Belize, formerly British Honduras, is the only English-speaking country in Central America. With a land area about the size of Wales, or the state of Massachusetts, and a population of barely 300,000 it is also one of the least populated areas in the region. All of which is pretty good news for the birds and other animals of Belize and even better news for the increasing number of birders who are discovering the natural riches and the rich history of Belize.
A large proportion (about 40%) of the land enjoys some form of protected status which is not to say that there are not pressures on the environment from farming, logging and occasional tropical storms. The jaguar population of Belize is the largest anywhere as a result of legislation to protect the animal and the land. For wildlife and nature lovers, besides the avifauna Belize has innumerable butterfly and moth species, colourful and strange insects, mammals, reptiles and many amphibians including colourful frogs, orchids and bromeliads. Mammals range from the manatee in marine wetlands, through armadillos, sloths, howlers and spider monkeys, dozens of bats, rodents and other small mammals through to skunks, possums, large cats and ungulates. It is a natural history adventure you will never forget.
Belize is also home to the second largest barrier reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef, with the reef extending from Ambergris Caye in the north down to the Sapodilla Cayes off the coast of Toledo.
The country includes a diverse range of landscapes and habitats from the coral reefs and cayes off the Caribbean coast, through the swamps, lagoons and pine savannah grasslands of the coastal plains to the broadleaf forests of the south and west and the plateau highlands in Cayo district which contain a mix of pine, oak and broadleaf forest. Each habitat contains its own distinctive species with Belize as a whole being home to around 574 bird species.
Being just 160 miles from north to south and no more than 70 miles from east to west nowhere in Belize is more than a five-hour drive from the international airport in Belize City and the cayes and the coastal towns of Dangriga, Placencia and Punta Gorda are well served by the two domestic airlines. Most birding tours to Belize will stay at several different resorts and lodges to cover as many habitats as possible during the visit.
Birding highlights in the west of Belize, in what is known as the Mountain Pine Ridge, include the Stygian Owl, the rare Orange-Breasted Falcon and King Vulture Falls on the Hidden Valley estate where dozens of these creatures roost each night. Mayan archaeological sites can be good places to find birds and birdwatchers will often go to Caracol south of San Ignacio for the Keel-Billed Motmot, which is also resident further south in Toledo close to the Guatemalan border.
Also in Toledo the Aguacaliente Wildlife Sanctuary consists of almost 6000 acres around three large lagoons, which are home to breeding colonies of American Woodstork and Boat-Billed Herons as well as five species of kingfisher, Black-Bellied Whistling Duck and many others. North of Belize City Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary comprises six lagoons in 16,000 acres with about 260 recorded species. Crooked Tree is run by the Belize Audubon Society.
In the north west of Belize the Rio Bravo Conservation Area (250,000 acres) is managed by the non-profit organization Programme for Belize with regular sightings of jaguar and flocks of keel-billed toucan this is a genuine sanctuary where hundreds of species flourish. Equally dramatic is the 130,000-acre Gallon jug Estate just south of Rio Bravo and in Stann Creek district the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Preserve is another great birding location. Just a few miles further south at Red Bank village flocks of Scarlet Macaw spend the first three months of each year feeding on the Annatto Bixa orellana shrub whose seeds surrounded by orange-red pulp colour their magnificent tail-feathers.
Major Source: Fatbirder
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