Birds Of Belize

Belize blue crowned motmot bird
Belize blue crowned motmot bird

With over 587 different, colorful species of birds in the country, Belize is a must for the professional or amateur bird-watcher and those into eco tourism. In the Orange Walk District alone, over 400 species of birds have been recorded. Of these, approximately 20 percent are migrants from North America during he winter season. Almost every year new species are reported. Eight new records were confirmed in 2009, including the Crested Caracara, Canada Goose, and Spot-breasted Oriole. Almost half of the land in Belize is managed as reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, and protected habitats. Many are managed by the Belize Audubon Society and these protected areas provide a rich diversity of natural ecosystems where birds thrive.

The Blue-crowned motmot, (Motmotus motmota), can be seen throughout the country. Its habitat is in the rainforests below the canopy, or top, of the rainforest. The length of the Blue-crowned motmot is between 11 and 18 inches (28-45 cm). This length includes the tail.

The one feature that most distinguishes almost all motmots is their long tails. Close to the tip of the tail, the barbs are missing for about one inch or more. This gives the appearance not unlike that of a tennis racket. The only explanation for the feathers being like this is that they are used for display

Jabiru Stork Belize
The Jabiru Stork is one of the largest birds in the Americas, standing at 4.5 feet tall and an amazing wing span of 8 feet! Taken in Crooked Tree, Belize.

More so than anywhere else in the country, the Orange Walk District is the country’s leader as a birder’s paradise. With its unusually diverse habitats, the famous Maya Ruin area of Lamanai is a must for professional ornithologists or casual bird watchers. 366 bird species have been recorded at Lamanai, and this figure is expected to reach 409 shortly

The uncommon nocturnal Yucatan nightjars, as well as the long-tailed hermit hummingbird, have been spotted at the Lamanai Outpost Lodge. Cruising the New River by boat to the Lamanai ruins is also a birder’s paradise. The waterway teems with bird life. Rare birds abound, like the roseate spoonbills, sun grebes and long-necked anhinga. Near the mouth of the lagoon is a large ceiba tree with a huge nest, home to a five-foot jabiru stork, the largest bird in the country which has a wingspan of approximately eight feet.

Female Slaty-tailed Trogon Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary Belize Image Credit Christian Bech FB
collared toucan
Collared Toucan in western Belize Picture: Manolo Romero.

Inland jungle resorts offer delights for Belize bird watching. Colors abound: the blue-crowned motmot, the brightly colored flocks of ocellated turkeys or the emerald toucanet are only some of the birds visitors will see.

The Collared Toucan, also known as the Collared Aracari, Pteroglossus torquatus, is almost as flamboyant as its cousin the Keel Billed Toucan which is the national bird of Belize. This bird is all over Belize and can be easily spotted as they tend to flock.

The Collared Toucan can also be found in Mexico,and South America. They roost socially, usually in groups of about six, and nest in tree holes or abandoned woodpecker nests. They are primarily fruit eaters but will take prey such as insects and small lizards.

Programme for Belize , with over 400 recorded species, also offers world class birding. The nonprofit organization with offices in both Belize and the United States , manages the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area in the northern district.

It is a reserve that covers 280,000 acres. It is a tropical forest area that is home to all of the Belizean cats and numerous other animals, including king vultures, and over 80 species of bats.

A Field Guide to the Birds of Belize” by Jones and Gardner will help visitors familiarize themselves with many of the species to be seen. The Gallon Jug Conservation Society, the Belize Audubon Society, the Lamanai Field Research Center or any of the lodges in the area here also appreciate field notes from visitors who record rare, unexpected sightings.

Great Belize Kiskadee, Pitangus sulphuratus
Great Kiskadee, Pitangus sulphuratus.

The Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) can be seen all over the country including home gardens and in urban centers. This little fellow is a resident of the City of Belmopan. The Great Kiskadee is aggressive especially in looking for a meal.

“I found a lizard in my hall one morning and opened my door to shoo him out. The lizard ran outside. I then heard a flapping noise and the lizard ran back inside. Annoyed I shooed it out again and went outside my entrance to make sure it was really gone. Another flapping noise and now a flash of yellow. A Great Kiskadee swooped in and retrieved his meal right between my feet. I stood on my Welcome mat too surprised to do anything. That was the last I saw of the lizard.” – Manolo Romero – editor.

Bird Watching In Belize – The Easy Way

“Watching birds in the tropical forests of Belize can tend to be very frustrating at times, and extremely rewarding at others. The thick vegetation of tropical forests, and the typical behavior of quick, seemingly random movements of many forest birds, make them often difficult to see. Many birds also live in the upper canopy of the forest, making it a strain to be constantly looking upward. But early morning and late afternoon are excellent times to bird watch, as most bird species are feeding or moving to new locations during these times.”

Female Green-breasted Hummingbird Mango with a male-plumage aspect, Monkey River Belize Image Credit Christian Bech FB

“Birds thrive in all of Belize’s habitats. Wading birds congregate along the coastline and inner lagoons. The grasslands and savannas provide seeds for the many finches, and nesting trees for the giant Jabiru Stork. And the tropical forests There is an astonishing diversity of bird species.” – The Belize Zoo.

A female Barred Antshrike hunting in the grassy floodplains along the South Stann Creek River. She seem seems to have caught a juicy green Roach, which she likely will carry to feed her young ones. Image Credit Christian Bech.

The floodplains of Belize, locally called Vega lands, are important filters for rivers and receives tons of sediment during the annual floods. Thus capturing sediment, which else wise would end up on the coral reef. The sediment is rich in nutrients and provides excellent conditions for a lush growth of grasses, vines and legumes and is a major energy input to life and biodiversity in the river and riverine ecosystems as well as adjacent forest ecosystems.

Bird Ownership In Belize

roseate spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill western Belize. Image Credit: Friends For Conservation and Development Belize.

Hidden in the underbelly of an otherwise tropical paradise lifestyle that is promoted to immigrants and retirees, are a slew of draconian laws and regulations than can make life miserable for the unwary. Among these are Belize laws relating to bird ownership which fall under the remit of the Forestry Department. Owning any indigenous animal or bird species in Belize requires a license. Belizeans have traditionally kept animals such as parrots, iguanas, monkeys and other species as pets for centuries without any bother. But in 2014, as part of an exercise to raise revenue, the government and crusading animal rights groups from the U.S. and England began raiding the homes of private citizens in search of unlicensed birds. This is an industry, and for the keen observer, a living example of how immigrants from developed countries can create a lucrative income in poor countries such as Belize.