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With some 618 recorded species of resident and migrant birds identified throughout the country, and a wide variety of ecosystems and habitats, Belize abounds with great bird-watching sites. Even amateur bird-watchers should have little trouble checking off upwards of 100 species in a week's worth of watching.

Lodges with the best bird-watching include Chan Chich Lodge, near Gallon Jug; Lamanai Outpost Lodge on the New River Lagoon; Chaa Creek, duPlooy's, or any of the nature lodges outside of San Ignacio; Blancaneaux Lodge or any of the lodges in the Mountain Pine Ridge area; Lighthouse Reef Resort on the Lighthouse Reef Atoll; Pook's Hill outside of Belmopan; and The Lodge at Big Falls in the Toledo District.

Some of the best parks and reserves for serious birders are Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve, for scarlet macaws and a host of primary forest dwellers; Shipstern Nature Reserve, for scores of different sea and shore birds; Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, for large varieties of wading birds, including the jabiru stork; Man-O-War Caye, a major nesting site for the magnificent frigate; Caracol Mayan ruins and the Chiquibil National Park, for many different resident and migratory forest species; Half Moon Caye, for the vast nesting flocks of red-footed boobies; and the Río Bravo Conservation Area, for ocellated turkeys and trogons. You'll also find excellent bird-watching in neighboring Guatemala's Petén province and around the Tikal area.

Bird-watchers staying on Ambergris Caye should certainly head to the Bacalar Chico National Park & Marine Preserve.

A Bird-Watcher's Bible -- Any serious bird-watcher will want to pick up a copy of Birds of Belize (University of Texas Press) by H. Lee Jones. Published in January 2004, this dedicated guide to the birds of Belize was long overdue. The book is wonderfully illustrated by Dana Gardener, and includes 574 species of birds.

Tour Operators

Sierra Club (tel. 415/977-5588; www.sierraclub.org) leads at least one 10-day trip each year to Belize, often with a side trip to Guatemala. The focus is on bird-watching and natural history, but you'll also visit several Mayan ruins and spend some time on Caye Caulker. The cost is between US$2,300 and US$3,700 (£1,219-£1,961) per person, not including airfare to Belize.

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (tel. 800/328-8368 or 512/328-5221 in the U.S.; www.ventbird.com) is a very well-respected small-group tour operator specializing in bird-watching trips, and a pioneer of the genre in Belize. These tours focus primarily on the area around Chan Chich Lodge and Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, two of the country's prime bird-watching destinations. Their 10-day trip costs US$4,275 (£2,266) and is limited to 10 participants.

Wings (tel. 888/293-6443 or 520/320-9868; www.wingsbirds.com) is also a specialty bird-watching travel operator with more than 28 years of experience in the field. Its 7-day Belize trip is based at the remote and luxurious Chan Chich Lodge and costs around US$3,800 (£2.014), not including airfare. Trip size is limited to eight people.

A Belizean Birding Company

In addition to the operator listed, the Belize Audubon Society (tel. 223-4985; www.belizeaudubon.org) is an active and informative organization worth contacting.

Paradise Expeditions (tel. 824-2772; www.birdinginbelize.com) specializes in bird-watching trips and adventures. Based in San Ignacio in the Cayo District, these folks offer small-group package tours and personalized guided and unguided itineraries to a selection of the top birding spots and lodges in Belize and western Tikal. A 7-day/6-night tour costs around US$1,295 (£686) per person.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.