Located 33 miles northwest of Belize City, the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary provides an opportunity to see a range of Belize's magnificent wildlife. The sanctuary, established in 1984 to protect the habitat of resident and migrant birds, is a network of wetlands that consists of lagoons, swamps and waterways. During the dry season, thousands of birds congregate here, taking advantage of the food resources, and migrants find a safe resting spot on their spring migration northward. The variety of habitats in the Crooked Tree area provides food and homes for a diversity of bird life, such as Jabiru storks, Boat-billed Herons, Chestnut-bellied Herons, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Snail kites, Snowy and Great Egrets, five species of Kingfishers, Ospreys and Black-collared Hawks. In addition to the variety of birds, Black Creek provides a home for Black Howler Monkeys, Morelet's Crocodiles, Coatimundi and several species of turtles and iguanas.
Jabiru Storks, the largest flying birds in the New World with a wing span of 10-12 feet, are frequently seen at the sanctuary. Belize has the largest nesting population of these great birds in all of Central America. The storks arrive in November to nest in the lowland pine savannas. Two pairs are known to nest within the sanctuary. After the young fledge and during the months of April and May, the birds from the northern and central parts of Belize congregate at Crooked Tree and Mexico lagoons. When the rains begin in June, the birds leave and return again the following November.
Within the sanctuary is the village of Crooked Tree, established during the logwood era in Belizean history. Because of its relatively easy access by boat, Crooked Tree was one of the first inland villages. Until the early 1990s, Crooked Tree was still only accessible by boat by traveling up the Belize River and Black Creek. A 3.5 mile causeway now connects the village with the Northern Highway. Crooked Tree village is famous for its large mango and cashew trees. Although tourism is the fastest growing industry in the Crooked Tree at present, many of the villagers still engage in traditional small scale farming, livestock rearing, and subsistence farming.
The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. There are presently 116 Contracting Parties to the Convention, and Belize became the 108th Contracting Party on April 22, 1998. The "Crooked Tree Lagoon Area" was one of the first Wetlands of International Importance designated by Belize for the Ramsar List.