Costa Maya, Xcalak and Mahahual (Majahual) Visitors pages - Birds |

Over sixty-percent of the Mundo Maya bird species are permanent residents; the rest are migratory, heading north to summer in the United States and Canada. Some make short stops in the region as they travel between North and South America; others simply choose to linger around the Caribbean. To reach Mundo Maya directly from the United States or Canada the birds must cross the Gulf of Mexico, which implies flying over 1,000 kilometers of open sea (some of the birds stick to land, but the majority do not). This arduous journey, performed every year by so many fragile creatures, is a marvel of nature. Depending on wind direction and speed, the birds will fly continuously for 20 to 40 hours.

The rarest, most exotic of the region's birds are jungle dwellers. Many prefer the ground to the trees, and the Great Tinamou (Tinamus major) will sprint for distances of five to ten meters, but only if threatened. The Ocellated Turkey and the Great Currasow (Crax rubra), both of which stand about a meter tall, also keep their feet on the ground.

The Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) sticks to the forest, flying through the trees and dodging obstacles with consummate grace. It is endangered as a result of deforestation, but the Horned Guan (Oreophasis derbianus) is in even greater peril; only a handful still exist, in the cloud forests of the El Triunfo Reserve in Chiapas, Mexico.

The tropical birds par excellence are the parrots and macaws, otherwise known as Psittacidae (order). There are approximately 20 types of Psittacidae, most of which are green; the exception is the great Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao), with stunning red, blue and yellow plumage.

The jungle is full of shrieking Chachalaca (Ortalis vetula) and song birds like the Clay-Colored Robin (Turdus grayi) and the Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus), whose parrot, dog and chicken imitations are eerily on the mark.

Hawks, falcons, eagles, owls and other birds of prey are plentiful, as are the Passeriformes, represented by dozens of species of flycatchers, woodpeckers and other insectivores. Included among the 20 or so kinds of woodpeckers is the giant, 35-cm-tall Flint-Billed Woodpecker (Campephilus guatemalensis).

Toucans are real attention-grabbers for their raucous call and extraordinary beaks; the Keel-Billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus) is probably the most familiar.

Species commonly referred to as plovers, sandpipers and turnstones also live on the beach. Plovers scavenge through the sand behind retreating waves, searching for edible "left-behinds." Sandpipers have long narrow beaks used to "drill" the sand for food. Turnstones do exactly that, turn over rocks and shells in search of a meal.

The estuaries and marshes along the Caribbean of Mundo Maya constitute its wetlands habitat, home to some of the largest birds in the world. One can see entire colonies of the most exotic birds-flamingos, herons, giant storks, etc.-in the Americas, species easily recognized by their large feet and long beaks.

The largest stork is the Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria), also the largest bird on the continent with a wingspan of three meters and the height of an average man. Unique and unmistakable with stark white plumage, it has a narrow, down-curving black beak and a red band around its neck. The remaining Jabiru populations keeps to the grassy, coastal savannas of Mundo Maya. There are only about 20 pairs nesting in the Yucatan Peninsula (mostly around Términos Lagoon), and about 100 more in Belize. Jabiru nests are usually found in trees standing alone, making them eminently visible. Given the bird's "endangered species" status, however, visitors are advised to keep their distance. The Jabiru frightens easily and could be scared off its nest, leaving the young to die.

The region's many reserves have secured the protection of at least 90 percent of its bird population, including most of the endangered species. Spread throughout the five nations of Mundo Maya are the following major reserves: the Maya Biosphere Reserve (Guatemala); Río Plátano Reserve (Honduras); Community Baboon Sanctuary (Belize); and Mexican Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve (Quintana Roo), Términos Lagoon Reserve and the Calakmul Reserve (Campeche), Centla Marshes Reserve (Tabasco), and El Triunfo and Montes Azules Reserves (Chiapas).

