Discovering Panama’s Birding Hot Spots
The Panama Canal is well known around the world as it connects the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to this engineering wonder, Panama’s rich flora and fauna is a major attraction. In particular, bird tours and nature tours are a couple of the prime “things to do” when in Panama. The country is home to nearly 1000 species of birds. A number of specialty lodges facilitate bird tours across the country. Some of them were established to take advantage of the nesting areas of some of the prime targets in the country.
With proper planning and some luck you can view some of the most beautiful birds in this region which are considered threatened or near extinction. These include the Resplendent Quetzal, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Yellow-billed Cotinga and Three-wattled Bellbird.
When to go
There really is no wrong time to travel to Panama on a bird tour. It also depends on what you want to see and if you have target species in mind as rains can cut off some trails to view particular species. Generally the best time would be between December and May. By December the tropical downpours would stop. Not completely but the rainy season would be considered over.
During December to March is the season for breeding Hummingbirds and is excellent for Hummingbird Photographers. From the end of December to April, the Resplendent Quetzal migrates to the lower regions to breed and can be seen in the western cloud forests of Panama. April and May would be breeding season for all others including the Three-wattled Bellbird. You simply cannot go wrong between these months.
Here are some of the key regions if you are planning your own bird tours of the different regions in Panama.
Panama City and the region surrounding it has rich bird life, and is an easy half an hour drive to some of the key spots. Some of the key national parks are located within the Gamboa rainforest and they include Soberanía National Park and Camino de Cruces National Park. The famous Pipeline Road is 45 minutes away from the city. Here you can also find Panama’s Rainforest Discovery Center.
The best time for bird tours in this region is November to May
Bocas Del Toro
The archipelago of Bocas Del Toro is one of the prime birding spots on Panama’s Caribbean coast. The region is home to a number of species that includes purple-throated mountain gem, black guan, white-tailed emerald and bare-necked umbrella bird. In addition, nature lovers and photographers will get the chance to view a variety of frogs and other tropical insects.
The best time for bird tours in this region is December to April. Any time of year will be good for amphibians, nature photography and Caribbean beaches.
Chiriquí & the Highlands
The Chiriquí Highlands is covered with dense cloud forest that is inhabited by a diversity of bird species. The Resplendent quetzal is considered one of the most beautiful birds in the world and is local to this region. Numerous trails cut through the habitat of this magnificent bird. Other species that can be seen here are Blue-throated toucanet, Brown-backed dove, and fiery-billed aracari, Three-wattled Bellbird and many species of Hummingbirds and colorful Tanagers.
The best time for bird tours here would be between December and June. The best time for viewing the Resplendent Quetzal is between late January and end of May.
The Darien rainforest is comprised of more than 1.3 million acres of prime tropical forest. This vast region is where Panama borders Colombia and is a lesser known area with few hotels and lodges. As a result, it contains many species of wildlife and exotic birds. This is one of the prime areas in Panama for viewing Macaws.
Visit this rainforest during the months of December to March to maximize sightings.
Gulf of Panama & the Pearl Islands
These islands are a bit off the beaten path but would be worth a trip to view some hard to find species. These would include the Sulphur-rumped Tanager, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Violet-capped Hummingbird and much more.
For those seeking something a little different and enjoy nature and exotic birds, Panama is a destination that should be on your list. The country is considered one of the safest in Latin America and will provide a relaxing experience. For a planned and guided tour to see the best of the country you can always join a specialized birding tour company. This might be the best way to go to ensure you get exactly what you are looking for.