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 within a single calendar 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 with 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 will introduce you to new friends, new experiences, and a new perspective on birds, conservation, and Belizean ecology. Home to over 100 protected areas in the country, critical habitats remain intact for resident and migratory species. 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, especially if birding is reserved for outside of your 8 am-5 pm commitments. In separate lists, highlight species that you’re able to see without any effort (i.e. Magnificent Frigate, Great Kiskadee, Great-tailed Grackle) and birds that are more difficult to see because of frequency (i.e. migrating warblers like, migrating birds that don’t come yearly like). 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.
Not only is eBird an incredibly resourceful tool for your time in the field, but it also highlights hotspots with real-time data like time of year, how often that species was recorded, and distribution for a specific species – all from the comfort of your 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. Joining a Facebook group, participating in a local Birding Club, or hiring a local birding guide is a great way to network, 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.
Maximize on migration by finding wintering and transient rarities, but be sure to bird year-round and target 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.
Written by Carolee Chanona