Great Tinamou (Crypturellus soui)

Great TinamouTinamou, any of about 47 species of birds of the family Tinamidae, found from southern Mexico through Central and South America. Tinamous are believed to be the closest of living birds to the ancestors of the ratites, the large flightless birds including the ostrich, cassowaries, emus, kiwis, rheas, and the extinct elephant bird and moas. Their flight is strong and swift but inaccurate and of short duration. The birds live in varied habitats, ranging from the floor of tropical rain forests to bleak Andean hillsides; run rapidly and strongly; and conceal themselves with great skill rather than take to flight. Their food is miscellaneous, consisting of seeds, insects, and berries, and their flesh is edible. The birds are polygamous, and the eggs are large and glossy.

Great Tinamou

Plain Chachalaca (Ortalis aetula), Chachalaca (Ortalis cinereiceps)

Gray headed ChahcalacaThe Chachalaca is aprox. 18-21" (46-53 cm). W. 26" (66 cm). Crow-sized. Olive-brown, with a long tail glossed with green and tipped with white. Slightly crested, with patches of bare, pinkish-red skin at sides of throat. It has a l
Loud, raucous cha-cha-lac voice, often in chorus at dawn and dusk. Call of male lower pitched than female's. It's habitat is mostly tiverside woodlands and thickets.

It usually nests 3 dull-white eggs in a stick nest lined with leaves and moss, usually on a low tree limb. Resident from extreme southern Texas to Nicaragua.

ChachalacaThese noisy, gregarious birds are a feature of the Rio Grande delta and locally common in the Sabal Palm Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary. Although primarily arboreal in habits, they often come to the ground to feed on leaves, buds, berries, nuts, insects, and human handouts. Where they are not protected, they are hunted as game.


Ornate Hawk-Eagle (Spizaëtus ornatus)

Noted by its black crest and bronze face, the ornate hawk-eagle lives in the lowland rain forests of the Mundo Maya, where it feeds on small animals.

Red Macaw, Ara Macao

Red MacawLiving in the jungles of state of Chiapas, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras, the macaw was valued by the Maya for its tail feathers. In recent years, numbers have dropped because of illegal trading.

Red Macaw, Ara Macao soundRed Macaw, Ara Macao video

Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria)

JabiruWith its dashing scarlet collar and huge white wings, the rare jabiru stork can sometimes be sighted in the wetlands and plains of southeast Mexico and Belize.

Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria) video

Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)

QuetzalGuatemala's National bird, the quetzal lives in the cloud forest of Guatemala, the states of Chiapas and Quintana Roo, Mexico, and part of Honduras. Prized by the Maya for its feathers, the quetzal is also a symbol of freedom.
The diet is lizards, bugs, and insects when young. Fruits (mainly wild avocado) when older. It's enemies are larger animals and humans (habitat destruction).
The male quetzal is recognizable by its nearly two-foot-long brilliant green tail, shiny feathers and brilliant appearance. Its tail can be 60 cm long. The quetzal itself is about 30-35 cm. The female is dull in color and has a shorter tail. It remains camouflaged from predators by the leafy, overcast cloud-forest. Their beaks are very weak so they build their nests in rotting trees. Females usually lay two eggs and both parents share in caring for the young. They are a solitary creature.

The quetzal was considered divine by the Aztec Indians of Mexico and worshiped as God of the air. The quetzal was also sacred to other Central American Indians such as the Toltecs and the Mayas.

Quetza callQuetzal (Pharomachrus) video

Emerald Toucan (Aulacorhynchus prasinus)

TucanThe familiar yellow beak immediately identifies the emerald toucanet. With its chestnut tail and deep emerald plumage, this bird lives in the cloud forests of the Mundo Maya.
The habitat is Central and South America. Lowland rainforests and palm groves. The diet is fruits, insects, lizards, small birds, eggs, berries, and rodents. It's enemies are birds of prey and large snakes.

There are about 40 different species of toucans. They live in the holes of decayed trees. Their bill is frightening to other birds and small animals. Their bill is 4 times as big as their head. They have 2 toes forward and 2 toes backwards. This gives them an excellent grip on trees. Their tongue is feathered. Toucans are well camouflaged. They sleep with their bill over their back. The toucans' flying skills are poor.

