The Secrets to Birdwatching in Cuba
Cuba’s untouched landscapes, pristine waters and crisp fresh air is so clean is greatly smoothing for the soul! One can just sit for hours listening to the birds chirping…
What makes it even more exciting is the birdlife on the island. There are 371 species described of which there are 26 endemic species currently recognised. Unfortunately quite a number of them are endangered and one – the Cuban Macaw and Ivory Billed Woodpecker – has even become extinct.
There are other wonderful birds still around, like the Bee Hummingbird which is the smallest, most colourful bird you have ever seen. At the size of a 10 cent coin it’s even a wonder it can fly! There are some other colourful ones like the Cuba Tody – this one is our favourite, it is just so cute and excuisite, – the Cuban Trogon – boasting the colors of the Cuban flag – and the Cuban Parrot – amazingly green and red bird.
Other birds are better known for their enchanting songs, like the Cuban Solitaire, the Zapata Wren, the Cuban Gnatcatcher, and the Cuban Grassquit. Listening to these just lightens up your day.
And if the endemics alone weren’t exquisite enough already to admire, there are plenty of other birds that make Cuba their island of choice to visit. Some of the non-endemics are winter residents coming from North America, between August and October to spend the winter months in a warmer climate (which I can totally understand!). These are various birds like ducks, gulls, warblers, sparrows and shorebirds.
Then there are the spring migrants coming from South America, arriving between late February and May for the nesting season. The spring migration brings about the Gray King Bird, the Anillean Nighthawk, the Black-whiskered Vireo, the Cuban Martin and the Wilson’s plover. The summer residents leave in September/October each year.
The main migration corridors are Guanahacabibes in Pinar del Rio, Cardenas in Matanzas, Santa Fe in La Habana, Camaguey in Ciego de avila and Gibara in Holguin, where you will find an abundance of such beauties.
Main nesting period is between March and July. We won’t break down each birds habits right here, just want to give you a little insight on things that may help you spot them. Things like the habit of what I’d call ‘nest sharing’. Not all birds will build their own nests. Some will use the ones other species have created. Like the woodpeckers cavity is later used by the Cuban Pygmy Owl, the Bare Legged Owl, the Cuban Parakeet, the Rose throated Parrot and the Cuban Trogon. Talk about getting bang for your buck!Other birds may actually borough, whilst others build nests using plant and animal fibers. Knowing their nesting helps detect them.
There are several places you can go. In Western Cuba there’s Vinales, Las Terrazas, San Diego de los Banos, La Guira, Soroa where you can see the Cuban Solitaire, and the Cuban Grassquit, predominantly.
Whilst Zapata Peninsula, which is an exotic area of nearly 5000 square kilometres of untouched wetlends, thus having several sites to spot amazing birdlife, like Playa Larga, Bremejas, Palpite, La Turba, Las Salinas and Hatiguanico.
We especially like Western Cuba and Zapata Peninsula as they have a large concentration of both endemic and migratory birds to spot. Which is why we chose these to show case in our Birds of Cuba Tour.
At the Cayos, being the areas of Cayo Coco, Cayo Paredon Grande and Cayo Guillermo, you’ll find the Cuban Sparrow, the Cuban Gnatcatcher, the Thick-billed Vireo, and the Bahama mockingbird.
If you keep venturing East to Sierra de Najasa, Sierra de Cubitas, or Rio Maximo in Camaguey, you can admire the Cuban Parakeet, the Giant Kingbird, the Palm Crow, the Plain Pigeon and the largest nesting ground of Flamingos, which is spectacular.
And if you make your way to the most Eastern part of the island, you must visit the Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt to try to find the Cuban Kite. Whilst you here, you may as well take your time and truly discover the natural wonders in the area!
Let’s face it there are always amazing birds around. Weather wise January to April is absolutely beautiful. If you also wish to see most of the migratory birds, October and November are fantastic months, mind you these months are still quite wet.
Just like different seasons will have different birds, different time of the day also has different birds. So it is well worth going with a guide who knows the places and best times to visit to capture sight of more birds.
Because you will be venturing out into untouched landscapes, that have lots of water – thus mosquitoes – it is best to wear lightweight long sleeve shirts and long pants to keep you from mozzy bites. Also make sure you wear a hat, and waterproof boots, especially in the wetter months. Color wise green/grey/tan are the best to help you blend into the surroundings.
We also recommend to bring a guidebook, our go to is the Endemic Birds of Cuba by Nils Navarro. Definitely bring your binoculars, note book, waterproof pen, mosquito repellent, and sunscreen. And whilst it is not an essential equipment, it is nice to have a camera handy for capturing a moment with these wonderful creatures.
Definitely no birdcalls. We do not want to create any stress for the birds, so we ask you to refrain from the use of these.
We keep our birdwatching groups small, and there is a reason for that. We want to ensure that we protect the welfare of the birds and their habitats.
We will ask you not to go too close to the birds’ territory, definitely be extra cautious with nests. To ensure this happens and to not disturb the birds, we ask that you walk slowly and cautiously. Keep your voice down – it is best to observe in silence. No flash or shiny objects are to be used on a birdwatching tour as this can disturb the birds. The birds’ welfare is our highest priority.
If we see anything rare we will report them to the relevant authorities. Things like no littering, trampling on vegetation or breaking branches go without saying. Sticking to the rules means we can keep birds protected and enjoyed by others in the future.
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