From orange orioles and emerald green hummingbirds busy among the flowers to stately herons in the wetlands and the aerial displays of pelicans and ospreys diving for fish, the Yucatan Peninsula is a birder’s paradise. With 548 species recorded here in the jungles and wetlands you don’t have to go far to start notching up your own impressive tally of sightings.

Now available for a minimum of two people, an early morning Puerto Morelos birding trip takes you to a jungle reserve to hear the dawn chorus, a clamor of birdsong and the raucous rattle-like calls of chachalacas, parrots and green jays. Look out for flocks of bright blue Yucatan jays, solitary keel-billed toucans, tanagers, trogons and the Yucatán’s own bird of paradise, the turquoise-browed motmot. Before sunrise, you may even hear the distinctive call of the pygmy owl in the distance.

Your guides for the Puerto Morelos trip Luis Ku or Hernan Esquivel are two of the area’s most knowledgeable birders. Departure is at 5 a.m. from your resort and you’ll be back at around 12 noon; snacks are included.

Elsewhere in the Puerto Morelos area, the Yaaxche-Alfredo Barrera Marin Botanical Garden along Highway 307 just to the south of the village is a great spot to start bird watching. Keep your eyes open for green jays, parrots, great kiskadees and social flycatchers, and families of spider monkeys foraging for fruit in the forest canopy.

Ancient Mayan cities are also great bird watching spots

Elsewhere in the area, when visiting archaeological sites such as Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Ek Balam and Coba, watch out for birds. Archaeological sites are national parks and, as protected areas, are a haven for a wealth of species and other wildlife. Sightings range from the turquoise-browed motmot that makes its nest in the limestone walls of cenotes and ancient temples, to hawks, eagles, woodpeckers, hummingbirds and flocks of swallows and parrots.

Uxmal even has its own Temple of the Birds adorned with stucco carvings of sacred birds such as parrots, macaws and quetzals.

Exploring the Yucatan Peninsula’s Biosphere Reserves

If you are a nature lover or an avid birder, you must visit one or more of the Yucatan Peninsula’s biosphere reserves. Eco trips are available to Sian Ka’an, Contoy and Holbox-Yum Balam in Quintana Roo and to Rio Lagartos in Yucatan. If you plan to travel further afield, Celestun Biosphere Reserve on the west coast of the Yucatan, and Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in southern Campeche are also paradise for birders.


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 protected area since 1961, and declared a national park in 1998, Contoy is a refuge for 150 species of native and migrant birds. It has 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.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

The name Sian Ka’an means “where the sky is born” in Maya and this huge reserve offers endless vistas of jungle, wetlands and lagoons. 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. 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.

Many visitors start their Sian Ka’an adventures in Muyil, an archaeological site in the jungle that is a short walk from the Muyil or Chunyaxche Lagoon. As you walk through the trees you may see woodpeckers, jays, trogons and chacalacas and keep a look out for hummingbirds in a clearing near one of the wooden observation towers. Lagoon side, northern jacanas step daintily through the shallows and herons motionless on the wooden dock. Many more herons and other waders will take to the wing during an exciting boat trip through the mangroves.

Río Lagartos Biosphere Reserve

Río Lagartos Reserve is the place to see one of the Yucatán’s natural wonders, thousands of flamingos. So many of them gather here that they literally dye the horizon pink!

Stretching along the coast of northern Yucatán, Río Lagartos is a 60,348-hectare biosphere reserve of mangroves, salt marshes, dunes and tropical forest that is home to 365 bird species and North America’s largest nesting colony of Caribbean flamingo. You’ll want to spend hours watching these gawky birds high stepping through the shallows, preening their showy feathers or in flight formation. Their salmon pink plumage is much brighter than that of other flamingo species in South America and Africa and is due to a diet of minute brine shrimp and other crustaceans found only in area lagoons.

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. Some of them 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 Artic Circle, reddish and snowy egrets, roseate spoonbills, skimmers, peregrine falcons and kingfishers.

Holbox & Yum Balam Reserve

As you cross the Yalahau Lagoon from the port of Chiquila to the island of Holbox on the coast of northern Quintana Roo you’ll spot cormorants, anhingas, osprey and terns in flight and herons standing guard in the shallows. Gulls, pelicans and frigate birds follow the fishing fleet in the hope of a morsel.

Holbox is part of the Yum Balam Biosphere Reserve, an area of mangrove forest, marshland, lagoons and tropical forest rich in wildlife. Boat trips are available through Yalahau Lagoon and the surrounding wetlands and they always pass a sand bar called Isla de los Pajaros where you’ll often see flamingos feeding in the shallows, little blue and green heron and flocks of white egrets.

As the sun goes down to the west over the Gulf of Mexico, the noise is deafening as herons, ibis, cormorants and other waders gather in the mangroves to roost.

Celestun Biosphere Reserve

Located on the west coast of the Yucatán, 92 km from Merida via Highway 281, The Celestun Biosphere Reserve protects 81,482 hectares of tropical forest, mangroves, estuaries and beaches. Celestun is bordered to the north by the El Palmar Reserve and to the south by the Los Petenes Biosphere Reserve in Campeche.

The reserve is home to more than 300 species of bird, including the flamingo, the elusive boat-billed heron, agami and night herons, pygmy kingfisher, sandwich tern and the osprey. Local fishermen offer boat trips along the estuary to see the flamingos, but you’ll see many more species during your voyage.

Calakmul Biosphere Reserve

Calakmul is a must for avid birders, nature lovers and history buffs with a spirit of adventure. This vast biosphere reserve in southern Campeche is a UNESCO World Heritage Site twice over, for its jungle rich in wildlife and the ancient Mayan city of Calakmul, one of the largest archaeological sites found to date in southeast Mexico.

The largest tropical forest reserve in Mexico, Calakmul is a haven for jaguar, puma, ocelot, howler and spider monkeys, tapirs, peccary, agouti, coatimundi and deer and 358 species of birds. Parrots chatter in the treetops and flocks of ocellated turkey scratch the ground for insects. Keep watch for keel-billed toucan, collared aracari and emerald toucanet. Rarer sightings are the secretive great curassow, crested caracara and the zopilote rey or king vulture.

Yucatan is on one of the world’s most important migratory routes for birds

While you can spot colorful birds year-round in the Yucatan Peninsula, the winter brings added attractions for nature lovers. More than 150 million birds migrate south from the United States and Canada to escape the bitter cold. They spend the season in the area’s coastal wetlands and jungles or pause to rest and feed before continuing their journey. The list of 226 winter migratory species includes wood storks, white pelicans and waders, ducks, hawks and the tiny ruby-throated hummingbird that makes an incredible 30-hour journey across the Gulf of Mexico non-stop!

Book your Bird watching and Eco Trips

Contact Thomas More Travel to book your Puerto Morelos birding trip or visits to Sian Ka’an, Rio Lagartos, Contoy and other reserves in the area.