North America

Birdwatching in Belize—A tropical paradise for amazing birds 

Central America is rich in fertile land, tropical paradises, and diverse landscapes. It’s also an area of many unique and fascinating creatures, especially birds so add birdwatching in Belize to your bucket list. The beautiful country of Belize occupies the northeastern coast and borders Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean Sea.

Map showing location of BelizeFor a small country, it has an incredible abundance of birds, with nearly 600 different species across many diverse habitats. Because of this significant number of birds in a small area, it’s become a destination for birdwatchers and naturalists. In fact, there’s no wrong time of year to go birdwatching in this fascinating country.  

Here I’ll talk about some of the best places in Belize to go birdwatching and some exciting tropical and migratory species you’ll likely encounter. Hopefully, this information inspires you to add Belize to your list of birdwatching destinations.

A Bit More About Belize

Belize has activities that will please any traveler. From lush tropical jungles to beautiful sandy beaches and exotic islands, the country is an experience unlike any other. One of the amazing natural wonders here is the Belize Barrier Reef, which is over 10,000 years old and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the second-largest barrier reef in the world and extends the country’s entire length. The reef helps protect the shores from large waves, helping to create the tranquility that you’ll experience when you visit the beaches.

The culture here is also diverse, and the people welcome visitors from all around the world. You’ll experience incredible food, music, and traditions from a mixture of the Creole, Mestizo, Garifuna, and Maya cultures, only enhancing your birdwatching adventure.

And, of course, there are the birds. You’ll see them around no matter where you are, meaning that you don’t have to put much effort into spotting some colorful and unusual species. 

Notable places for birdwatching In Belize

Of course, we assume you’re visiting the country specifically for a birdwatching adventure. In that case, you’ll want to make sure that you visit some locations where you’re guaranteed to have the best birding experience. So, you’ll want to consider adding a few of these spots to your list.

Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary

Travel to the northwest part of Belize to visit the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, which makes up a vast area of national protected wetlands and is home to about 300 species of resident and migratory birds. In the center of the sanctuary, you’ll find the Crooked Tree Village, one of the first Creole communities in Belize.

In 1998, it was declared the first RAMSAR site in Belize, recognizing its international importance for waterbirds. You’ll find the most birds here during November through May, with many migratory species resting on their migration up north.

Some notable birds you’ll spot here include parrots (including the Yellow-Headed Parrot), different types of storks, Black-Collared Hawks, and the hard-to-find Agami Heron.

Half Moon Caye Natural Monument

Located on the southeast corner of Lighthouse Reef Atoll, this island and Belize national monument is the first nature reserve established in Belize under the National Park Systems Act. It is also Belize’s first marine protected area and a protected bird sanctuary. 

The island is undoubtedly a birdwatcher’s paradise. One of its most significant claims to fame is the countless Boobies that you’ll find here, and it’s the natural habitat of the rare Red-footed Booby, and it’s estimated that more than 4,000 of them live in this area.

Try to visit in the autumn, when impressive bird migrations take place, allowing you the opportunity to see the most diverse selection.

Mayflower Bocawina National Park

Mayflower Bocawina National Park
Mayflower Bocawina National Park

This national park has over 7,000 acres of preserved lowlands and highlands and is a must-stop for birdwatchers and nature lovers. In addition to the beautiful birds, it also has the largest population of jaguars in Belize.

You’ll find about 242 species of birds in this area, including the Keel-Billed Motmot, Ocellated Turkey, Olive-Throated Parakeet, Great Curassow, and Wood Stork.

This park is located on mile six of the Southern Highway in the Stann-Creek District. 

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

Although this area is most known for being the world’s only Jaguar preserve, you cannot overlook its 96,000 acres for its bird population. Here you’ll find over 300 species and many birds that like higher elevations and thrive in the forests and pine woodlands. Some notable birds in this sanctuary include Montezuma’s Oropendola, the White-Collared Manakin, the Keel-Billed Toucan, and Great Curassow.

