(Courtesy Belize Audubon Society)
Belize is blessed with more than 500 species of birds, 80 percent of which are residents. Compare this number to the 650 species found in all of North America and Mexico and you will agree, "Belize is a birdwatcher's paradise".
Where to Find Birds in Belize
With the types of birds to be found dependent upon the type of natural habitat you are in, experienced Ornithologists as well as beginners will find birding throughout the Belize District a rewarding experience. Whether on a remote island, on a jungle walk or in the backyard of your hotel you are bound to encounter spectacular plumage, stirring calls or the steady drumming of a hummingbird's wings.
Following are some common species to be found in:
- Coastal areas - brown pelicans, magnificent frigate birds, laughing gulls, osprey, seagulls, Ruddy terns, brown boobies.
- Bird Caye - This large rookery lies in the Northern Lagoon and can be heard before it is clearly observed, as it is the nesting area for white ibis and egrets. There are always other species of birds there also adding to the noisy clamor.
- Wetlands - Roseate spoonbills, great egrets, green, blue, the not so common boat-billed and agami herons, northern jacana, and the endangered Jabiru Stork at the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary.
- Grasslands and savannahs - the fork-tailed and vermilion flycatchers, a variety of tiny seedeaters, tanagers and the ever present roadside hawk.
- Broad leaf forests - Montezuma's Oropendula with its colony of hanging nests in tall trees, blue crowned mot mot, on forest floor - great tinamou, black faced antthrush midstory - sulfur rumped flycatchers high in forest canopy - Belize's national bird - keel-billed toucan
Best Times for Birding
The best time for birding is usually outside the hottest part of the day, making early morning and late evening ideal times. However, there are many sightings under the canopy on jungle walks even during the day. This makes birding a likely event on almost any tour that you take; however, if you have a strong interest in birding, be sure to let your tour provider know well in advance so that:
- You have a knowledgeable birding guide
- Your tour times are set for optimum timing (e.g. a pre-dawn departure for a tour or walk)
Other Wildlife Watching
While birding in Belize is an anywhere anytime activity, spotting other wildlife is a combination of local knowledge, patience, and a little luck. Tropical animals are well camoflauged and usually hear, see or smell you long before you see them. Fortunately, the Belize District has a number of spectacular opportunities for an up close and personal view of tropical wildlife.
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
Partially surrounding the lagoons is a Logwood savannah/swamp, the largest continuous stand of these trees remaining in Belize. Marsh, semi-evergreen/deciduous broadleaf forest, pine/oak savannah and pasture are the other vegetation communities in the sanctuary, along with abundant submergent aquatic vegetation in the lagoons.
Community Baboon Sanctuary
As well as the abundant bird life, Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary holds a growing number of Morelet's Crocodile. Other mammals include black howler monkeys and Central American otters. All Belize's species of freshwater turtle are found in the Reserve.
The Black Howler Monkey, locally known as the baboon in English or the "saraguate" in Spanish, is the main species of interest in the sanctuary. It is possible to approach within a few feet of these primates and observe them feed, groom or howl. A total of 28 troops were identified in the area in 1985. The Howler population grew from 840 at this point to over 1000 by 1988. A variety of other mammals are found in the reserve or nearby, including Baird's Tapir and the Jaguarundi. Reptiles include Morelet's Crocodile, Iguana and the Central American River Turtle. Local people report that deer are beginning to re-appear.
Although manatees can be spotted almost anywhere along the coast of Belize, the Belize District provides two of the most likely spots to "guarantee" sightings. First is the "manatee hole" approximately 200 yards off the north end of Gales Point in Southern Lagoon. A bottom depression, fed by warm underground springs, attract the manatee. The manatees rise for air every 25 to 30 minutes. Some are more easily seen as they bear the tags of the local researchers. As is the case with observing any animal in the wild, it takes patience.
The other location is just a 40 minute speed ride to Swallow Caye. Swallow Caye is one of Belize's newest protected areas and is the home for a relatively large population of the manatees, so chances of seeing the manatee is almost 100 percent. These gentle creatures are usually found feeding or playing in a deep murky hole behind the island or inside the creeks leading into the mangrove, so it can take a little time before you see them. The population of manatees at this spot is believed to be about eighteen adults and calves.
Manatees are curious animals and most of the times they come right next to the boat good for excellent close up pictures. Manatees are also called sea cows and long ago were once believed, by sailors, to be mermaids. Turtle Grass is what attracts these ungainly yet graceful mammals to these two locations, which they feed on almost exclusively. Manatee are inquisitive animals, yet easily intimidated.
For More Information
- Search for information or ask a question on the Belize Forums.
- Check the SERVICES page for tour operators.
- Search Belize.Net for wildlife or birding tour websites in Belize.
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