Birds of Belize

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Juvenile Chachalaca
A juvenile Chachalaca with bright blue tail feathers.

When you come to Belize, you need not be the kind of birder who pushes others aside to see a feathered friend. Belize offers a variety of habits in a relatively small area. Hence, birds abound! With over 500 bird species calling Belize home, you’ll be hard pressed to pass a single day without seeing and hearing several spectacular species.

On the grounds of Hamanasi alone you will find species you likely have never seen in your life. Take the Chachalaca, for example. You can’t miss these, especially when they announce to the rest of the flock that they survived another night! (Fun fact: Chachalacas belong to the same order as the common turkey — not that you’ll want to serve chachalacas at your next Thanksgiving dinner, though.)

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A majestic Frigate bird catching a draft.

Look up at any time of day and you’ll see Frigate birds riding the high winds. With a wingspan of up to 7.5′, these black birds with their long, skinny wings can soar for weeks on end! The females have a white chest while the all-black males win the affections of the fairer sex by blowing up their enormous, red gullar sacs. Not having webbed feet, frigate birds cannot dive for their food, though. They wait for other predators to chase prey to the surface from where they snatch them up.

Turkey Vultures
A pair of Turkey Vultures lurking in trees.

The other black birds you’ll see circling up above are Turkey Vultures. These are black with a red head. They keep Belize clean by dead fauna.  Speaking of vultures: one that is much less common than turkey vultures and is sure to make you stop and look twice is the king vulture. With a wingspan of up to 5.5′, the king vulture’s body is mostly white while its primary, secondary and tail feathers are black. Its head is what makes you look twice at this guy! Devoid of feathers, the wrinkled skin on the head and neck are shades of red, purple, orange, and yellow. Plus, older king vultures have an orange wattle above their orange and black bill.

Scarlet Macaws seen on Hamanasi’s Tropical Birding Adventure.

Another colorful bird you’ll see in just one part of Belize (Red Bank, less than an hour’s journey from Hanamasi) at just a specific time of year (mid January through March) is the Scarlet Macaw. From below, they’re predominantly red. Watch them fly by, however, and from behind they’re mostly bright blue with swatches of red and yellow on their shoulders and some more red on their long tails. You’ll likely hear them before you see them.   Once you’ve seen them, you’ll never be able to look at a caged solitary macaw again without having a deep sorrow for its loss of community and freedom.

Woodpeckers and warblers, hummingbirds and herons, northern pootoos that look like something from a comic strip and red-footed boobies whose webbed feet are redder than the shoulders of toursist who had gone snorkeling without enough sunscreen on … there’s so much more to discover in Belize!

Black headed trogan
A Black Headed Trogan posing on Hamanasi grounds.

There are, of course, Black-Headed Trogans. These look like something that walked straight out of Vogue magazine in the deepest egg-yolk orange undercarriage meticulously bordered with midnight blue wings and a black and white striped tail and to top it off, perfectly round, white-rimmed sunglasses.

And no article about birds of Belize would be complete without a nod to the national bird, the Keel-Billed Toucan. Their majestic green bills with a bit of orange lipstick on the side and a red tip for some sex appeal can grow to be almost half a foot long. The rest of its plumage is almost entirely black, except for the bright yellow neck and chest, and a bit of red on the tip of its tail—a perfect balance for the red top of its bill! As if they’re not colorful enough, they have bright blue feet. They’re social birds that not only travel together in small flocks, but several toucans easily can share one space in the hollow of a tree. To top off their social behavior, they can sometimes be seen throwing fruit into each others’ mouths!

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A Keel-billed Toucan, Belize’s national bird!

You need not be a serious birder to have fun with the birds of Belize! Sign up at Hamanasi’s Adventure Center and be ready to be amazed.