Bird Watching in Panama
Panama for bird watching is heaven! It is a tropical country with a large variety of easily accessible habitats, is a great place not only for an introduction to the birds of the American tropics, but is arguably the best bird watching place in the world!
There are 950 species of birds with over 10,000 varieties of plants, more than North America and Europe combined! The typical Neotropical families, like trogons, antbirds, and tanagers are well represented, some, like the tyrant flycatchers, by a hundred different species, and others by just a few.
Birders You're in Heaven!
You will find large numbers of birds, especially when considering the relatively small surface of the country. Some 150 of these are Neotropical migrants that only occur in the country from September until April. It is not rare to see more than twenty different migrant warblers and vireos on a good morning on spring or fall migration, and that added to the sixty resident species.
This variety in bird species is partly explained by the fact that Panama is a land bridge between North and South America. Therefore, Panama's resident avifauna is composed of a mix of birds from both North and South America.
In Panama it is possible for bird watchers to find species typical of Central America like Passerini's Tanager, Green Shrike-Vireo, and Resplendent Quetzals, as well as their South American Counterparts: Flame-rumped Tanager, Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo, and Golden-headed Quetzal.
The Birds Meet in the Middle
As it would be expected, the South American birds are easier to find on the eastern portion of the country, while the Central American species are found west of the Canal Area. The birds of the central part of the country, the area surrounding Panama City, include species from both ends.
Bird Watching in Eastern Panama, San Blas and Darién
Eastern Panama, San Blas and Darién, are generally inaccessible for bird watching, and visiting requires extensive planning. However, it is well worth the hassle, especially if you really need a Speckled Antshrike on your life list. In Eastern Panama you'll also have a better chance of seeing the Harpy Eagle, Panama's National Bird. There is a road out in that direction, but the best way to get there is by plane. There is regular service to a few small towns in the lowlands, like El Real, but to get to Cana and the foothills you'll have to either charter a flight or hike all the way up. The foothills are where the endemics are: Green-naped Tanager, Pirre Warbler, Beautiful Treerunner, Tacarcuna Wood-Quail, etc. A lot of the Darién specialties can also be found in the lowlands. A few species can only be seen in the lowlands, like Black Oropendola, Spectacled Parrotlet and Black Antshrike.
Central Panama Birds
Central Panama has the most easily accessed forests of Central America, and bird watching is easy and productive. Some species are very common throughout the city, and a few hours of birding in any city park can produce a long list of birds. Tropical Kingbirds, Social Flycatchers, Clay-colored Thrushes and Blue-gray, Palm and Crimson-backed Tanagers are hard to miss, as is the ubiquitous Great-tailed Grackle. The dry forests of the Metropolitan Nature Park, which is right next to Panama City, are typical of the Pacific Slope. On a morning walk of any of its trails you may find Lance-tailed Manakin, Slaty-tailed Trogon or a Pheasant Cuckoo. The Rosy Thrush-Tanager is very common here, and you'll certainly hear, if not see, one or two.
Bird Watching on the Famous Pipeline Road
Closer to the Caribbean Sea, the highlight has to be. You can reach Pipeline Rd. by vehicle and start our hike from the entrance. Pipeline Rd. is the site where Audubon Society held its world Christmas bird count record for 19 years in a row, with 357 species of birds identified in a period of 24 hours, by far more than any other nation.
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Bird Watching in the Soberania National Park
The pipeline was built during World War II; a pipeline was built along the Panama Canal to transport fuel from one ocean to the other in the event it was attacked. I’m really glad they didn’t need it, because how else could you see all this???
The pipeline provides excellent access to primary rainforests within Soberania National Park. Only 45 minutes from Panama City, Soberania's 55,000 acres boast some 525 species of birds including the Black Hawk-eagle, Black-cheeked woodpecker, Black-breasted puffbird, Broad-billed motmot, Blue cotinga, Purple-throated fruitcrow, Masked tytira, Violaceous trogon, Fasciated antshrike, Shining honeycreeper, and a great array of migrants (during the North American winter months).
If you want to see forest birds, like Rufous-breasted Ground-Cuckoo, then Pipeline Road is the place to go. You'll certainly see a lot of Atlantic Slope birds and you may even find some foothill species like Tawny-crested Tanager or Sirystes.There are some Crocodiles, so watch for bubbly water. Most of the guides are indigenous Indians, and are prepared for anything. I think the view is better (and safer) in one of the elevated cages aboard the guides jeeps.
Soberania is also home to 105 species of mammals including large felines, Tamandua, Two and Three-toed sloth, 4 species of monkeys, Agouti, some of which are listed under CITES (endangered species) and 59 endemic plant species in 4 life zones.
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Bird Watching in the Western Panama Region
But to really experience the Atlantic Slope and its birds you need to go to Achiote Road, in the Province of Colón. It's the best place to see White-headed Wren, besides Darién, and Montezuma Oropendola, besides Bocas Del Toro. Dusky-faced and Sulphur-rumped Tanagers are seen regularly, and it's usual to see a gorgeous male Blue Cotinga perched in full sunlight on an exposed branch by the road.
The easiest way to get to Western Panama for bird watching is by plane, but you can also use the Inter-American Highway, which reaches all the way to the Costa Rican border. In the way you'll pass mostly savannas and small patches of second growth, prime raptor habitat. Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras are very common, but you can also see Pearl Kite and Aplomado Falcon. During the boreal winter look for White-tailed Hawk.
There's virtually no forest left in the Pacific Lowlands of Western Panama, so the best birding is in the highlands. According to BirdLife International, the western highlands, from Cerro Campana all the way to Costa Rica, are a one of the areas with the highest levels of endemism in the world. Species like Black Guan, Dusky Nightjar, Fiery-throated Hummingbird and Bare-throated Umbrellabird are found there and nowhere else. Most of these species are also found in adjacent Costa Rica but a few, like Yellow-green Finch and Glow-throated Hummingbird, are only found in Panama.
Unlike Eastern Panama, traveling in Western Panama is easy: the roads are in generally good condition and there are plenty of places to stay. Getting to good forest is easy, and some species are very common. In the towns of Boquete and Cerro Punta you can find Band-tailed Pigeons, Rufous-collared Sparrows and Blue-and-white Swallows, but the best birding is along the roads that go up into the mountains. Even second growth forest can produce good results, especially during spring or fall migration, when our flocks of resident warblers and redstarts are joined by their northern counterparts. When you reach real forest look for treerunners and other furnariids, but don't forget to check the undergrowth for skulking Wrentrhushes and Silvery-fronted Tapaculos.
Take a Walk
Panama provides you with some of the world's best bird watching opportunities, no matter how long your life list is or how into birding you are. Whether you go out on just a morning bird walk on Summit Gardens or in a trek up Volcán Barú in search of Volcano Junco and Timberline Wren, you'll certainly have a lot of fun. To get ahold of the Panama Audubon Society
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Bird Watching Stories from Panama
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