The Republic of Panama is a great place not only for an introduction to the birds of the American tropics, but also one of the best birding places in the world. The typical neotropical families like trogons, antbirds, and tanagers are well represented; some, like the tyrant flycatchers by hundreds of different species and others by just a few. The avid birder will find the total number of bird species found in Panama, about 992, delightfully large, 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 to April. It is not rare to see more than 20 different migrant warblers and vireos on a good morning on spring or fall migration, and that added to 50 or 60 resident species.
This variety in bird species is partly explained by the fact that Panama is a land bridge between North and South America. In Panama, it is possible 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. 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. This area has the most easily accessed forests of Central America, and birding 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.
Closer to the Caribbean Sea, forests get more humid. Pipeline Road, which starts at the town of Gamboa next to the Panama Canal, passes through 28 kilometers of forest protected by Soberanía National Park, and is a world-renowned birding destination.
The western highlands of Chiriquí offer a variety of near endemic and specialty birds. Excellent birding can be found at numerous sites within the western highlands. La Amistad Heritage Park encompasses 207,000 hectares of mostly mountainous terrain and protects a variety of near-endemic and specialty birds found only in western Panama and the highlands of neigboring Costa Rica. The biggest attraction is Resplendent Quetzal. Other specialty birds found in the area include Black Guan, Chiriqui Quail-Dove, Prong-billed and Red-headed Barbets, Buffy Tuftedcheek, White-fronted Tyrannulet, Tufted Flycatcher, Barred Becard, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Black-faced Solitaire, Flame-throated Warbler, Collared Redstart, Sooty-capped Chlorospingus, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Yellow-thighed Finch, and Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch. Finca Lerida is a middle elevation site located near the village of Boquete on the southern slope of Volcan Baru. It owns a large tract of highland cloud forest extending from an elevation of 5000 ft up to 10,000 ft adjacent to the coffee plantation. Birding along trails will render sights of Quetzal, Maroon-chested Ground-Dove and Three-wattled Bellbird among many others. The Los Quetzales Trail leading from Boquete to Guadalupe is an excellent place to see the Resplendent Quetzal as well as the Chiriqui Quail-Dove, Orange-bellied Trogon, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Ochraceous Pewee, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Silvery-throated Jay, Wrenthrush, Large-footed Finch, and White-naped Brush-Finch. On the slopes of Volcan Baru we can find higher elevation specialties such as the Volcano Hummingbird and Volcano Junco.
In the Darien National Park, the Cana Old mine area stands out as one of the best places on the planet for bird watching. The overwhelming diversity includes four species of macaw, Black-billed Cotinga, Dusky-backed Jacamar, Cinereous Becard, Yellow-backed Tanager, Swallow Tanager, Pacific Antwren, Sirystes, Sapayoa, Red-throated Caracara, Thicket Antpitta, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Rufous-winged Antwren, and Crimson-bellied Woodpecker to name just a few.