Would it surprise you to learn that some of the favorite places to watch birds in Costa Rica are at small roadside eateries?

In the central mountain range north of San José, on the highway between Vara Blanca and San Miguel, sits the Mirador de la Catarata San Fernando, meaning balcony overlooking the San Fernando Waterfall.

The cafe’s backyard overlooks a mountain slope that plunges 500 feet into a misty forest from which emerges a seeming multitude of birds. Hanging from the back balcony are a dozen or more hummingbird feeders. Bird feeders placed in the yard below are stocked with papayas and bananas.

Hummingbirds like the green-crowned brilliant and violet sabrewing buzz right in front of your face while the emerald toucanet and silver-throated tanager drop from the forests to the bird feeders. Neither binoculars nor cameras can take it all in as bird-watchers race from one end of the balcony to the other.

Locals know the place as Vera’s, for the woman who runs it. Vera Gonzalez an ever-present fixture, offering fresh-brewed coffee and platters of homemade tortillas filled with melted cheese. The bird-watching tourists are happy to drop the requested $5 in her tip box.

Another favorite roadside place is Comida Tipicas Miriam. It’s on a dirt road to San Gerardo in the Talamanca Mountains near the Pan-American Highway south of San José.

Miriam Prado’s backyard overlooks a mountain forest. She fills bird feeders with table scraps, fruit and rice, attracting yellow-thighed finches, black-cheeked woodpeckers and rufous-collared sparrows.

Brightly colored fuschia bushes on the porch attract tiny beauties like the volcano and magnificent hummingbirds. A nearby tree is the showoff spot for the long-tailed silky-flycatcher with his lemon-yellow head against a blue-gray back.

Although a portion of Mirian’s modest home serves as a small cafe, many visitors stop just to see the birds. In return for her hospitality, they leave behind the requested $1 tip.