emerald toucanet

Pygmy King Fisher

Agami Heron

Spectacled owls


Umbrella Bird


While on the Costa Rica Avian Biology study abroad we saw many fantastic birds. It seemed that even the most common birds were more beautiful than the rarest at home. As we became more experienced birders we quickly learned that some of the birds we would see are truly once in a lifetime sights. Some were so rare that our guide (a professional birder) had only seen them a few times. While seeing birds as rare as the Agami Heron or the Pygmy King Fisher was amazing, I didn’t learn true dedication to the art of bird watching until we set out to find the umbrella bird. At first glance, the umbrella bird doesn’t look very impressive. It is a muddy red color with a solid white head and a large wattle that does not make it very attractive, especially when compared to some of the breathtaking birds we had already seen. What makes you appreciate the umbrella bird is how difficult they are to find. People will spend a lot of money and devote an entire day of hiking searching for these birds, so we were very fortunate to have an extended amount of time and an amazing guide to find one. However, after you spend five hours walking around the cloud forest of Monteverde with no luck you will begin to wonder if it is all worth it. I know I wondered this, it had been hours and our group had not seen or heard a single umbrella bird. Just when I thought our guide was going to give up and take us back to the lodge we heard the distinctive high pitch call followed by a loud click, letting us know one was close. That call, followed by several more, sent us trekking deeper into the forest where we eventually saw a female umbrella bird. Knowing that a male was nearby (only the males make a call) we stayed alert and scanned the treetops. Finally, our guide spotted the male and we were able to view him through the scope! Thankfully he stayed still long enough for me to snap a photo using my phone camera and the scope. On the walk back everyone was so excited that a whole days work had ended in a successful find. That was when I truly understood how rare some of the birds we were seeing are. So rare that the guide and the professor were willing to spend the whole day hiking through cloud forest just to find one bird! Seeing their excitement made me realize how fortunate I was to have the opportunity to see something many can only dream of.