Birding in Panama is a surprisingly big draw for our Spanish school students: birding enthusiasts come from all around the world to learn at Casco Antiguo Spanish School before or after embarking on their birding tours. We’ve had many birders pass through our classrooms, wanting to brush up on their communication skills after they’ve begun a bird watching adventure around the capital, or learn some helpful words and phrases before they start a birding tour further afield in Panama.
Whatever the reason, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on Panama’s birding, from the best places to go, to the types of birds you might find on your trip, to the birding tour companies that are available.
Birders coming to Casco Antiguo Spanish School usually take our mini-group courses: semi private lessons for two hours are day, which are perfect if you’re planning an extended birding trip to Panama with friends or family. Just get in contact!
It might surprise you to learn that Panama is a bit of a hotspot for tropical birding in Central America – good enough to merit a mention in the New York Times. There are roughly 1000 species of birds in Panama, from the spectacled owl to the orange-chinned parakeets to the beautiful blue cotinga. And Panama’s birds can be easy to spot if you know where to go. Local guides, especially around the Central Panama and Panama Canal area, have extensive knowledge and will help you spot your first birds before you’ve even left the car park (no, really).
Here’s Casco Antiguo Spanish School’s guide to the best birding in Panama.
Best spots for birding in Panama
Panama Central and Panama Canal area
Surprisingly one of the best spots for Panama birding is also one of the most easily accessible: Panama Central, and especially around the canal area. There are several popular spots in the region, and the best thing about it is that it’s possible to stay in the capital itself and still be within easy reach of the hottest spots for wildlife viewing.
Gamboa and Soberanía National Park
Perhaps the most well-known birding spot in Panama Central is the Pipeline trail in Soberanía National Park. It has a strange history with an excellent conclusion: today, birds and wildlife abound here. A never-used petroleum pipeline and service road, the Pipeline hike stretches for 17.5km and the surrounding area has some of the highest diversity in the country.
Other good spots around Gamboa and the National Park are Fort Sherman, Achiote Road and the Plantation Trail. Ammo Ponds and Lake Gatun provide good opportunities to spot water birds such as herons.
Trying to intersperse smug island paradise pics with other things: exhibit 1, Panamá Viejo. Super interesting trip we took on Sunday (after returning from paradise), to take a look at the real old city – older than Casco Viejo. This was the first city of Panama, before it was raided by Henry Morgan, the English pirate (of Captain Morgans rum fame). Basically he fucked shit up and then swanned off back to England and eventually was knighted. Idk Charles II what were u thinking. V interesting story though. • #panama #panamazing #panamacity #ruins ##skyline #cityscape #history #girlslovetravel #instatravel #travelgram #glt #gltlove #womenwhowander #howdareshe #travelstoke #neverstopexploring #exploremore #liveauthentic #mytinyatlas #girlswhohike #getoutside #mountains #igpassport #exploretocreate #seehertravel #seetheworld #girlsborntotravel
Urban birdwatching is surprisingly good in the capital itself! Our students often stay around the Amador Causeway, as there is a surprising number of species right in this quiet corner of Panama City, but there’s also the Metropolitan Park and Cerro Ancon which can also be great places to see wildlife.
Many species can be spotted from the city streets, and larger birds including vultures are also often spotted around town, such as in the area of Panama Viejo. Don’t discount the possibility of spotting birds within the city limits!
Los Quetzales trail
Probably the highlight of birding in West Panama, the extensive Los Quetzales trail gives birders plenty of opportunity to bird watch. Quetzals (of course), hummingbirds, and wattled bellbirds are among the birds you might spot there.
Volcán is a town located in Panama’s western highlands, and the nearby Lagunas de Volcan are a great birding spot. Species that can be spotted here include woodpeckers, flycatchers and antbirds.
Around 70km from David is Las Lajas, a wetlands area which provides excellent opportunities to spot water birds.
If you want something a bit more exotic and perhaps exciting, there are plentiful options for birding in the Darien lowlands of Panama’s Eastern Darien Province. Though a bit more difficult to get to, the Darien jungle will certainly provide a unique birding experience in Panama. Check below for options on getting and staying there.
Where to stay for birdwatching in Panama
As we’ve mentioned, staying in Panama City is definitely a plausible option even if you want to have the very best of Panama’s birding at your fingertips. Check out our accommodation page for recommendations on where to stay in the city as a whole – though of course we recommend picturesque, historic Casco Viejo as your number one choice!
Panama City aside, though, there are a few places you can stay that are very popular among birders visiting Panama, and that offer more specialised accommodation. Here’s a rundown of the best.
“The Canopy Family”
Run by and for birders, all the Canopy accommodation across Panama is extremely well set up for birding enthusiasts. The Canopy Family are also committed to ecotourism in Panama, ensuring that their accommodation options save on water and energy, and embarking upon social responsibility initiatives such as working with local people in the Darien lowlands.
