When autumn temperatures began to drop in Canada and the United States more than 150 million birds take flight and head south for the warmth of the Yucatan following what is one of the world’s most important migratory routes for birds. The area’s coastal lagoons and salt flats and inland jungles welcome an additional 226 species of migratory birds, large and small, from birds of prey to waterfowl, waders and songbirds, a magnet for birdwatchers and nature lovers.
Some birds spend the winter season in the Yucatan or pause to feed and rest on the coast before continuing their journey south. Migrants include arctic terns, ospreys, wood storks, white pelicans from northern Canada, widgeon, teal, pintail, scaup and shoveler ducks, the painted bunting and the ruby-throated hummingbird that makes an incredible 30-hour journey across the Gulf of Mexico non-stop!
Birdwatchers and wildlife fans visiting the biosphere reserves of Rio Lagartos, Contoy and Sian Ka’an and other good birding spots are guaranteed plenty of winter sightings of colorful species in the mangroves and jungle.
Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve
First stop for many exhausted migrant birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico, Ría Lagartos Reserve protects 60,348 hectares of mangroves, salt marshes, dunes and tropical forest that is home to jaguars, monkeys, crocodiles and 365 bird species, including North America’s largest nesting colony of Caribbean flamingo.
Fishermen from the waterfront village of Río Lagartos offer boat trips along the ria or estuary and through the mangroves to the flamingo feeding grounds. Many of them are trained eco guides and carry checklists to help you identify the birds you see. Keep a lookout for flocks of white pelicans that migrate from as far north as the Arctic Circle, reddish and snowy egrets, roseate spoonbills, skimmers, peregrine falcons and kingfishers.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Straddling northern and central Quintana Roo, this UNESCO World Heritage Site comprises 1.3 million acres of tropical forest, mangroves, Caribbean beaches and a 110-kilometer-stretch of coral reef. The biosphere reserve was established by government decree in 1986 to protect these fragile ecosystems.
Sian Ka’an is home to over 350 species of bird and you are bound to notch up a respectable tally of sightings during a visit. Sixteen varieties of heron and egret – including the boat-billed, tiger and agami heron – nest in the mangroves, along with ibis, roseate spoonbills, wood storks and frigate birds. Flamingos can also sometimes be spotted feeding in coastal lagoons. Parrots, motmots, laughing falcon, great curassow and ocellated turkey are some of the forest dwellers. The reserve also has a large breeding population of ospreys and protects a tiny colony of the rare jabiru stork, the largest bird in the Americas, in the wetlands.
A two-hour boat ride to the north of Cancun, the tiny desert island of Contoy is sometimes referred to in Spanish as la isla de los pajaros or “the island of the birds.”
A two-hour boat trip to the north of Cancun, Contoy has been a protected area since 1961, and was declared a national park in 1998. It is a refuge for 150 species of native and migrant birds, including one of the largest populations of brown pelicans in the Caribbean, a 5,000-strong colony of frigate birds and 3,000 double crested cormorants. Other residents include ten members of the heron family such as the great blue heron, snowy egret and the yellow-crowned night heron. During the winter months, the island is a refuge for migratory ducks, plovers, sandpipers, oystercatchers and other shore birds.
Book your Bird watching and Eco Trips
Your Concierge can help you book trips to Sian Ka’an, Rio Lagartos and Contoy, a Puerto Morelos birding trip and other reserves in the area.