Plan a Big Year Birding in Belize

by Carolee Chanona

Clocking in at 180 miles long and 68 miles wide, challenge yourself to a Big Year birding Belize to see as many bird species as possible in a year! Dedicating an entire year to see as many of the 590 bird species recorded in Belize is an exhausting, eye-opening, and addictive chase. However, there’s a big reward for those willing to go the distance. With an estimated 600 bird species and six internationally recognized Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), Belize is one of Central America’s premier birding destinations. As a friendly endeavor, a Big Year birding in Belize will introduce you to new friends, new experiences, and a new perspective on birds, conservation, and ecology. Here are a few tips to maximize your birding ‘life list’ and Belizean experience. 

Plan Your Route

Planning a route based on your target species takes the guesswork out of birding and maximizes how efficient you are with your time. Not to mention, its convenient if you can only go birding outside of your 8 am – 5 pm work schedule. In separate lists, highlight species that you’re able to see without any effort (Magnificent Frigate, Great Kiskadee, Great-tailed Grackle). Also, separate the birds that are more difficult to see, like migrating warblers or rare birds of prey. Next, highlight species that are difficult to see, but because of other factors like distances (say, Corozal to Punta Gorda or a bird heard only in deep forest habitats) since that’ll require a little more logistical planning. 

Royal Flycatcher. © Francis Canto Jr.
Crimson-collared Tanager
Crimson-collared Tanager by Jason Tiesman

Utilize birding apps like eBird & Merlin 

Besides being an incredibly resource tool in the field,  eBird also highlights hotspots with real-time data. For example the time of year, how often, and the distribution for that bird – all from your smart phone. Though a Big Year is a challenge for experienced birders, the Merlin app is a powerful field guide with additional information like habitats, songs, and calls, plus photos to help you travel ‘light’.

Join other Belizean birders

Birding in Belize has become increasingly popular, with the capacity to match. Join a Facebook group, participate in a local Bird Club, or hire a local birding guide to network. You’ll also gain local insight, and even support a conservation-minded career. Planning a Big Year is a personal challenge, but friendly endeavor. If you sight a ‘mega’ rare bird, share the love! Be friendly, be helpful, and don’t be too competitive. Encourage others to participate.

Birding the Rio Maya Area. Photo by Roni Martinez

Bird Seasonally

Maximize on migration by finding wintering and transient rarities. However, birding is available year-round in Belize with late migration, early migration, pelagic shorebirds and more. Participate in May and October Global Big Days for birding ‘marathons’ organized through conservation efforts like the Belize Audubon Society.

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