Pipeline Road bird list.
One of the best spots to observe hummingbirds is at the Rainforest Discovery Center. You can see 14 species of hummingbirds there. This nature center has a 100-foot (32-m) observation tower and 0.7 miles (1.2 km) of maintained trails. It’s open from 6:00 am to 16:00 pm and charges $30 as an entrance fee for non-resident adults and $5 for children (minors are not allowed on the observation tower).
Pipeline Road is a little west of the town of Gamboa, about an hour’s drive away from Panama City. We recommend renting a car and driving there. You can also get there by taxi or bus, but taxis can be expensive for that distance and buses are unreliable. Pipeline Road is unpaved, so make sure to get a car that can handle that if you want to drive up the road.
Although you might not expect it, you can actually see a high number of birds in Panama City itself, especially in its parks. This is because the city is essentially surrounded by protected rainforest.
One of the best and most convenient spots is the Metropolitan Natural Park, which is home to 267 bird species, including:
Other birding spots within or just outside the city include Camino de Cruces National Park and Cerro Ancon. Hike along the Camino de Cruces trail to the northwest of the city to see rainforest birds. Or, walk up the forested hill of Cerro Ancon to see birds in the middle of the city.
Finally, you can visit the botanical garden and zoo of Summit Municipal Park to see some of their 300 total animals, including birds. They have owls, gray herons, gulls, parrots, and doves. You can also see Panama’s national bird, the harpy eagle. Although it’s certainly more fun to see these birds in the wild, you can still enjoy seeing them within this wildlife rescue center.
El Valle de Anton
If you’d like a taste of mountain scenery, drive 2.5 hours west of Panama City to El Valle de Anton. This town sits in an inactive volcano’s crater and offers a variety of hiking trails perfect for spotting birds. Cerro Gaital is a particularly good location to see some of El Valle’s more than 350 bird species. There are five species of toucan, six species of parrots, and twenty-five types of hummingbirds in the valley!
If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, you will also enjoy the several nature-inspired attractions in town, including the Butterfly Haven, El Nispero Zoo, and Serpentarium Maravillas Tropicales.
The cloud forests and highlands of the Chiriqui Province in western Panama also offer excellent birding opportunities thanks to the area’s rich biodiversity. Plus, the weather is cooler and more manageable than much of Panama.
The birding highlight of the area is the chance to see the rare and sacred quetzal bird. The quetzal is so revered that it is Guatemala’s national bird and was considered the sacred “god of the air” by both the Aztecs and Mayans. The bird’s bright green, red, and blue feathers and long tail make it an unforgettable sight.
The best place to spot quetzales is on the aptly named Los Quetzales Trail, which traverses the cloud forest for 6 miles (9.6 km) between Boquete and Cerro Punta. Get there early in the morning, as that’s when the birds are most active.
Look for quetzales as you reach the higher altitudes of the trail with cool temperatures; that’s where they like to hang out. For the best chance of spotting quetzales, we highly recommend hiring a local expert guide who knows the birds and the area well.
Other than Los Quetzales Trail, check out other trails in Baru Volcano National Park, La Amistad International Park, and Rio Cristal Nature Reserve for cloud forest birding opportunities. Also, check out Las Lagunas de Volcan (Volcan Lakes) to see water birds.
Other birds in Chiriqui Province include:
We recommend staying in Boquete, Cerro Punta, or Volcan for easy access to Baru Volcano National Park and La Amistad International Park. Boquete is the main mountain town of the region, while Cerro Punta is decidedly quieter and more remote. A few of our favorite places to stay in the Chiriqui region are:
Isla Cañas and Isla Iguana
In contrast to the mountains, Panama is also home to a long stretch of Pacific coastline. There, within the mangroves and beside the pristine beaches, you’ll find a completely different set of birds to discover such as:
We recommend visiting Isla Cañas, on the tip of the Azuero Peninsula, to enjoy lush mangroves and remote beaches. Go canoeing through the mangroves to spot their hidden treasures of wildlife. Isla Cañas is also a hotspot for sea turtles, especially during the months of September and October.
Isla Cañas is right beside the mainland, but Isla Iguana is more removed and is a designated wildlife refuge. There, you can admire 62 bird species, with a higher proportion of marine birds. Most notably, the island is home to a colony of frigate birds with up to 5,000 members!
Coiba Island is a huge island to the west of the Azuero Peninsula. It used to be a penal colony and now is entirely a national park, which has ensured the protection and flourishing of its wildlife.
Coiba Island is another great spot for birding, with over 175 species of birds. The only place to stay on the island is in a few basic cabins next to the ranger station. If you choose to stay there, you will have the island to yourself at dawn and dusk for some quiet and private bird watching.
If you’ve decided to go on a birding Panama vacation, you’re in luck. You’ll be blown away by the incredible variety and beauty of the birds you’ll see. Whether you head to Soberania National Park or venture west to the Chiriqui highlands, you’re sure to enjoy a wonderful birding experience.