Neotropical migratory birds in northeast Belize


Evaluating a stepping-stone for Neotropical migratory birds: the northeast Belize Biological Corridor (September 2007 – November 2008)

Status – Finished


The factors limiting populations of Neotropical migrants are becoming increasingly well understood and may act both on the breeding and non-breeding (wintering) grounds.  Lying on a major flyway for migrants from the eastern and boreal regions of North America and being situated close to the main arrival and departure points for birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico, Belize is expected to provide resources to a range of species both during migration and winter. To examine how migrants use this region, we focused on an ecosystem matrix in northeast Belize that has been proposed for inclusion in a biological corridor. The study was aimed at increasing our understanding of habitat/site use and migratory strategies in Central America, while also generating data that can feed into the process of prioritising areas/habitats for conservation in Belize. The project deployed complimentary research techniques such as bird banding and transects and had an important education and training component that aimed to generate local ornithological research capacity and to increase the awareness of local communities about migratory birds. Training activities resulted in the formation of Belize’s first bird banding group at the University of Belize.

Key findings & achievements

  • The study area hosted important communities of Neotropical migrant birds: 63 landbird species on autumn migration, 53 species on spring migration and 23 landbird species recorded during the ‘winter’ months
  • Migratory strategies showed considerable variation between species and seasons
  • Three species of Empidonax flycatchers were abundant on autumn migration but absent during spring migration, suggesting alternative spring and autumn routes/strategies
  • Northeast Belize serves as an autumn stopover site for many species that cross the Gulf of Mexico, although many individuals carry sufficient energy reserves for onward migration
  • During spring migration most species arrived in the study area with large energy reserves – sufficient to cross the Gulf of Mexico to North America – and did not appear to accumulate further reserves in northeast Belize
  • Of the five habitats studied in winter, Black Mangrove held the highest density of wintering migrants followed by semi-deciduous forest interspersed with Milpas, semi-deciduous forest and evergreen forest
  • Habitat use varied between species and also with time of year, probably due to effects of the dry season.
  • To maximize the overwinter survival of the migrant community in Belize it is necessary to maintain a matrix of natural habitats and consider landscape scale habitat availability
  • 60 people participated in education initiatives including banding demonstrations and birdwatching walks; 11 students created a “Migration Leaflet” about migratory birds in Sarteneja; 30 people received training in bird banding techniques.
  • We established the University of Belize Bird Banding Group through training activities and the donation of equipment.


Documents for download

– Gómez, C. & Bayly, N.J. (2010). Habitat use, abundance and persistence of Neotropical migrant birds in a habitat matrix in northeast Belize. Journal of Field Ornithology 81(2): 237-251. PDF
– Gómez, C. & N. J. Bayly. (2011) Migration of Empidonax flycatchers through northeast Belize. Ornitología Neotropical 22 (3): 339-345. PDF
– Final Report presented to the Belize Forest Department  PDF
– Short report on Neotropical migrants in mangroves PDF


Rufford Small Grants Foundation:
– Idea Wild:

 Project staff

Project director – Nick Bayly
Assistant director – Camila Gomez