Bird-Watching in Belize
Because of its extensive protected forests, varied wetland habitat, and location on a major migratory route, Belize is a major hotspot for both novice and experienced birders, who arrive throughout the year and from all over the world.
The Belize Audubon Society (BAS, www.belizeaudubon.org) reports 587 recorded bird species in Belize, about 20 percent of which are migrants from other parts of North America. BAS helps manage many of the country’s wildlife reserves and maintains bird checklists for these areas. Always check with BAS for the latest sightings, and you can purchase several bird guides in the central BAS office in the historic Fort George area of Belize City.
A number of lodges throughout the country cater specifically to birders. A sure sign is if they have downloadable bird checklists on their websites. Another is whether or not they employ guides; many inland resorts have brilliant Belizean birders on their staff for daily sunrise walks and other activities. Belizean park rangers also generally have excellent bird identification skills, notably Israel Manzanero, who works at Blue Hole National Park.
Twitchers on a serious mission can choose from several bird-centric tour operators; this is for those who’d rather let someone else (someone who knows where the birds are) handle the logistics of a countrywide tour, so you can keep your eyes glued to those binocs. The Tut brothers lead multiday birding tours throughout the country. Find them at Paradise Expeditions, based at the Crystal Paradise Resort in Cayo.
Bring binoculars; wear boots, a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, and lightweight trousers; and carry a field guide. Birds of Belize, by H. Lee Jones, illustrated by Dana Gardner, is the most comprehensive guide available, but not the most practical book to carry in the field. Peterson Field Guides: Mexican Birds is an excellent choice, and National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America is a good companion guide.
For details about species you’re likely to encounter, or to participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count, consult the Belize Audubon Society’s website, particularly the “Birds of Belize” section. These are the most popular spots for birders:
Designated a wetland of international importance, the mosaic of wetland habitats attracts a spectacular variety of wading birds, especially during the dry season (Mar.–May). This is the last Central American stronghold of the jabiru stork—the tallest flying bird in the Americas. The surrounding landscape hosts Yucatán endemics.
Enjoy the extensive river and lagoon sections as you travel to and from the ruins of Lamanai; look for northern jacanas and pygmy kingfishers. All four species of trogon found in Belize can be seen here, along with many woodcreepers and woodpeckers. Be sure to watch for both blue-crowned and tody motmots, which burrow into unexcavated ruins to nest.
Overlapping microclimates and habitats are favored by several species that are difficult to find elsewhere, including lovely cotinga, ocellated turkey, and the rare orange-breasted falcon, which nests near Thousand Foot Falls. At the Caracol ruins, you can spot a keel-billed motmot, especially in March and April.
Belize’s preeminent birding destination offers a good introduction to neotropical birding and a shot at a “big day”—spotting 100 species in a single day. Listen for the early morning call of tinamous and watch parrots and toucans fly overhead; around the visitor center and hiking trails expect to see woodcreepers, honeycreepers, manakins, tanagers, orioles, and much more.
The mangroves and littoral forests of Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye are disappearing, but these islands are still a stopover for many neotropical migrants, plus they are home to the black catbird and white-crowned pigeon. Be sure to make a pilgrimage to the red-footed booby colony on Half Moon Caye National Monument.
This small Maya village in southern Belize is home to an annual gathering of over 100 scarlet macaws (Jan.–Mar.). The birds feast on the fruits of the annatto tree, which are also used in making red recado seasoning. Swallow-tailed and plumbeous kites can be seen over the peaks around the village during the dry season.
In Toledo District, near the village of Laguna, this reserve features breeding colonies of unique wading birds.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition