We boated down the Rio Nuevo (New River) Safari in Belize on high alert for the wildlife we might encounter along the way. It wasn’t long before we spotted a striking waterbird that was delicately tiptoeing across the lily pads lining the bank. Frankly, it was pretty hard to miss, even for our untrained eyes. The unusual cinnamon red wings stood out against the contrasting greenish-black head and breast. Most notable of all was the extravagant flourish it wore well – a brilliant yellow cap and matching bill.
“The Jesus Christ bird,” our guide gestured. He slowed down and quieted the engine to get us in for a closer look. But, it was too late. The bird’s focus on food shifted to us. It let out a series of sharp squawks and then launched up into the sky letting its long, pale legs trail behind it. We watched the brilliant wings flutter away until it resettled downriver to continue its hunt.
“Jesus Christ” bird?
We discovered from our guide that the colloquial name for the Northern Jacana references a Biblical story you can find in Matthew 14:25-33 where Jesus miraculously walked on water. With awkward and unusually long toes (roughly half its body size), Northern Jacana walk easily and elegantly on floating plants like algae and lotus, inspiring its miracle-working name. Jesus Christ birds live commonly along its native rivers and marshes that stretch from Mexico all the way to Panama.
Birds in Belize are ridiculously abundant. With 580 species, it’s a birder’s paradise. The thick, tropical vegetation provides ample cover for them and a rich food supply can support a strong collection too. We went to Belize with a mental bucket list of species we hoped to see on vacation and we were not disappointed. In addition to the Northern Jacana, we encountered toucans, macaws, trogons, motmots, tanagers and parrots, all in their natural habitats. We also had the opportunity to observe them up close in the Belize Zoo. Even if you aren’t a serious birdwatcher, there’s just something really magical about being surrounded by the color and songs of these wonders of nature.
What tropical birds would be on your Belize bucket list? Niteo Tours offer daily excursions to jungles, forests, rivers and coastal venues, so we’re pretty confident you’ll be able to check them off when you go.