Canopy Tower, Soberanía National Park, Panama Central area
Perched in the middle of the canopy, the Canopy Tower in Soberanía national park allows you to spot Panama’s birds while you eat breakfast. It’s only around 45 minutes driving from Panama City, making it within easy reach if you want to stay in the capital for a few days before you head out to the quiet of the jungle.
Sitting in the foothills of El Valle de Anton, Canopy Lodge is a great place to stay for birding in the Western provinces of Panama.
The lodge is located around two hours west of Panama City, by car.
Comfortable camping in the Darien rainforest is probably your best option for birding in the Darien province. You’re totally immersed in your surroundings here: you’ll wake up to the calls of Golden-Headed Manakins and drop off to the calls of owls right outside.
Transport is all arranged as part of the booking; the camp is around five hours drive from the capital.
In the cloudforests of Panama’s West, Los Quetzales is savvy about birding in the area. About 70km away from David, Los Quetzales is a potential alternative to staying in Boquete for your jumping off point.
Located very near to Soberanía national park, the Gamboa Resort is a comfortable option for thosing looking to bird watch in the Canal and Central Panama area.
A lot of our previous students have stayed at Patty’s Casitas in the past, which is located around the Amador Causeway. They’ve often come into class with pictures taken right from their apartment, as there is plenty of wildlife right there when you’re eating breakfast!
It’s also worth noting that many birding tours in Panama will arrange accommodation for you as part of the price.
When to go birding in Panama
Different times of year provide different opportunities to see Panama’s birds. The weather in Panama is tropical, so there is a distinct wet and dry season. The end of the rainy season or start of the dry season means the jungle with be lush and fresh; the spring sees the migration of many bird species; and the rainy season might provide the chance to see nesting of birds or feeding of their young.
High season for bird watching in Panama is just after the end of the rainy season: January, February and March. During these months you can go out birding all day, and see a whole range of wildlife – not just the birds!
In the spring months, from March to May, there is a lot of migratory actions from Panama’s birds. Warblers are particularly active in this season, and you’ll also likely catch a glimpse of the thousands of raptors making their way north.
Beginning of the rainy season
May and June see the rains begin to arrive, which means some weather disruption, but this mainly just provides opportunity for an afternoon siesta, as it hardly ever rains all day! Many of Panama’s national birds during this season will be beginning to nest, so there’s greater likelihood of hearing their calls during your stay.
July and August means the migratory birds will have gone, but there are still Panama’s residents to keep you occupied in these months. You’ll also likely find heavily discounted prices as there is less demand at this time of year – though there’s still plenty of wildlife viewing on offer. The highlands are perhaps the best season to go for this time of year, as the many microclimates of Chiriquí provide the best chance for dry weather.
Towards the end of the rainy season the fall migration happens: September, October and November are the months for this, but October is the peak. You’ll see the raptors on their way back down south from where they have spent the summer.
Birds of Panama
Panama’s bird biodiversity is exceptional, so it would be futile to list all of the available species here, but we’ll provide a general overview of the particular types of birds you might see on your birding visit.
Though of course hummingbirds can be difficult to spot due to their size and speed, they are plentiful in Panama’s rainforests.
Blue-chested, violet-bellied, and rufous-tailed hummingbirds, as well as the long-billed hermit and the white-necked Jacobin, are just a few of the species you might find on your birding trip.
The often colourful warblers can be found in droves in Panama. Some that you might spot include the tropical parula, the yellow warbler and the blue-winged warbler.
There are lots of different owl species on offer in Panama, including the black-and-white owl, the spectacled owl, the great-horned owl and the burrowing owl.
As in much of South and Central America, there is a high probability of spotting a toucan at some point on your birding tour. You stand a chance of seeing a few different species, from the yellow-throated toucan to the yellow-eared toucanet.
11 of the 39 recorded Trogon species can be found in Panama, and five of them are regularly found along the popular Pipeline Trail. Quetzals are of course often found along Los Quetzales trail mentioned above!
Panama has a few different species of Puffbird, including the white-whiskered puffbird and the pied puffbird, but its largest is the White-necked Puffbird. These can be seen along the Pipeline trail.
As with any tropical birding area, there is an abundance of parrots in Panama. The red-lored parrot is spotted quiteoften, but you also stand a chance of seeing brown-hooded parrots, painted parakeets, and scarlet macaws if you’re very lucky.
By no means is this a comprehensive list, but hopefully it’s enough to give you a taste of the bird life that is available for your viewing pleasure in Panama!
Links to birding tours and birding trips
Finally, here are a few helpful links to birding organisations in Panama. From these you can find more information on what tours and trips are on offer. Happy birding!