Look up at the sky and get ready to be amazed: Birds of Playa del Carmen and Cancun

Living in Playa del Carmen while working in Cancun gives me a unique opportunity to enjoy the commute between these two cities early in the morning. A couple of weeks ago, while I was driving to the office, I considered making a list of the fauna you see when driving down the Federal Highway. For obvious reasons, most species are birds. They fly over the road and don’t risk becoming roadkill.

Buteo magnirostris by Cristóbal GalindoSo with this plan in mind, I’ve been watching the road but also amusing myself on my way to work trying to spot as many birds as possible. I’ve seen some beautiful things. For instance, Buteo magnirostris is a fairly common bird in the area, and may be seen in the vicinity of highways, hence its name. It’s a relatively small bird of prey (31–41 centimeters [12–16 in] long and weighs 250–300 grams [8.8–11 oz]) and, according to Wikipedia, “is often the most common raptor in its range.” The Roadside Hawk’s diet consists mainly of insects, reptiles, and small mammals. It will also take small birds, but far less often that other super-specialized raptors.

This beautiful raptor is not easy to spot but once you know what you are looking for it will pop up on the electricity lines along the road, in tall trees and sometimes just flying overhead. Once you see it, it’s easy to identify by looking at the lower breast and underparts which are barred brown and white, it has yellow legs and a fairly big beak (magni = big, rostris = beak).

Osprey by Cristóbal GalindoAnd while we’re on the subject of raptors, one of my all-time favorite birds is the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus, also known as sea hawk, fish eagle or fish hawk) and two days ago I saw one while I was crossing the Puerto Morelos bridge, coming from the inland forest towards the ocean. It’s (thankfully) also a fairly common bird to see. Sometimes, going south (towards Tulum) I’ve been able to see some of them with fish on their claws… Amazing! This raptor is easy to identify because of its distinctive brown and white pattern. They normally nest in the highest dead tree in the area and also on antennas or the top of tall buildings.

It’s funny because I have not realized that Seattle Seahawks football team are actually named after this raptor. Now I know, the logo explains itself.

Quiscalus mexicanus by Cristóbal GalindoAll of these are beautiful birds, however, the most common bird in the area is Quiscalus mexicanus a.k.a. Great-tailed Grackle or Mexican Grackle. If you have ever been eating lunch and a black bird with apparently no fear of humans whatsoever comes close to you to steal a piece of food you have left on your plate, that’s almost positively a Mexican Grackle. Males have beautiful metallic black plumage while females are brownish and darker on the back. They are gregarious and noisy birds, meaning you can see flocks of these birds flying all over the city. They don’t seem to be afraid of us and can get very audacious when food is in the equation, sometimes going as far as taking it directly from your hands so beware.

When you start getting closer to the Cancun Hotel Zone and enter by the southern entrance near the airport, you will be surrounded by mangroves, which are the second most productive ecosystem in the planet (second only to coral reefs) and also home to some of the most beautiful birds in the area, including herons, egrets, ibis, roseate spoonbills and cormorants. So far, I have only once been able to see Egretta tricolor the Tricolored Heron, my second favorite egret (first being, Egretta rufescens, the Reddish Egret). As the name suggests, it has beautiful tricolored feathers and was formerly known as the Louisiana Heron. It is a fairly small egret and is quite shy and not easy to spot but trust me, whenever you see one you’ll remember it for the rest of your life.

Egretta tricolor by Cristóbal Galindo

If you like bird watching I recommend the Bird Watching Tour offered by Thomas More Travel

Stay posted for more articles about the birds and animals I see on my daily journey to work and my travels through the Mexican Caribbean. This is what I’ve been able to identify in just a few days, there are many more!. If you have a picture of an animal or bird that you’d like us to help you identify, share it with us on Facebook! Also, feel free to post your question in the Comments section or Ask Joanna and we’ll answer you ASAP.

See you soon!

1 reply
  1. Carrie Roberts Watson
    Carrie Roberts Watson says:

    We are staying at the Royal Haciendas and a large bird of prey was just sitting on our deck railing. It was already dark so I was surprised to see it. I wanted a picture of it but if I tried I knew the flash needed for the night picture would scare it off. I was so surprised to see this raptor here like that.


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