They are blind when born. They open their eyes around 3 weeks. They leave the nest at 8 weeks. Both parents share incubation. Usually there are 2-4 eggs. The eggs are white glossy.

Emerald Toucan (Aulacorhynchus prasinus) sound Emerald Toucan (Aulacorhynchus prasinus) video

Ocellelate Turkey

Ocellelate turkeyThere are only 2 species of turkey in the world; the North American wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), divided into 5 distinct subspecies, and the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata). The ocellated turkey is known by several different names that vary by Central American locale: pavo, pavo ocelado, or its Mayan Indian name, ucutz il chican.

Very little research has been done on the ocellated and less is known about the ecology of this turkey than any of the 5 subspecies of North American wild turkeys, including the Gould's. The National Wild Turkey Federation, in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society and Hornocker Wildlife Institute, helped sponsor the first research project to trap and place radio transmitters on ocellated turkeys in Guatemala in 1993.

The ocellated turkey exists only in a 50,000 square mile area comprised of the Yucatán Peninsula range includes the states of Quintana Roo, Campeche, Petán, and Yucatan, as well as parts of southern Tabasco and northeastern Chiapas.

The ocellated turkey is easily distinguished from its North American cousin in appearance. The body feathers of both male and female birds have a bronze-green iridescent color mixture, although females sometimes appear duller in color with more green than bronze pigments. Unlike North American turkeys, breast feathers of male and female ocellated turkeys do not differ and cannot be used to determine sex. Neither male nor female birds have a beard.

Tail feathers in both sexes are bluish-gray in color with a well defined, eye-shaped, blue-bronze colored spot near the end followed by bright gold tip. The tail feather spots are similar to those seen on peacock feathers which led some scientists to once believe the ocellated was more related to peafowl than turkeys. In fact, these spots helped give the ocellated its name, as the Latin word for eye is oculus.

The upper, major secondary wing coverts, or wing bar, are a rich copper color and highly iridescent. The barring on primary and secondary wing feathers is similar to North American turkeys, but the secondaries contain more white coloration, especially on the outer edges.

Both sexes have a blue-colored head and neck with distinctive orange to red, warty, carbuncle-like growths, called nodules, but they are more pronounced on males. The head of the male also has a fleshy blue crown behind the snoot which is adorned with yellow-orange nodules similar to those on the neck. During breeding season, this crown enlarges and the coloration of the nodules becomes more pronounced. Ocellated turkeys also have a distinct eye-ring of bright red colored skin, especially visible on adult males during the breeding season.

Legs of ocellated turkeys are shorter and thinner than North American wild turkeys and are deep red in color. Legs of adult males also have pronounced spurs; longer and more attenuated than those of North American gobblers. Spur lengths in males over 1 year old average at least 1.5 inches. Spurs longer than 2 inches have been recorded.

Ocellated turkeys are significantly smaller than any of the 5 subspecies of North American wild turkeys. Adult hens weigh approximately 8 pounds just prior to egg-laying and nesting and about 6-7 pounds the remainder of the year. During the breeding season adult males weigh approximately 11-12 pounds.

Ocellelate TurkeyOcellate Turkey video


Colibrí or Hummingbird

Humming birdThe habitat is rainforest, South America, North America in warm regions and near flowers. The diet is insects, flowers, honeysuckle, sap, nectar. It's enemies are some hawks, other birds of prey and snakes.
There are over 300 species of hummingbirds. The hummingbird can beat its wings up to 200 to 300 times a second. Most hummingbirds are tiny. They are the smallest birds in the world. Hummingbirds range in length from 5.7 cm to 21.5 cm. Hummingbirds have a long tongue which they use to get nectar from flowers. If threatened, hummingbirds are not afraid to attack eagles and hawks.
The female almost always lay two eggs. The eggs are the size of beans. The babies are blind and have no feathers when born.
For its size, a hummingbird uses more energy in a day than any other warm-blooded animal. Hummingbirds spend most of their day searching for flowers and bugs. Their ability to "hover" makes it perfect for them to fly into swarms of insects and eat them for food. Hummingbirds can fly backwards and forwards. The Ruby-Throated hummingbird and many others migrate south for the winter.
Hummingbirds cannot smell so they must find their food by sight. They are attracted to red and sometimes yellow flowers. Hummingbirds will eat sap when flower nectar is scarce. They are pollinators for many plants in the rainforest.

