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  • Merri-Lee M.

Birds of Cozumel (Part 1): The Iberostar Resort

In February, we spent 10 days in Cozumel at the Iberostar Resort. My husband is a diver, and he spent most of his time under the ocean; while he dove, I walked around the grounds of the resort, finding all sorts of wonderful birds to photograph. If you are interested in a birding holiday at a lovely, natural ocean resort, I would strongly recommend this location. The owners have left a great deal of the native vegetation intact, and the land on either side of the Iberostar property is undeveloped at this time.

In February, trees were covered with fruit and flowers, and provided plenty of food for native and migratory birds alike.

The Stripe-headed Tanagers spent most of their days eating berries high in the trees. One pair was often seen together.......

Many other birds frequented the fruit-bearing trees, especially in the mornings and late afternoons. In the corners of the resort that were away from the ocean, there were wonderful spots to stand and watch hungry creatures eating their fill.

The Great Kiskadee usually appeared in the treetops, and would eat his food on a high perch.

We only caught quick glimpses of a small flock of Yucatan Vireos flitting and feeding on insects in the brush.

Two White-fronted Parrots arrived noisily from time to time, usually in the late afternoon. These two were playing with a stick, chatting with one another, and not showing much interest in feeding.

A lovely White-crowned Pigeon made a few appearances in the early evenings.

White-winged Doves were also seen around the resort. They have a definite white band on their wings, pink legs and bright blue eye rings around their orange eyes.

Black Catbirds, found only along the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and islands nearby, were seen in abundance around the Iberostar,

along with their "cousins" the Gray Catbirds (which will soon be arriving here to begin nesting).

The Caribbean Elaenia is a Flycatcher that was frequently present. It was busy darting after insects among the trees.

Same bird? Another Flycatcher of some sort.....

The little Yucatan Woodpecker, which has a distinctive yellow ring around the base of its rather short bill, a red spot on the back of the head, and a reddish belly, could be found at various spots around the resort. These Woodpeckers favoured the palm trees for their drilling activities! And they can walk upside down.....

The Tropical Mockingbird was likely the most common bird around the Island, and could often be heard making some really interesting "mocking" sounds!

Yellow-faced Grassquits foraged in the grassy areas, and would jump up to grab seeds from the tops of grass stems.

Female: Male:

Bananaquits are nectar-feeders, and found plenty of blossoms full of sweet food to feast on in the trees around the resort.

In other areas of the tropics, Bananaquits have a grayish throat; this little bird is showing us that on Cozumel Island, Bananaquit throats are white!

A pair of Hooded Orioles also enjoyed the abundant food that could be found in the variety of trees around the resort. This is the Male in all his orange and black glory!

"Hmm-m-m -- what do I do with this bug?"

And here is the female, high in a tree. She is yellower, and lacks the dark black markings of the male.

We caught one quick look at a Clay-coloured Robin.

Tropical Kingbirds are Insectivores, and were often seen catching insects near the "Flamingo Pond" or down along the shore.

On Cozumel Island, there are two types of Hummingbirds. The larger of the two is the Green-breasted Mango. It has a long, slightly downturned bill, and a relatively short, rounded tail. The Green-breasted Mango was often seen in a huge, leafless fruit tree at the entrance to the resort, or feeding among the flower trees around the parking lot.

The smaller (Fork-tailed) Emeralds were a little harder to photograph. Rarely were they in one spot for more than a few seconds before they flitted off behind some leaves or out of sight completely. They have a shorter, straighter bill that is red with a black tip. The tail appears long and slender when it is not separated into the “fork” pattern. The first shots are males.

The female Emerald has a shorter tail and lighter underside, as well as a mask of black and white:

I only had a brief look at the elusive Rufous-browed Peppershrike, and had to be satisfied with these photos. Like his Emerald Hummingbird friends, he was a bit camera-shy!

Noisy Great-tailed Grackles live all over the island. Males are shiny blue-black, while the smaller females are brown.

The Scarlet Tanager will soon be returning to our part of the world...

and a Summer Tanager posed very patiently for me.

In the early mornings, many birds appeared at the edge of the forested area along the boundaries of the resort. They fed on insects, worm-like creatures and seeds in the grassy areas. A Wood Thrush was my companion most mornings, and showed very little fear as it rummaged through the leaf litter in search of grubs and other juicy morsels.

The Ovenbird is similar in appearance to the Wood Thrush, but is smaller, closer to the ground, and has a distinctive rust-coloured stripe bordered with black on its head. I have often heard an Ovenbird singing in the Spring, but have never before had the privilege of sitting on the ground and watching one of these beautiful little birds at such close proximity.

The Northern ( I think) Waterthrush was also seen every morning and evening along the edge of the underbrush.

Ovenbirds and Waterthrushes (both Northern and Louisiana) belong to the Wood-warbler family. One of my favourite things about the Iberostar was the number of Wood-warblers that were everywhere around the resort. Many of these small birds are migratory, and make their way to Ontario in the Spring.

The Black-and-white Warbler behaves like a Nuthatch, clinging to branches and tree trunks, and finding insects in the bark.

Palm Warblers were, as always, curious and unafraid as they foraged on the ground for seeds and insects.

The Black-throated Blue Warbler was seen several times in the middle of the resort in a small grove of Palms and brush. One of these Warblers made its way to our balcony while I was sitting about five feet away, and helped itself to some bread crumbs.

American Redstarts sometimes sat on the windowsills of our buildings, and were seen in many spots around the resort as well.

