Canopy Family Panama

Tales from the Tropics

By Val Cunningham
Published in Outdoor News: Backyard and Beyond (Minnesota)
20 March, 2015


For 10 days in late February I traded northern hemisphere winter birds for species with names like green honeycreeper, red-capped manakin, and flame-rumped tanager, as well as many other brilliantly colored tropical species. 

These tropical birds were residents of Panama – that long, narrow country 2,800 miles to the south, best known for its canal, a spectacular engineering feat.  Almost as famous is Panama’s national bird, the keel-billed toucan, whose large black body contrasts with its huge rainbow-colored beak; it’s the bird featured on packages of Froot Loops cereal. 

Many American travelers to Central America choose to visit Costa Rica, but I’d always recommend Panama, which has more species of birds – about 980 or so, and about the same number as the much larger United States.  And Panama is not overrun with tourists, as are some Central American destinations. 

Besides, where else can you stay in a former radar tower with comfortable sleeping rooms and a fifth-floor observation deck that allows viewers to look down on canopy birds?  It took a creative genius to imagine the dingy metal cylinder on top of a hill in a national park as a future tourist destination.  But the Canopy Tower ( has been beautifully upgraded and is now known around the world for its unique accommodations. 

Many mornings at the Tower were wakened by the roar of howler monkeys, said to be the loudest land animal in the world.  After hearing them once, you’ll never forget it.  We’d often spot a three-toed sloth in the evening in the trees at eye-level from the fourth-floor dining room.  We also saw raccoon-like coati-mundis, several species of monkeys, and an anteater feasting on the grounds. 

No need to identify all the birds, mammals, butterflies, and insects on your own, because the Tower employs skilled naturalists to guide visitors to the best places and to provide the names of all the species. 

On the last weekend, we were awed by the sight of thousands of birds from our region beginning their northward migration.  Yes, turkey vultures are on their way and should arrive in a few weeks.

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