With a turn of the dial on the binoculars, the magnificent red bird comes into focus: nearly three feet long (the glorious tail plumage more than half this length), with slender scarlet feathers tinged in royal blue, so bright they almost glow in the morning sun. Its cerulean and yellow-tipped plumes look like an artist took a paintbrush to them. This is the endangered scarlet macaw, only one of nearly 600 bird species to see while birdwatching in Belize.
Belize is a hotbed of avian activity. For comparison’s sake, there are about 700 bird species in all of North America, while Belize (a country roughly the size of Massachusetts) has 560 feathered friends. Well-traveled birders visit Belize to see species they’ve been waiting for all their birdwatching lives. The protected rainforests of Belize provide safe homes for the world’s rarest birds such as the keel-billed motmot, a species commonly spotted in the Caracol Archaeological Reserve. Other exotic species frequently seen on birding tours in Belize include the great curassow, crested guan, jabiru stork, yellow-headed parrot, boat-billed heron, orange-breasted falcon, rufous-capped warbler, white-crowned pigeon, red-footed booby and the scarlet macaw. Everyone – from experienced birders to first-timers – can appreciate the unique songs and colorful plumage of the birds of Belize.
Belize’s diverse landscape offers visitors tremendous variety in birdwatching locations, ranging from broadleaf forests to wetlands, pine forests to mangroves, and savannahs to rainforests. Home to 16 birds on the endangered species list, Belize protects these ecosystems in its numerous national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. What’s good for the bird is good for the birdwatcher! We glanced through our binoculars at some of Belize’s protected areas to brief you on what to look for at the best birdwatching spots in Belize:
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Trekking along the country’s most well-maintained trails through the reserve’s 128,000 acres of lush tropical rainforest, you may glimpse the emerald toucanet, keel-billed toucan (Belize’s national bird), king vulture and scarlet macaw. Although the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary was originally established as the world’s first jaguar preserve to protect Belize’s endangered jaguar population, it also serves as a refuge for around 300 species of birds. Avid birders visit this preserve for all the dazzling color flitting around the canopy, but some will also have the rare experience of spotting the most elusive of the big cats.
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
Established by the Belize Audubon Society in 1984, this wildlife sanctuary quickly became an important refuge for water birds during the wet season and feeding birds during the dry season. As the largest flying bird in the Americas, the five-foot-tall jabiru stork (with a ten- to twelve-foot wingspan) represents the biggest draw for birders and birding tours. Your best bet for seeing a jabiru: take a boat tour of Crooked Tree when the water is low.
Caracol Archaeological Reserve
After exploring Belize’s largest and most impressive Mayan ruin, take some time to look around for the keel-billed motmot. Though an endangered species, this stunning little bird is a common sight at the Caracol Archaeological Reserve. A glimpse of its lemon-yellow breast and brilliant sapphire tail makes an interesting contrast with the ruins – living beauty next to faded glory.
Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
Granite rock formations worn down by 300 million years of water, wind, and rain frame the majestic falls cascading down into the clear blue Rio On Pools. Above this impressive show of nature’s strength and beauty, a hepatic tanager glides through the air. Along the trail to the Frio Caves, songs and calls fill the forest as orange-billed sparrows and white-throated robins fly curly-cues in the air above. At the 1,000-foot Hidden Valley Falls, breasted falcons and king vultures soar alongside the crashing water. The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is not only a stunning natural destination, it is also home to some of Belize’s most unique bird species.
Half Moon Caye National Monument
The air is rife with the squawks and screeches of thousands of red-footed boobies nesting in the ziricote thicket of Half Moon Caye National Monument. The healthy population of red-footed boobies on Half Moon Caye leaves the ground covered in white and black feathers. These odd-looking birds are entertaining to watch, and a platform in the heart of the nesting area makes it easy for birders to get up close and personal with the boobies.
Contrary to some peoples’ beliefs, birding is for young adventurers as much as it is for retirees. Observing the unique qualities of different bird species while wandering through secluded forests, marshes and grassland takes adventure travel to a whole new level. Birdwatching lets you fall more deeply in love with Mother Nature and appreciate her incredible knack for variety, and spotting a rare bird in the wild is an unforgettable experience for both expert and amateur birders.