In the world of aves there is an order known as Ciconiiformes and within that order there are seven families. One of these families known by the name ‘ciconiidae’ has two branches that live in Belize. They are the Wood Storks and the Jabiru mycteria.
Like the Manatee and Howler Monkey, the Jabiru is another rare and valued resident of Belize.
The Jabiru is the largest flying bird in the Americas, standing over 5½ feet tall with a wingspan of over 8 feet. It has long legs and a massive black bill. Its head and neck are black and without feathers. At the base of its bare neck is a broad red band of skin. Its plumage is entirely white.
Some friends have pointed out that a likeness of the Jabiru can be found printed on the Belizean 100 dollar bill. After a few failed attempts and false starts, Bubba and I set out to find a Jabiru nest on our own.
We had heard rumors of nesting Jabiru with chick along the New River Lagoon in Lamanai.
Early Spanish frontiersmen accessed this area of Belize via the Bahia Bay of Chetumal traveling up the New River to a large bluff. The bluff is adorned with very impressive Mayan temples that date from 1500 BC until the arrival of the Franciscan Friars in 1650. ‘Lamanai,’ as they called it, means ‘submerged crocodile’. Bubba and I spotted several along the way. Quite a fascinating boat trip with more Auifana that can be appreciated in a single cruise.
The whole order of Ciconiiformes are fish eating birds with long legs for wading in shallow waters and this river seemed rich with all that savannas and marsh land could provide. The Jabiru is not limited to fish. They enjoy amphibians, reptiles, snakes and small mammals. Bubba pointed out that the Jabiru’s featherless neck was an indication that it ate carrion as well. Birds like buzzards for instance, that also have featherless heads and necks, will take a meal from a large dead animal. Collecting rotting flesh on feathers can cause infection and disease. Having slick skin is much safer for such activity.
Finding a Jabiru nest is easy, if there is one to be found. It will be atop the tallest tree on the highest ridge overlooking the savanna not far from the water. We also could have just been incredibly lucky.
As we got closer to the nest I was rudely reminded of something I had read about how the parents feed their chicks. The Jabiru has a well-developed throat pouch or ‘crop’ as it is sometimes called. As the Jabiru eats its daily variety of mice, lizard or fish, the food collects at the base of the throat. Upon arriving at the nest the hunting parent regurgitates its catch into the nest to feed the chicks and attending parent. The smell around the base of the tree with the nest should be sufficient reason to have most admire the Jabiru from afar.