Hummingbird Hummingbird video

Brown Pelican

Braun PelicanThe pelicans are indeed famous for their beaks, which they fill with huge gulps of water, strain out the liquid, and eat the remaining fish or squid. These Brown Pelicans are found throughout the coast of Mexico including the Costa Maya. Pelicans are a very distinct group (all 8 species belong to a single genus), and there remains debate about which other birds are their closest relatives. Fossils of pelicans go back 40 million years (Elliott 1992), so their feeding strategies have obviously been successful. However, two basic types of strategies are used: plunge-diving (used by the Brown Pelican of North America and its close relative along the western South American coast, the Peruvian Pelican Pelecanus thagus) and group fishing (used by the various white pelicans of the world). Adults have the odd bill protuberances in the breeding season, while younger birds do not.

Pelicans are among the larger and heavier birds in the world, so they are very impressive in flight. Breeding colonies of all species require protected islets away from predators.

The Brown Pelican was heavily impacted by the insecticide DDT in the 1950s and '60s, and breeding populations plummeted. Happily today (unless your a fish) the pelican is in abundance and doing fine.

Pelican soundPelican video

Crested Guan

Crested Guan Primarily tree-living birds, crested guans forage in small groups up in the treetops, walking slowly along the branches and leaping across gaps. They will, however, come down to the ground to collect fallen fruit and seeds and to find drinking water. Male and female birds look alike. In the breeding season, guans perform a wing-drumming display. While in flight, the bird begins to beat its wings at twice the normal speed, producing a whirring sound that is maintained for several seconds. A bulky nest, sited in a tree, is made from twigs and lined with leaves. The usual clutch is 2 or 3 eggs, and the female guan does most of the incubation.

Crested Guan sound
Crested Guan video

Sandhill Crane, Grulla Cenicienta

Sandhill Crane, Grulla CenicientaThe sandhill crane is a very tall, stately bird clad in elegant rusty plumes on a background of silver-gray. It dominates the tundra scene wherever it occurs, towering over the dwarf vegetation and filling the air with its great resonant voice, produced in a chamber within its breastbone. This voice has a special power to stir the human heart. It migrates from the tundra of Canada and Alaska to as far south as the Costa Maya and Cuba.

Despite great stature (one and a half meters) and wingspan (two meters) cranes are lightly built, weighing less than a large goose. Their lightness and huge wings are adaptations for long-range flight; thus their extensive migrations.

Cranes are also well-known for their stately courtship rituals, an unforgettable mixture of graceful neck postures, wing flourishes, dance steps, and cries. People the world over have considered sandhill cranes and their relatives to be special creatures. They occur again and again in local art, folklore and sacred traditions. If you see one you have seen a very special and rare bird.

Sandhill Crane, Grulla Cenicienta soundSandhill Crane video

King Vulture, Zopilite Rey (Sarcoramphus papa)

King Vulture, Zopilite Rey (Sarcoramphus papa)The King Vulture measures 32 inches, with a wingspan of 4 to 5 feet. This is the largest of the new world vultures, excluding the condors. The King Vulture finds its food with its incredibly keen sight and well-developed sense of smell. It also relies on other gatherings of vultures to alert it as to the presence of food. Though it appears to dominate over a feeding site, this vulture actually relies on other stronger-beaked carrion-eaters to initially rip open the hide of a carcass. Often the first at a carcass-site anyhow, this vulture will eat the eyes of the animal while waiting for the other vultures. Eyes are both highly nutritious and easy to reach before the animal's hide is opened. The King vulture spends hours in flight, soaring without flapping it wings for long periods of times. It searches for carcasses while riding thermals, much higher in the air than other species of vulture, which prefer to soar close to the treetops.