Sittee River

This river, just south of Hopkins, allows you to take a boat ride to explore and see many unique birds. Book a tour guide and look for the common Gray Hawk, Black Headed Trogon, Olive-Throated Parakeets, Ring Kingfisher, and Bare-Throated Tiger Heron, among many other species.

In addition to the birds, you’ll also see some of the highest mangrove trees in the entire country and other incredible wildlife. The village near the river is a Garifuna village, which allows you to experience these people’s unique culture and lifestyle.

Birds to watch for on your trip

Every birdwatcher will have their wish list of birds to spot during a trip to Belize, and there are so many great birds to try and find. Here are a few unique species that you’ll want to keep an eye out for during your journey.

Chestnut-Colored Woodpecker

This medium-sized bird has an attractive chestnut color and is found in the tropical lowlands of Belize. You’ll find it foraging in the trees throughout the country, but it can be challenging to spot at first. Both the males and females have a similar color, with the males having the distinction of a bright red mustache.

Band-Tailed Barbthroat

Band-tailed Barbthroat
Band-tailed Barbthroat

Look for the Band-Tailed Barbthroat during your Mayflower Bocawina National Park visit. This medium-sized hummingbird has a striking black-and-white tail pattern and bristly feathers on the throat. It’s a resident breeder in Belize but can be a bit hard to spot because it feeds quickly on flowers and then quickly whisks away. It has three subspecies, which you’ll find commonly in protected wildlife areas.

Keel-Billed Toucan

This brightly colored and friendly bird is one that you’ll definitely want to try and see during your trip to Belize. Look for it in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, although you’ll also spot it in other areas of the country. Its rainbow-colored beak is quite prominent and contrasts nicely with its darker-colored body. This toucan mostly eats fruit, and you’ll find it foraging around in flocks of up to 22 individual birds. Try to spot them hopping between branches in the forest, as they are not the most graceful fliers.

Keel-billed Toucan
Keel-billed Toucan

Agami Heron

One of the most coveted sightings for bird lovers visiting the area, the Agami Heron is a rather reclusive bird. Look for it in the flooded lowland forests. Sometimes referred to as the “hummingbird heron” in Belize because of its beautiful colors, it’s very distinctive. The bird moves about seasonally, although staying as a resident in the country. However, it is a tough bird to study, so its total population remains unknown. 

Azure-Crowned Hummingbird

This medium-sized hummingbird is found mainly in pine-oak forest areas and can be spotted in some urban areas as well. It has a vast population, so chances of a sighting are good if you visit the area where it lives. Although it’s not the most striking hummingbird in terms of color, it’s still an exciting bird to add to your list, and you’ll likely be able to spot one easily in the wild.

Black-Headed Trogon

The striking Black-Headed Trogon has a notable yellowish-orange belly surrounded by a dark black-grey body. Its tail has three white stripes underneath it that also provide a striking contrast. It lives in forest areas with taller trees, mangroves, and heavily degraded forest areas. Find it throughout Belize, as it’s relatively common. However, it’s still an exciting find. 

Violaceous Trogon

Another beautiful Trogon is the Violaceous Trogon, which you’ll find in tropical forests ranging from sea level up to 1,000 meters. One unique thing about this bird is a behavior referred to as “anting.” They carve into ant nests and allow the ants to release formic acid onto their bodies. It’s thought that this helps them possibly eliminate certain feather parasites and mites. However, the exact reason for it remains largely unknown. They also tend to nest with wasps to deter predators.  

Harpy Eagle

An incredible bird of prey, the Harpy Eagle, is the largest and most powerful raptor in the Americas. You once could find them in abundance, but they are now considered endangered due to habitat loss and hunting. They tend to allow people to approach them as they perch, which makes them an easy target. They have unique-looking faces, making them look like something from mythology.

How to make the most of your Belize birdwatching trip

You’ll find many birdwatching expeditions you can join during your time in Belize, with expert tour guides that will help you find and identify various species. In fact, bird tourism is a large market for the country, and the Belize Audobon Society has trained over 50 locals to be bird guides in the Cockscomb Basin Sanctuary, Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, and St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park areas.

Look for some suggested tours through the Audobon Society.

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