Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is one of Belize’s many wildlife reserves. Over 540 species of birds have been spotted in the country, and at Crooked Tree, it is impossible not to be impressed by the abundance of birdlife. Founded in 1984, this sanctuary comprises some 16,400 acres of waterways, swamps and lagoons, surrounding the village of Crooked Tree (with a population of approximately 800). The sanctuary is located about 3 miles off the Northern Highway, at Mile 31. It is managed by the Belize Audubon Society, which is a non-profit, non-governmental membership organization dedicated to the promotion of the sustainable use and preservation of Belize’s natural resources.
There are six lagoons on the west of the highway, including Calabash Pond, Revenge Lagoon, Western Lagoon, Northern Lagoon (Crooked Tree Lagoon), Spanish Lagoon and Southern Lagoon. On the east of the Northern Highway lies the Jones Lagoon, which is also part of the sanctuary, but not accessible for tourism.
When driving across the mile long causeway over the Crooked Tree Lagoon, all types of birds can be spotted. The lagoon is a natural reservoir in the Belize River Valley, and regularly floods in the rainy season.
During the dry season, the sanctuary is home to thousands of migratory birds. About 260 species of birds have been sighted, and the best time to see them is between February and May. Most migratory birds arrive in November, and leave before the rainy season starts in July. The largest bird in the Western Hemisphere, the Jabiru Stork, with a wingspan of about 9 feet arrives in November. Belize has the largest nesting population in Central America. Logwood swamps provide a habitat for several types of herons, including the Boat-billed Heron and Agami Heron. In addition to many other birds, two types of ducks also nest here: the Black-Bellied Whistling Duck and the Muscovy Duck. Black Howler Monkeys, Morelet’s Crocodiles, and freshwater turtles can also be found throughout the sanctuary.
When visiting Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, be sure to first sign in at the Visitor’s Center. The collection of flora and fauna is prohibited, and hunting and fishing are not permitted. It’s a good idea to arrange for a guide. He or she will be able to point out inconspicuous wildlife or nesting areas, but you will also hear about the history of Crooked Tree, and lots of interesting tales about the area. A boardwalk and viewing platforms add to the experience. Certain times of year, you’ll see birds throughout the day, but generally birding is best at dawn and dusk. There are several guesthouse type accommodations in the village, and the people are warm and friendly, and eager to tell a story.
Crooked Tree was once a logging camp, founded by the British logwood cutters in the 17th century. In the early days, this village, actually an island was only accessible by boat. Two stories seem to circulate about the origin of its name: it was either named after a large crooked tree (and there are many crooked trees in the village), or some say it was named after a notorious trio of bandits: “crooked three”. The village is also famous for its cashews. Cashew trees grow in abundance here, yielding cashew nuts, cashew wine, and stewed cashew fruit. The village celebrates with an annual Cashew Fest in May. There is food, music, lots of dancing and celebration, and of course, lots of cashew.