The name “Jabiru” is derived from the Tupi–Guarani family of languages from South America and means “swollen neck”; an apt description. This is the tallest flying bird in South and Central America and is second in wingspan (excluding pelagic flyers like albatross) only to the Andean Condor. This denizen of wetland habitats is a voracious, opportunistic forager on a wide variety of animal matter, living or dead. Needless to say, an impressive bird and I was ecstatic to see it!
It was past the mid-point of our Belize vacation, and as good and enjoyable as the birding had been, life birds (new species that I had never seen before) were fewer and farther between than I had anticipated/hoped. I guess that was to be expected given that I have visited the Neotropics several times previously. I had already seen many of the common, easy, widespread species (e.g., many if not most of the hummingbirds, parrots, motmots, etc.) that make birders new to the Neotropics giddy. After talking to the local guides, apparently most of my desired life birds were the tough ones (hard to find, rare, skulky, etc.). As I went through my list of target birds, they just kind of smiled and shook their heads.
Jabiru was near if not at the top of my list as a “must-see” species. It was also a tough one, particularly in the habitat where we were staying. However, one of Chan Chich Lodge’s guides, Luis Romero, had somewhat recently seen one in the Blue Creek rice fields. So on our way back to the lodge from a day trip to Lamanai, we took a brief detour to check out the rice fields. We turned down a dirt road, dropping down into the rice fields, and really the first bird we came across was this Jabiru, which allowed fairly close approach.
All I can say about getting such good looks and photos of this bird is WOW! This life bird totally lived up to expectations. Additional scanning of the rice field revealed at least 3 more Jabiru, though much more distant than our initial sighting, as well as several other interesting wetland species.
All in all, a great birding day!