Belize’s impressive number of bird species is a result of the diverse habitats that cover its territory. It has over 540 species of birds and is also the winter home to many migrants from North America such as baltimore orioles and many species of wood warblers. Unusual birds like the jabiru stork, the largest in the Western Hemisphere with a height of 5 feet, can be found here. Other endangered species include keel-billed toucans (the national bird), blue-crowned motmots and orange-breasted falcons. The harpy eagle, the largest eagle in the world with a wingspan of 7 feet, has also been spotted. Birding throughout the country can be combined with many activities such as canoeing down rivers, horseback riding, visiting Mayan ruins, hiking through the jungle or simply sitting on the deck of your jungle lodge. Birds are the least shy of the wildlife in the jungle, making birding a fun experience for everyone. And for serious birders, over 100 species can be spotted in just a couple of days, including rare ones. So with little more than a Birds of Belize field guide and a pair of binoculars, you are ready to begin your birding experience in Belize.
Popular Birding Sites
You will see birds anywhere you travel in the country, but some areas are particularly known for their birdlife. The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is comprised of waterways and lagoons where you might spot the yucatan jay, the unique snail kite and elusive species like the sungrebe, agami heron and jabiru stork. A day at the ruins of Lamanai, accessed by boat through the New River, may yield sightings of the northern jacana, pygmy kingfisher, blue-crowned motmot, collared aracari toucan and occasionally a purple gallinule. At another ruin, Caracol, you may spot rare birds such as keel-billed motmots, crested guans, great curassows and hapry eagles. The Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve is covered primarily by pine forests, which makes it a good destination for unique birds such as yellow faced grassquits, golden hooded tanagers, rufous-capped warblers and orange-breasted falcons. The Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve has over 300 bird species including the emerald toucanet, king vulture and keel billed toucan. Out at sea, Half Moon Caye on Lighthouse Reef Atoll harbors about 4,000 red-footed booby birds; such booby colonies are rare in the Caribbean.
Behavior & Evolution
Learning about the behavior and evolution of birds complements the experience of enjoying their colorful plumage and songs. Typical of tropical birds is their brilliant plumage. As opposed to North American birds where males are more colorful than females, in the tropics both sexes are equally colorful. The more colorful birds inhabit the forest canopy and open savannahs. Birds that inhabit the dimly lit undergrowth wear dark colors with striped patterns; for example, the barred antshrike and dotted-wing antwren have contrasting areas of white and black that are normally concealed, but exposed during display. Bird songs are just as intriguing as their coloration. Many of Belize’s birds are fine songsters. Melodious blackbirds, rufous-tailed jacamaras, trogons and the tinamous are known for their elaborate songs. At times, birds are identified only by their songs and calls. Blackbirds are a good example of how learning bird evolution adds to the birding experience. Most birds have strong muscles to close their bills; however blackbirds evolved strong muscles to open their bills allowing them to search for food in soil, roots, wood etc. As a result, they were able to exploit almost every environment in the New World. Seventeen of the 94 blackbird species live in Belize such as orioles, orependolas and grackles.