Belize: A Small Country with Big Birding

by Carolee Chanona

Belize offers the best of both worlds: jungles and beaches, Maya history and ancient ruins, wildlife and nature, adventure and relaxation. Being both Caribbean and Central American, our tiny English-speaking nation nestled at the base of the Yucatan Peninsula is a naturalist’s delight – and birders have certainly learned Mother Nature’s best-kept secret. With 85 ecosystems and nearly 600 bird species to explore within approximately 9,000 square miles, Belize contains a vast diversity of forests from pine savanna to lowland rainforest to ecologically-rich island cayes and atolls. This tiny yet mighty country is the perfect introduction to tropical birding! 

What “Birding” Is Really Like

belize birder destination birding nation

Photo by Duarte Dellarole

Often compared to a form of meditation that demands quiet focus and movement with intent, birding reveals unexpected delight in the discovery of new species, the usual suspects, and the beauty of adventure in-between. However, if you’re a beginner birder, I suggest a little patience. Through your binoculars, you’ll likely see movement amongst the branches not yet identifiable, but your feathered reward may emerge before you know it. Minutes may pass before the oddly-shaped bird with an oversized beak emerges in a flash of yellow; while you may be delighted with the tiny glimpse of color, a little patience would reveal the Keel-billed Toucan in all its glory.

As you wait, take a moment to become swathed by the tapestry of birdsong that surrounds you. Though you may not (yet) be able to identify what species are making these sounds, you’ll start separating the different strands of the forest’s symphony and realize the avian-diversity that surrounds you.

Places to Consider Birding at

Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve. Photo by Oliver Pilcher

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

With October marking the peak of migration season, be sure to plan out your day by region to reap the most benefits. Explore fertile wetlands, savannas, and mountainous terrain for avifauna in Southern Belize by waking up within Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Moreover, Rustic accommodations place you in the heart of the world’s first jaguar preserve with your alarm being a cacophony of the jungle, like the sweet-sounding White-breasted Wood Wren and Northern Schiffornis. Within the 127,000 protected acres of Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary lie all five of Belize’s wildcats, boisterous howler monkeys, rambunctious game birds, and even the boar-like Peccaries of Belize – not to mention the beautiful (and rare) Black and White Hawk-eagle, Lovely Cotinga, and Crimson-collared Tanager.

Bocawina National Park

Keep your binoculars handy during your lunch break at the coastline of cultural Hopkins Village, which offers both coastal and wetland birding. If you’re feeling adventurous, end your day with an adrenaline-pumping zipline in Bocawina National Park.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Rufous-tailed Jacamar perches pretty. Photo by Roni Martinez

Chiquibul National Park

An early departure out of Western Belize towards Las Cuevas lands you within Belize’s largest national park, Chiquibul National Park, where pristine greenery envelopes you in the Scarlet Macaw’s first choice for their breeding grounds. Grab lunch as you head towards the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve for an afternoon of high-elevation species, also including the critically endangered Orange-Breasted Falcon and the mega-rare Solitary Eagle. Reward yourself with a dip in Rio on Pools and end with the awe of Belize’s 1,000 Foot Falls.

Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary

Travelers venturing to Northern Belize should explore the vast wetland diversity of Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a RAMSAR Site since 1998, where you can find concentrated flocks of Roseate Spoonbills, Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, White Ibises, and the Jabiru – the tallest flying bird in Central and South America. Grab a northern favorite fast food, like corn-based street tacos, before heading further North towards the Lamanai Mayan Ruin. If you’re willing to bump up your Belizean Lifers, the night boat tour offered by Lamanai Outpost Lodge along the New River can yield the much-sought-after Yucatan Nightjar, Northern Potoo, and Yucatan Poorwill.


  • Solitary Eagle
  • Lovely Cotinga
  • Stygian Owl
  • Orange-Breasted Falcon
  • Ornate Hawk-Eagle
  • Rose-Throated Tanager
  • Slate-Colored Solitaire
  • Speckled Mourner
  • Elegant Euphonia


St. Herman's blue hole national park

St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park, photo courtesy

  • Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary: 350 sp.
  • Guanacaste National Park: 120 sp.
  • Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary: 332 sp.
  • St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park: 300 sp.


Crimson-collared Tanager

Crimson-collared Tanager by Jason Tiesman

  • Shining Honeycreeper
  • Keel-Billed Motmot
  • Slate-Colored Solitaire
  • Black and White Hawk-Eagle
  • Band-Tailed Barbthroat
  • Uniform Crake
  • Speckled Mourner
  • Lovely Cotinga
  • Elegant Euphonia


wildlifewildlife birding urban birders

Photo by Belize Audubon Society

  • Lifer: The first-time sighting of a bird for an individual.
  • Mega: A very rare bird.
  • Big Day: To observe as many species as possible within a calendar day. Same applies to a Big Year.
  • GISS: Acronym for General Impression Shape and Size; experienced birders can often identify birds from this tool and not one particular feature.
  • Nemesis Bird: A species that constantly eludes you.
  • Warbler Neck: A pain or crick-in-the-neck caused by an extended time looking for birds high up in trees, like warblers.
  • SOB: Acronym for “Spouse of Birder”; someone who is married to or involved with a birder but is not a birder themselves.
  • Butter Butts: Yellow-rumped warblers.

As eco-tourism in Belize grows, lodges are increasingly catering to birders with plenty of local guides willing to jump headfirst into your next avian adventure. Wherever your adventure takes you, hiring a locally-trained bird guide enhances your birding experience while strengthening Belize’s growing eco-economy. Birding provides an incentive to safeguard natural habitats for our feathered-friends, while simultaneously improving livelihoods. So, start planning your bird-y bucket list!

birding tour guide san ignacio resort hotel

Find out more about birding with Belize Audubon Society – Belize’s foremost environmental organization protecting Belize’s precious natural resources while educating the public about their value and sustainable use. Also, don’t miss out on the 2nd Annual Belize Birding Festival on October 19th- 20th, 2019. See you there! 


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