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Tony Rath's


Bird watching has rapidly become a major attraction in Belize. Although you can take a quick glimpse out the window and undoubtedly spot one of the hundreds of resident or migratory species, the hotspots for world-class birding are the many parks and reserves—both inland and on the cayes.

Tiger Heron Tern Feeding Black collared hawk

The diverse, largely undeveloped habitats within Belize cater to remarkable bird representation. Just over 800 species of birds have been documented in all of North America; Belize, a country approximately the size of Massachusetts, is home to over 570 species! Largely free of pest sprays, smog, and encroaching development, the airways above Belize harbor an amazingly diverse assortment of aviators. Both professional ornithologist and captivated laymen can observe and record sightings with ease through nature walks, tours, river expeditions, or island visits.

Boat-billed Heron Wood Stork Orependola

The reserves of northern Belize undoubtedly house the largest bird populations. Shipstern Wildlife Reserve and the Rio Bravo Conservation Area encompass the largest bird sanctuaries in the north. Over 200 species of birds swarm the skies above the Shipstern Lagoon, including the reddish egret, white winged dove, yellow lored parrot, black catbird and the Yucatan jay. Many of these birds migrate from North America during the winter. The Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area boasts of at least 344 species of birds. The Lamanai Archaeological Reserve and New River also showcase tremendous species diversity. Accomodations within these areas offer bird watching tours with trained professionals upon request.

Although hundreds of birds reside in Belize, a certain chosen few often receive the most attention due to their striking appearance or quirky personality:

Keel-Billed ToucanKeel-Billed Toucan
The keel-billed toucan, Belize’s national bird, resides in tall trees that bear fruits and nuts. Its oversized, vibrant beak and stubby body are not particularly aerodynamic, but it nonetheless thrives in the tropical climate of Belize.

Jabiru Stork nestJabiru Stork
The jabiru stork receives special attention and protection from Belizeans. Standing up to 5 feet tall with a wingspan reaching up to ten feet or more, the jabiru stork is easily the largest flying bird in the Western Hemisphere and one of the rarest in Central America. The jabiru stork is most commonly observed from December through March along swamp edges, wet savannahs, and lowland pine ridges.

Seven species of parrot, one species of parakeet, and one species of macaw reside within Belize. Parrots have few natural predators in the wild; humans pose the greatest threats to the birds due to the destruction of their native habitat and capture for commercial trade abroad. The yellow-headed parrot is most frequently sought after because of its uncanny ability to mimic human speech. The Aztec (olive-throated) and mealy (blue-crowned) parrots also have commercial value. During the heat of the day, parrots rest, so plan your exploration during their late afternoon and early morning feeding periods.

Blue-crowned Mot MotBlue-crowned motmot
Its indigo head, long tail feathers, and distinctive “hoot-hoot” call make for easy identification of the blue-crowned motmot. Its cousin, the keel-billed motmot is one of the rarest birds in Central America with only a handful of sightings in Guatamala, Belize, and Mexico in recent years.

Bird watchers can now choose from a growing number of hotels and tour companies that cater specifically to the interests of the bird enthusiast. Nature trails, recorded species lists, and viewing platforms in many locations throughout the country have helped to expand vacation packages to include birding. In 1998, the Belize Audubon Society sponsored the first annual Bird-Fest in October catching the northward migration of several migratory species. In collaboration with local hotels, guides, and outfitters, the Belize Audubon Society created special itineraries that explored reef, savannah, forest, and wetland habitats. For more information on this special event, contact the Belize Auduon Society.

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