Birding in Cancun & Chichen Itza

Last weekend I traveled to Cancun, Mexico for a short stay over Fourth of July. Traveling as birder is always exciting because of the chance to see new birds you can’t see at home.

I poured over eBird sightings in Cancun prior to traveling so I could make mental notes of what species I might see and what I hoped to find.

Last weekend I traveled to Cancun, Mexico for a short stay over Fourth of July. Traveling as birder is always exciting because of the chance to see new birds you can’t see at home.

I poured over eBird sightings in Cancun prior to traveling so I could make mental notes of what species I might see and what I hoped to find.

We landed in Cancun in the evening and once we arrived at our Airbnb I began listening for birds calling out in the night air. Great-tailed Grackles (a San Antonio staple) and Mockingbirds could be heard vocalizing.

Cancun brought various tropical variations of birds I see back home in Texas. I spotted numerous Tropical Mockingbirds and Tropical Kingbirds (compare to Northern Mockingbirds and Western Kingbirds) around town.

There were three birds on my must-see list for this trip: Magnificent Frigatebird, Turqoise-browed Motmot, and the Plain Chachalaca. I adore the whimsical names of these birds so much, we couldn’t stop saying Chachalaca ad nauseam all weekend.

My first morning there, I woke up early, grabbed by binoculars and headed outside to wander around the hotel area and beach to see what birds I could casually find hanging out.

Scanning the sky, I saw several large dark-colored birds with very angular wings, the Magnificent Frigatebird! Pretty much right off the bat I was seeing exactly the birds I wanted. On this casual stroll I also spotted some familiar birds such as Royal Terns, Eurasian-collared Doves and Rock Pigeons. Because I decided to not bring my camera, I had to be resourceful and shoot the photographs in this post using a combination of my binoculars and phone.

soaring magnificent frigatebird
Magnificent Frigatebird. The males near breeding colonies have an inflatable red throat like a frog!

Within Cancun, there was one eBird Hotspot I wanted to check out: Malecon Tajamar, an outdoor walking spot outside the north area of the Zona Hotelera where you can find fresh water bodies, lots of vegetation and trees and a wide variety of water and tree birds.

My first visit there was later in the morning, and I only visited for a few minutes with my partner to check out the water and take some pictures. I visited two more times and on my longest trip there, I saw 21 species, including tons of lifers for me. That visit brought a cacophony of Chachalaca calls from all over the area. I only spotted a single Plain Chachalaca out in the open.

Plain Chachalaca. Listen to it below.

Here are a few photos of birds I saw at Malecon Tajamar:

Morelet’s Seedeater. They loved to sing from treetop perches.
tropical kingbird perched on twig
Tropical Kingbird
hooded oriole
Hooded Oriole
great kiskadee
Great Kiskadee. I found them nesting in Malecon Tajamar.
Groove-billed Ani. Look at the beak!
Ruddy Ground Dove

Our travel style is to take an unplanned approach to our agenda. We mostly visit a new city and decide what to do on a whim depending on the mood. On Sunday we decided to go on a tour to Chichen Itza, the Mayan pyramid site which is one of the great wonders of the world.

A three-hour bus ride took us into the jungle to Chichen Itza and we filed our way inside.

The pyramid and surrounding ruins were beautiful and provided a beautiful backdrop for photos and video. We skipped out on the formal tour in lieu of searching for birds and exploring on our own.

I spotted one Turqoise-browed Motmot for a split second in a tree near the exit. Our next stop on the tour took us to (XYZ). It was a beautiful swimming spot located in a giant sinkhole with water flowing into it from above. The grounds in XYZ had Altamira Orioles, many more Motmots and a plethora of other species flying around.

clay-colored thrush
Clay-colored Thrush
turqoise-browed-motmot-cenote-x-keken
Turquoise-browed Motmot
streaked flycatcher
Streaked Flycatcher
tropical mockingbird
Tropical Mockingbird

My partner spotted a small bunch of tiny bright yellow and black birds, which we learned are called Scrub Euphonia. I didn’t manage to capture a photo, but here is one from eBird.

I also caught a glimpse of a Rose-throated Becard.

All-in-all I saw 38 species with 21 lifers to add to my list. I utilized a new feature in eBird called Trip Reports. This allowed me to specify a date range and series of checklists to summarize into a sleek single page highlighting the places I visited, species seen, and media captured.