The Birds of Sierpe


This is a “snake” that birds love. Birds and snakes are generally not a good mix. Some birds prey heavily on smaller snakes (e.g. the Laughing Falcon, Guaco in Spanish). A variety of tree boas (béqueres) and bird snakes return the favor by feasting on feathers at every opportunity.

However, Sierpe is a “snake” birds love.

Sierpe is an archaic Spanish word for a large serpent. It is most commonly used today in lyric poetry. It is not, as some locals believe, derived from an indigenous word.


In this case “snake” refers to a delightful and interesting destination only a little off the beaten path. Sierpe refers to both the river and the town in Cantón Osa, just 15 km. south of Palmar Norte—where the Interamerican Highway meets the coastal road. The river twists and turns like a snake—hence the name.


Photo by Jack Donnelly

Known in Spanish as the Jacana Centroamericana, this bird is commonly found in marshy areas and along the banks of rivers, streams, and estuaries. It’s easy to undervalue the attractive coloration of this bird.

The Jacana is often seen in bright sunlight, which tends to wash out the subtle yellow of its head and makes it difficult to appreciate the variegated chestnut of its body.


Photo by Jack Donnelly

The Gallareta Morada is an easy bird to see, but not always so open to having its picture taken—it is very timid and skittish.


Photo by Jack Donnelly

The Barn Owl is the only Old World owl in Costa Rica. In Spain it is known as the Lechuza de Campanario (Bell Tower Owl) due to its fondness for nesting in the bell towers of churches.

They are common throughout Costa Rica, but rarely seen because of their nocturnal habits.


Photo by Jack Donnelly

Known in Spanish as the Martinete Corinegro, this bird is an interesting looking creature. It is, as the name implies, active at night.

During the day you can sometimes find one by sticking your head (and camera) into the thick brush along the banks of the estuary.


Photo by Jack Donnelly

This beautiful snow-white bird is commonly found in the mangrove swamps and estuaries of Sierpe. In Spanish it is known as the Garceta Grande.

The First Annual Sierpe Bird Counting Festival 2019 (Primer Festival Conteo de Aves Sierpe 2019) will be celebrated June 14-16..Complete information is available at

There is more wildlife than just birds to appreciate in Sierpe. There are comfortable boat tours of the mangrove swamp/estuary, Isla del Caño, and Corcovado. These guided nature excursions provide the opportunity to view crocodiles, monkeys, caimans, bats, snakes, etc. The guides will also provide detailed explanations of the fascinating life cycles of the various species of mangrove.

Please accept my apologies if you were disappointed not to see Macaws and Toucans in this article. I felt these more flamboyant members of the avian population were already getting more than their fair share of photographic coverage. I wanted to pay a little attention to some of the other attractive and interesting members of the feathered community of Sierpe.