Raptors of Nosara

Costa Rican Pygmy Owl

As it name suggests, the Costa Rican pygmy owl is a species found only in Costa Rica, and small parts of western Panama. Here, they hang out in dense forest canopy, hiding in wait for small prey, usually birds, lizards, or large insects.

Costa Rican pygmy owls call mainly in early morning, late afternoon and early evening, with a long, slow song of clear toots. These toots usually come in groups of two or three.

pygmy owl nosara

Pacific Screech Owl

This is one of the most common raptors you’ll see in Nosara, even though it rarely comes out during the daytime. The Pacific screech owl’s range extends from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forest, moist lowland forest, mangrove forest, and heavily degraded former forest. The Pacific Screech Owl is strictly nocturnal, preying mostly on large insects along with small rodents.

pacific screech owl nosara

Spectacled Owl

The Spectacled Owl ranges throughout the tropical regions of South America from northern Argentina to southern Mexico. It inhabits many types of terrain, including lowland tropical forest, savanna woodland, and dry forest.

The spectacled owl is nocturnal. Although it is seldom seen, its distinctive vocalizations can often be heard throughout the night. It is one of the larger owls in Costa Rica. Consequently, its diet consists of mid-size vertebrates up to the size of opossums, rabbits, and skunks.

spectacled owl

Laughing Falcon

This small, distinctly beautiful falcon is heard more often than it is seen. The laughing falcon derives its name from the long series of distinct screeches it emanates at dawn and dusk. A single set of these vocalizations may last for up to five minutes.

It’s plumage and feather arrangement are highly unique. It’s black face mask and collar contrast with a pronounced white head and neck, chest, underparts and brown back. The laughing falcon inhabits a variety of forested habitats from northern Mexico south down to Paraguay. It can be found around the periphery of dry forests, and lowland rainforest. Here, it preys largely on snakes, which visit the forest’s edge to bask in the sun, making them easily spotted and captured.

laughing falcon nosara

Crested Caracara

The Crested Caracara is a medium-sized, bulky raptor with long legs and distinct coloring. Its flat head is crowned with a crest, and features an elongated, powerful bill with a sharp tip.

Although the Crested Caracara looks like a hawk with its sharp beak and talons, it is actually a member of the falcon family, and behaves like a vulture, often found scavenging carrion along the road side. Standing tall on long yellow-orange legs with a sharp black cap set against a white neck and yellow-orange face, the caracara is instantly recognizable. Crested Caracaras are generally easy to spot in the open landscapes they inhabit. If they aren’t walking around on the ground, they frequently perch in tall trees or fly low over the ground with their wings held flat (an easy way to distinguish them from nearby vultures).

crested cara cara nosara


Ospreys are very large, distinctively shaped hawks which can be seen daily at Playa Guiones, scanning the ocean surface for their next meal. Despite their size, their bodies are slender, with long legs and extended, narrow wings. Ospreys in flight can be recognized by the distinct kink in their wings, which looks like an M-shape when seen from below. From below, the wings appear white with a distinct dark patch at the leading edge of their wing. The head is white with a pronounced brown stripe running through the eye.

Ospreys search for fish by circling high in the sky over shallow water, flying on steady wingbeats. They often hover, and may stall briefly before rapidly diving, feet first to catch a fish. The sight of an Osprey flying over Playa Guiones with its latest catch in its talons is a daily occurence.

osprey nosara

Red Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawks are large hawks with broad, rounded wings, and a short, wide tail, which can be found over huge swathes of the entire American continent. Often, their size leads observers to mistake them for eagles. Red-tailed Hawks are brown above and pale below, with streaked spotted belly and a distinctive dark bar between the shoulder and wingtip. The short tail underside is pale, and cinnamon-red above, hence its name.

Red-tailed Hawks are most commonly spotted flapping their powerful wings to soar in wide circles high over, fields, pastures, and forests. When strong winds occur, they may face into the breeze, and use this to hover. When they spot prey they descend in a slow, controlled dive with legs outstretched, ready to pounce.

red tailed hawk nosara

Harris’s Hawk

Harris’s Hawks are large, long legged raptors with long with long tails and broad, rounded wings. Females weigh nearly twice as much as males. Harris’s Hawks are generally dark brown with reddish-brown feathers on the wings and back area. Their tail is dark with a white rump and distinctive white feather band. From below, the inner wings are reddish brown.

Harris’s Hawks are to be found perched upright on telephone poles, trees, cactus, sign posts, or any other structure that affords them a view of the surrounding terrain. They are highly social birds, often hunting and traveling in groups.

harris's hawk nosara

Great Black Hawk

The great black hawk is a large black raptor commonly found throughout the Neotropics. It has a black bill, black feathers, and a medium length tail. The great black hawk ranges over a variety of habitats, but usually is found around water, where its omnivorous diet of rodents, bats, and birds, is complemented by a variety of fish, crabs, reptiles, and amphibians. These hawks also eat fruit and eggs. Unlike other hawks, the great black hawk is known to forage on the ground, pursuing prey on foot or with short flights.

great black hawk

Turkey Vulture

These huge raptors are fairly easy to recognize for a few reasons. Most often they are to be seen riding the thermals high above the jungle and coast, flying in circles in a pack, scanning the ground for some recently deceased animal to come down and feast on. Turkey vultures are consummate scavengers, and do a good job of keeping the countryside, roads and beaches carcass free. They are also comfortable around humans, and associate us with waste they can snack on. For that reason, they’re often found hanging around farms and roadsides.

In North America, this huge bird is known as the turkey buzzard, or carrion crow. Turkey vultures span an enormous area of the American continent, ranging from southern Canada to the southern end tip of South America. Here, they inhabit, woodland, forest, pastures, deserts, and just about any terrain which supports other forms of wildlife.

turkey vulture nosara

Black Vulture

These are the most common vulture you’ll spot in and around Nosara. They have dark, sooty black plumage, a bare-skinned black head, and distinct white spots under their wingtips. They are notably smaller than turkey vultures, but travel in packs of up 30. They often compensate for their poor sense of smell by following the turkey vulture to carcasses.

Black vultures are highly social birds with strong family ties. They often feed related young for months after birth. Unlike many other birds, the Turkey Vulture lays eggs in caves, hollow trees or on the bare ground. It raises around two chicks each year, which it feeds by regurgitation. Although the black vulture is a scavenger, feeding mainly on the carrion it finds, it is also known to eat eggs, and in some cases kill newborn animals. It’s also a common visitor at garbage dumps.

The black vultures range extends from the southeastern United States, south through Chile, Uruguay, and other parts of South America.

black vulture nosara

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