Situated on the eastern coast of Central America, Belize has many geographical features that culminate in a land rich in fauna and flora. Please join me for a two-part wildlife series, visiting this exotic country.
We’ll start with the birds of Belize; and in the second part, next week, we’ll look at all the other wildlife.
There are 603 different bird species in Belize…that’s a lot for a small country of 8,800 square miles (22,800 sq. km.). The large country of Canada, for perspective, has 686 bird species.
Parrots and toucans say “tropical” right from the start.
Positioned between South and North America, Belize is part of a corridor called the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. This is a natural land bridge between the two continents, crucial for animal migration. It contains 7-10% of the world’s wildlife species.
In addition, Belize is bordered on the east by the Caribbean Sea, offering a plethora of coastal sea life. The Belize Barrier Reef is approximately 190 miles (300 km) long, and is part of a larger reef system yielding hundreds of species of fish, coral, and invertebrates.
Where there are fish, there are fish-hunting birds. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the Belize Barrier Reef is a playground for birdwatching and many other water sports and activities.
Birds found along coastal Belize include the waders, like herons, as well as pelicans, frigatebirds, shorebirds, and many more.
Some bird species live in Belize year-round, and others migrate here for the winter. This summer tanager below, for example, spends the winter enjoying Belize’s warm weather and a diet of bees and wasps; then flies north in summer to breed in parts of Central and North America.
The turquoise waters of the Caribbean are not easy to leave behind, but nonetheless we headed westward to the interior of the country, finding a luxuriant terrestrial habitat, well worth the effort.
Inland lagoons and rivers attract jabiru, kingfishers, raptors, spoonbills…to name just a few.
Thirty-seven percent of Belize’s land territory is protected, more than most small countries.
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is a protected wetland, one of my favorite places in Belize. Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is another protected nature reserve on the eastern slopes of the Maya Mountains.
There are also many Mayan ruins in Belize, an additional source of open space and wildlife in jungle environments. Here we saw many species of trogons and songbirds, and bigger woodland birds like oropendulas and guans.
Hummingbirds thrive here. Of the 300-350 hummingbird species in the world, Belize hosts an amazing 26 species (there are about a dozen hummingbird species in the U.S.).
Ascending into the mountains, the habitat and weather change, yielding rare falcon species, hawks, and owls.
Join me next week in the second half of this two-part series, celebrating all the other delightful wildlife we came across.
Written by Jet Eliot.
All photos by Athena Alexander, all taken in Belize.