Volunteers partnering with scientists to answer real-world questions

Program Information






Please contact us with the dates
you are available

No extensive knowledge of birds required
Just bring your interest in nature and desire to learn
Contribute to our understanding of birds
Support conservation of their habitat


Impetus for a Bird Monitoring Program at Bijagual Ecological Reserve
Populations of some bird species in the area have declined over the past 25 years based on regional data from annual Christmas Bird Counts. Possible causes include habitat fragmentation, climate change, and food availability during el Niño years. This citizen science program will collect data to document if these patterns of decline also exist within the reserve. The results will serve as the baseline for long-term monitoring of bird populations as well as guide our management decisions at the reserve.

At Bijagual Ecological Reserve, we census populations of the resident bird species throughout the year and migratory bird species from October to April. Birds caught in mistnests are measured and weighed to determine their health. All birds that can be identified (residents and migrants) and for which we have appropriate equipment will be banded. These data are compared to existing data from the past five years of banding conducted at the reserve and the much larger banding dataset from the Tortuguero Station. In addition, point counts are conducted to provide a more complete census of the bird community since not all birds are caught in mistnets. This work will directly contribute to our understanding of avian population sizes at the reserve and how they fluctuate over time. These data have important implications for conservation in determining how habitat, the land use matrix, and climate change that may be affecting both migratory and resident bird populations.

History of Banding at the Reserve

Banding first started at the reserve in December of 2011 as a class project with Xavier University. We have continued to capture and band birds every year during the course's annual visit as a way of demonstrating field techniques and basic bird biology. The reserve is a collaborator with the Costa Rican Bird Banding network, and all data collected from the reserve is shared with the network.


A total of 918 bird species are known to occur in Costa Rica, a relatively large number of species for a small area. It is estimated that approximately 25% of species occurring in Costa Rica are migrants from North America. These birds include raptors, vultures, waterfowl, shorebirds, hummingbirds and passerine species such as thrushes, warblers, orioles, and tanagers. There are also a handful of species that live and breed in Costa Rica half of the year before migrating to South America for the other half of the year.

At the Bijagual Ecological Reserve, at least 292 bird species have been observed to date: 31% of all species found in Costa Rica. We include only species that have actually been seen or heard within the reserve's boundary. This number continues to increase over time. Our staff, visiting ornithologists and participants of the annual Christmas Bird Count are continually adding species to the bird list. An example of some species commonly seen at the reserve include: the Great Green Macaw, White-collared Swift that roost behind a waterfall, Agami Heron, Sunbittern, American Pygmy Kingfisher, toucans, manakins, motmots, four species of trogons and various hummingbirds.



The Bijagual Ecological Reserve and field station, established in March 2001, are managed by a U.S. non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, the Bijagual Center for Environmental Education & Conservation, which is dedicated to conservation, education and research. The reserve protects 709 acres (286 hectares) of rain forest in the lowlands of the Sarapiquí region. It lies 2.5 miles (4 km) west of Braulio Carrillo National Park and 5.6 miles (9 km) southeast of the town of La Virgen. San Jose is a 3.5-hr drive. The field station houses overnight and long-term guests with ample room for lectures, workspace, and relaxation.

The reserve is situated at an elevation of 950 - 1345 feet (290 - 410 meters) above sea level. Temperatures range from lows of 63℉ (17℃) to highs of 91℉ (33℃). Northeasterly winds on the Caribbean coast provide plentiful rain all year round. Average annual rainfall is 216 inches (5500 mm) with a minimum of 4 inches falling during any given month. The wettest months are between May and July and the "drier" months during March and April.

Several different habitats can be found within the reserve: old-growth forest, riparian forest, selectively-logged forest, secondary forest, natural regeneration, reforestation areas, swamps, an arboretum, and a garden area planted with native species. Two rivers flow through the reserve: the Bijagual River runs through the eastern side, and the Tirimbina River runs through the western side. There are an additional 20 streams and 6 waterfalls that are wonderful swimming spots and accessible via the maintained 12.5 mile (20-km) trail system.

In the area surrounding the reserve, Brauilio Carrillo National Park is the closest protected park. The remaining area is a matrix of active pastures, exotic and native tree plantations, patches of forest, remnant gallery forests along rivers and streams, ornamental plantations and intensive production of pork and poultry.


Costa Rica is located in Central America on the isthmus that joins North and South America. It is situated between Nicaragua to its north and Panama to the southeast. Its total area is approximately 19,730 square miles (51,100 sq km) or the total areas of the states of Massachussetts and New Hampshire combined. The greatest length spanning north to south is 288 miles (463.5 km), and the narrowest width between the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea is 74 miles (119 km).

Three mountain chains run almost the entire length of Costa Rica from northwest to southeast. They are divided into the Cordillera de Guanacaste to the northwest, the Cordillera Central, and the Cordillera de Talamanca to the southeast. The highest peak is Chirripo at 12,529 feet (3,819 meters) in the Talamanca range. The southern side of the Cordillera Central overlooks the Valle Central which includes the capital San Jose with an elevation of 3,809 feet (1161 m). To the northeast of the Cordillera Central lie the Caribbean lowlands which makes up approximately one-fifth of the country's area.


Rain forests are defined as forest ecosystems characterized by high levels of rainfall, a closed canopy and high species diversity and are actually found widely around the world, including both temperate and tropical regions. Tropical rain forests typically occur in the equatorial zone between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, latitudes that have warm temperatures and relatively constant year-round sunlight. Tropical rain forests support the greatest diversity of living organisms on Earth. Although they cover less than 2 percent of Earth’s surface, tropical rain forests house more than 50 percent of the plants and animals on the planet. Rain forests provide important ecological services, including storing hundreds of billions of tons of carbon, buffering against flood and drought, stabilizing soils, influencing rainfall patterns, and providing a home to wildlife and indigenous people. Rain forests are also the source of many useful products. Every year an area of rain forest the size of New Jersey is cut down and destroyed. Throughout Latin America, deforestation is squeezing migratory birds into ever smaller wintering grounds, threatening their long-term survival.

For more information about tropical rain forests, the World Wildlife Fund provides a good resource at the following link: http://www.worldwildlife.org/ecoregions/nt0130