This is a female Redstart.

The Northern Parula is among my favourite Warblers -- although I have been accused of making that comment about all Warblers at one time or another! It is one of the smallest Warblers, and can always be identified by its "upper dark and lower yellow" bill. Adult Parulas also have a greenish patch on their backs, and a black and rust-coloured breastband. And they move really, really quickly!

I think this Parula looks like it has white eyelashes......

This is likely a juvenile bird, as it has a yellow breast and paler eye-arcs than an adult bird would have.

I’m told that this bird is a juvenile Yellow-rumped Warbler.....

There were quite a few Magnolia Warblers around, and I believe that most of them were young birds as well. Their gray heads, plain yellow breasts, and pale gray neckbands distinguished them from the dark black and yellow adults with their black- streaked breasts.

Yellow Warblers were well represented around the lodge,

as were their "Cozumel Cousins", the Golden Warblers. Goldens have a rufous cap, and darker rufous markings on the chest than do the Yellows.

Bath Time!

I was thrilled to see four kinds of Warblers at the Iberostar that I had never seen before. The first was the Golden Warbler. The second was the Yellow-throated Warbler. One of these little birds landed on our table in an outdoor restaurant, and enjoyed a few crumbs. Yellow-throated Warblers were quite common and conspicuous around the grounds.

One of the workers at the lodge was always interested in what I was seeing, and one morning he brought a coconut half to set on the ground. The birds loved it!

My third “lifer” was a Swainson’s Warbler that hopped out of the underbrush to feed on the lawn near the spot where I was sitting. This Warbler has a long, large bill, the pale eye stripe, and a reddish cap.

The fourth Warbler that was new to me was the striking Hooded Warbler. It has very distinct yellow and black markings. We only saw one of these birds, and he liked to jump up and catch insects on the lids of the water reservoirs in the corner of the resort near the sewage treatment buildings. While some Hooded Warblers do make their way into our area in the Spring, I have never seen one on its nesting grounds, and was very pleased to have the chance to visit with this little fellow.


Another area of the resort that offered some good views of different birds was the shoreline. Every morning, the beach in front of the resort was raked, and the debris was piled along the shores of the adjacent, undeveloped properties. Shorebirds were glad to have this rich, dark material in which to forage for small, edible creatures.

This Juvenile Black-bellied Plover looks quite different from the boldly patterned migrants that we sometimes see in Ontario around the Great Lakes, passing through in the Spring and Fall. Black-bellied Plovers migrate to the High Arctic to breed and nest. Cozumel must be a welcome respite for the winter!

Watching Over 3 Sanderlings?

The Ruddy Turnstone, as its name suggests, "turns stones", or in this case "shore mulch", in order to find food. Look closely and you can see the flying debris....

The Ruddy Turnstone has a short, pointed bill and orange legs. It is another shorebird that travels great distances twice a year between Central/South America and the shores of the Arctic Ocean. I believe that this is a female.

Chatting with a Sanderling......

A Sanderling, a Black-bellied Plover, and a Ruddy Turnstone were feeding together.

A few little Sandpipers were working their way along the shore. This one, I think, is a Solitary Sandpiper with its dark shoulders, light brown breast, and white eye ring.

There were a few Spotted Sandpipers (without their summer spots!) on either side of the Iberostar on the natural beaches. The breast of the Spotted Sandpiper is white with brown patches on the sides. It also has a white-over-dark line through the eye.

A couple of Royal Terns spent their time diving into the water, hunting for small fish, and then resting and drying off on the poles at the end of the pier.

A hydro pole was an Osprey’s perch of choice.

And a pair of Common Ground Doves scuttled along the shore. They are miniature versions of regular Doves, and very attractive little birds.

A short walk North of the resort brought us to a partially concealed pond surrounded by Mangroves. This spot was a favourite fishing spot for a Little Blue Heron. A Waterthrush kept him company, and a Roseate Spoonbill also stopped in from time to time.

Brown Pelicans, each one unique in colour, flew along the shore and splashed into the ocean headfirst to catch fish. Or they floated along the shoreline, preening and flapping.

Each morning and evening small flocks of Swallows and Vaux’s Swifts flew over the forest along the beach. “Cozumel Island” translates as “Isle of Swallows”, and although there were not large numbers, there were some Swallows flying through every morning and evening.

The Iberostar also hosts a magnificent Scarlet Macaw, three Parrots, Peacocks, and a small flock of Flamingoes. I have chosen only to include photos of wild birds in this blog. It’s long enough!


Along with all of the wonderful birds that we saw were at least four types of tropical Butterflies:

I also saw one Monarch Butterfly very briefly. Maybe on its way north?


There were some four-legged creatures around the resort too.

A gang of Coatis appeared over the fence from time to time to rummage through the carefully covered trash cans.

A small Javelina or Collared Paccary foraged along the edge of the forest down near the shore to the north of the Iberostar.

And Iguanas roamed the grounds. This large, orange, obnoxious Iguana, with a reptilian version of a combover, was dubbed “Donald” by people around the resort. No idea why....


And at the end of a day of hiking, birdwatching, diving, snorkelling, swimming, and enjoying great food, it was time to take a few quiet moments to sit by the shore and watch the sun drop into the ocean.


*I have tried to the best of my ability to correctly identify all of the birds in these blogs. I used the "Peterson Field Guide to Mexican Birds" and “The Sibley Guide to Birds”, and asked for advice from some expert friends. Errors are my own! Please feel free to add comments or make suggestions on the Contact page of this site.


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