Birding Soars in Belize for a Regenerative Future

by Carolee Chanona
Orange-breasted Falcon2

The calls of resplendent Collared Aracari birds puncture the hazy fog in Western Belize’s lush greenery, where treetops scrape each other among rolling hills. Two Keel-billed Toucans—Belize’s national bird—watched me unpack traveler’s fatigue from their perch in the Trumpet Tree, within arm’s reach (or rather, a wing’s length) of a ginger fizz as the welcome drink on our balcony here at San Ignacio Resort Hotel. That morning, the harmonizing songs of flycatchers tumbled through the air, overpowered only by the droning synchronization of cicadas at dusk.

Home to near-600 recorded species of birds, including critically endangered and threatened species, Belize is a magnet for serious twitchers. The country is preening itself to welcome flocks of nature lovers, with avi-tourism predicted to be popular with the world’s travel-thirsty ecotourists in the wake of COVID-19.

Orange-breasted Falcon -by-francis-canto-jr
Two Orange-breasted Falcons perch on a bare tree. Image by Francis Canto Jr.

The Boom of Birding

According to a recent report by the Center for Responsible Travel, birdwatching is among the fastest-growing trends in eco-tourism. After all, there’s a renewed appreciation of oxygenating time in the great outdoors, which Belize checks all the boxes for by going birding.

And in this western nook of the country, the Cayo District holds one stronghold for survival: the elusive Orange-breasted Falcon (OBF). Always rare and localized because of its specialized habitat requirements like rugged cliffs, the OBF is said to occupy only four percent of its historical range in Central America. Specifically, range-restricted to the Maya Mountains of Belize and along the Mirador Cordillera in Guatemala. Without a doubt, our Central American corner is one of the last places in the world to see this species in action.

The brilliant Violet Sabrewing. Image by Francis Canto Jr.

Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve’s cliffs in rugged and remote areas have proved to be prime nesting grounds for this high-elevation species, but this pocket of biodiversity yields other incredible species, like the mega-rare Solitary Eagle and gorgeously vibrant Violet Sabrewing.

But then there’s also the Chiquibul National Park. Wild and real, the Chiquibul’s pristine greenery envelopes you into the Scarlet Macaw’s first choice for their breeding grounds. These are excursions for the serious birders in Belize, but what about nature lovers simply looking to experience the wild?

Sunrise Baldy Beacon by Roni Martinez-cayo-belize
Sunrise on Baldy Beacon in the Cayo District. Image courtesy Roni Martinez

If you’d rather take the backseat birding route altogether, that would be from your balcony at San Ignacio Resort Hotel (SIRH). Thanks to its 17 acres to warrant its “only jungle in town” nickname, breakfast at the resort also means you’ve got a front-row seat to wildlife: Collared Aracaris mooch across its balcony, keeping you company alongside your cup of coffee.

collared aracari belize San Ignacio belize

Collared aracaris are just one example of the friendly residents at San Ignacio Resort Hotel.

With sustainable, nature-based holidays to remote places at the heart of regenerative tourism, Belize’s wealth of birdwatching spots stands it in good stead.

Written by Carolee Chanona for the 2021/2022 Belize Gold Book.
Header image of the Orange-breasted Falcon © Roni Martinez. Article found on page 48 of the 2021/2022 Belize Gold Book. Read more articles from the #BelizeGoldBook below:

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