King Vultures are found ranging from southern Mexico to southern Argentina. These birds prefer densely forested tropical lowland habitat, up to 4000 feet. This vulture is usually the dominant bird at a carcass. King vulture chicks are black when they hatch, and retain this plumage for almost three years before they are completely covered with their pure white adult feathers, though they leave their nest area at about one year of age.

King Vultures nest on the ground, in treestumps, hollow logs, or other natural cavities. Their nest consists of very little material; usually just scratched out of the existing substrate. Males and females appear identical in coloration and size. The King Vulture usually lays a solitary egg. Both parents share the responsibilities of incubation. The habitat of the king vulture is decreasing rapidly, and the vulture has become imperiled due to increases in development all over its natural range.

The Mayans of Central America used the King Vulture as their hieroglyph for Cib, the thirteenth day of the month, often accompanied by a rain sign.

King Vulture video

Scaled Quail, Cordorniz (Callipepla squamata)

Scaled Quail, Cordorniz (Callipepla squamata) Scaled Quail are sometimes referred to as blue racer quail, blue quail, Cordorniz Azul, Cordordniz Escamosa, cottontop quail, Mexican quail, scaled partridge, top-knot quail. There are four subspecies of Scaled quail. The C.s. castanogastris, often called Chestnut bellied quail, are found in southern Texas and eastern Coahuila Mexico. C.s. pallida can be found in southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and western Texas. C.s. hargravei is found in western Oklahoma, South western Kansas, south-eastern Colorado, northern New Mexico, and north west Texas. C.s.squamata is found in northern Sonora and Tampaulipas south to the valley of Mexico, and of course the Costa Maya area.

Scaled Quail range from 25 to 30 cm (10 –12 in) in length. The wings, when folded, are 10.9 to 12.1 cm (4.29 to 4.76 in) in males, and 10.95 to 12.0 cm (4.31 to 4.72 in) in females. The tail length ranges from 7.5 to 9.0 cm (2.95 to 3.54 in) in males and 7.5 to 8.8 cm (2.95 to 3.46 in) in females. The average weight for males is 179g and 173g in females.

The sexes are similar in appearance. They are bluish gray with extensive markings on the back, breast and abdomen with blackish "scaly" markings . The crest varies in color from buff in females to more whitish in males.

Scaled Quail, Cordorniz (Callipepla squamata) soundQuail video

Reddish Egret, Garza Rojiza (Dichromanassa rufescens)

Reddish Egret, Garza Rojiza (Dichromanassa rufescens)A stocky heron of intermediate size (total length about 76 centimeters), smaller than the great egret (Casmerodius albus), distinctly larger and stouter than the little blue heron which it resembles in color, with a much heavier bill. Dimorphic, dark phase adults are deep reddish brown on the head and neck and slaty blue on the body; white phase birds are all white or may have grayish wingtips. Immatures of the dark phase are pale to dark gray throughout. Adults in breeding condition develop long plumes on the back, a shaggy mane of plumes on the head and neck, and garish soft part colors (bill black-tipped with bright pink base, lores violet, legs cobalt blue, feet black). At other times adults have a bicolor bill (dark tip, light base) and blackish legs and feet.

Almost entirely a coastal species nesting on mangrove islands and feeding in the surrounding shallows. Rarely seen in inland freshwater habitats even in extreme southern Florida. Breeds on the Gulf Coast of the United States in Texas, Louisiana, and southern Florida, south to the West Indies and Mexico. Generally a resident where it breeds; however, wanders widely, especially immatures. Up to about 1890, it was much more abundant and widespread in Florida and nested north to Tampa Bay and the Cape Canaveral area. Now a rather uncommon species throughout its range. The Texas population, numbering in the low thousands, is the largest known. Florida birds number about 300. The numbers in the Costa Maya area is not known.

Great Egret soundGreat Egret video

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