Chasing Winged Wonders: A Guide to the World’s Best Birding Sites in Belize
Veteran bird watchers make pilgrimages to Belize 12 months a year because it’s a world-famous paradise year-round, but no matter when you decide to visit, you’ll be rewarded. Sure, it takes time to spot all 618 species that either reside here or just stop off on their migration routes, but that’s what keeps birders coming back over and over again. We can’t speak for the birds but we suspect that their numbers alone show that they love it here, so you can’t go wrong if you check out these 7 sites armed with your binoculars and your favorite bird guide.
Caracol Mayan Ruins. Excuse the pun, but you can knock off two birds with one stone at Caracol in the Cayo District by touring a major Mayan ruin and seeing some of the most gorgeous birds on the planet. Sharp-eyed birdwatchers report spotting a harpy eagle, and if you know how rare and elusive these birds are, it’s okay to be envious. Sharing this lush forest with the elusive eagle are species with quirky names, like the great curassow, keel-billed motmot, crested guan, ocellated turkey and a bird with the most curious name of all: the violaceous trogon.
Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve. This unique reserve is a study in contradiction. Home to endangered jaguars prowling the ground, Cockscomb is a literal peaceable kingdom among the treetops because so many species coexist nicely—most probably because forest-dwelling birds stay safe up there! Train your binoculars on large, loud scarlet macaws, huge king vultures and several types of toucan during your visit. They’re all so imposing and colorful, you couldn’t miss them if you tried.
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. If you wonder where storks hang out when they’re not delivering babies, this northern Belize wetland may answer your question. As a matter of fact, giant jabiru storks make their homes here during the dry season, so if you long to see these stately birds, time your visit accordingly. By the way, these long-legged birds don’t begrudge other species from sticking around, so if you also happen to glimpse yellow-lored parrots or Yucatan jays, your birding friends will be mighty impressed.
New River Lagoon. Make this your second opportunity to pair a Mayan ruin visit with your bird observation activities. As the name suggests, this area’s main attraction is the water, and in addition to the lagoon, you’ll also find marshlands, steams and canals known to attract purple gallinule, black-colored hawk and northern jacana birds. When you’ve had your fill of wetlands, hike to the Lamanai Mayan ruin to discover more birds along the trails and perched at the ruin itself.
Man-O-War Caye. The name may sound menacing, but this area is one of the most tranquil nesting sites in Belize. Given the fragility of the area, it’s perpetually monitored by the Belize government and there are restrictions imposed on birders eager to glimpse man-o-war, brown boobies and frigates: to make sure this area remains protected, visitors must observe this breeding ground from small boats that circle the island. Binoculars are a must if you visit.