"Oh, don't you know it's time for me to fly?
Oh! I've got to set myself free!
Time for me to fly!
Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh... baby, that's just how it's got to be.
Oh-oh-oh! I know it hurts to say 'good-bye'
but it's time for me to fly!
Ay-ay-ay... it's time for me to fly!
Time for me to fly!"
REO Speedwagon, Time for Me to Fly

 
"A bird does not sing because it has an answer.
It sings because it has a song."
Chinese proverb
 

Saint Vincent's parrot, Amazona guildingii. Kingstown Botanical Garden, south-western Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.

 


 

The Lords of the Air

 

    Their voices are echoes of a time when Earth was another planet.

 

    The only extant organisms with feathers and, aside from bats and the extinct pterosaurs, the only vertebrates with the power of self-sustained flight. They are also the one group of endothermic reptiles alive today.

 

    Birds are the living coelurosaurs, a group of theropod dinosaurs that evolved during the Triassic geologic period, and saw their heyday during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Like their probable direct ancestors, birds are maniraptors, a clade of coelurosaurs with specialized bones on their wrists, shaped like half-moons, that allow their hands to laterally fold back against their forearms, in the manner of a closing switchblade. Maniraptors also have hands larger than their feet, clavicles fused into a "wishbone", a keeled sternum (the "breastbone") and a downward-pointing pubis. Several of these traits (sometimes further modified) turned out to be prerequisites for flight in a planet with a gravity such as ours has.

 

    True birds evolved in the late Jurassic period. While they do not reach the immense sizes of the dragons that the Lord made and which came to an end 65 millions of years ago, they are still creatures of majesty and glory.

 

    The avian dynasty dates back perhaps to the late Triassic Period itself, and the almost 10000 species alive today are, without a doubt, among the most cherished and beloved creatures in human history, admired and envied by men of all cultures, nations, and creeds for the power that most of them possess to overcome gravity at will. Mankind's love affair with the feathered beasts has engendered sculptures, paintings, poems, songs, allegories, symbols, myths, essays, short stories, and novels without count. Angels have been represented with eagle wings. The Holy Spirit was revealed to us as a dove. Birds of all sorts still are, since times immemorial, among the most popular pets in the World.

 

     Some species, like the immense moas of New Zealand and the elephant birds of Madagascar are now extinct after being hunted out by man. Others of a much more ancient geologic past, like the North American Gastornis and the South American Phorusrhacos were huge and fierce flightless carnivores that preyed on the mammals of their time. Among those capable of flight, forms much larger than any alive today used to exist. In their case, they were active predators perhaps related to modern condors, like the theratorn Argentavis magnificens, which ruled the skies of South America on monstrous eight-meter wingspans.

 

    Their modern sizes vary from that of Cuba's bee hummingbird, Mellisuga helenae, only five-and-a-half centimeters in length, to the three meter-tall ostrich Struthio camelus, of Africa and Asia, and which towers above the average human. The most massive flying bird alive today is Kori's bustard, Ardeotis kori. The widest wingspan of a modern bird is that of the wandering albatross, Diomedea exulans, at three-and-a-half meters.

 

    Regardless of their many varieties, the one thing that comes to people's minds when they think of birds is that they can fly.

 

    When airborne, it is of the greatest importance for an organism to be a light as possible. The entire anatomy of a flying bird is filled with concessions to this need. All species that habitually fly in order to get around are aerodynamic in shape. No living bird has teeth, which would weigh down their owner. Instead of heavy and bony reptilian jaws, all modern birds have horny bills. Their bones are very peculiar. These are not solid like a mammal's, but are mostly hollow, their insides crisscrossed by struts and arches that make them simultaneously strong and light. The long, bony tails of their coelurosaurian ancestors have been reduced to a knobby appendage to which the tail feathers are attached. The breastbone of a flying bird is keel-like in shape, designed for it to better serve as an attachment point to the huge breast muscles needed to power their flight. (Many species that do not fly, like the ratites - rheas, cassowaries, emus, ostriches, moas, kiwis, and elephant birds - have a flat breastbone. In fact, some moas had even lost all vestiges of their front limbs).



Great egret, Ardea alba egretta, in flight. Piñones State Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

Against the background light you can still see the bony structure of an ancestral maniraptor dinosaur's long front legs, as well as the arrangement of the modern feathers.
(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Alfredo Colón Archilla).


    Finally, in speaking of flight and among extant organisms, only birds possess those natural engineering marvels called "feathers". These are composed of keratin, the same basic substance found in all claws and nails, reptilian scales, and mammalian hairs. In fact, it was reptiles' scales which gave rise to both feathers and hair. (Birds still have scales, like the non-avian diapsids - reptiles - still do, but they remain only on their feet and toes). Although, from a human's standpoint, the eminent advantage of feathers is that they give birds the capacity to fly, at first they evolved as insulators against cold, a purpose they fulfill to this day. They are also used for display, especially by courting males. They even serve for intimidation during a fight or defense. Frightened birds may spread crest and tail feathers, and puff up their entire plumages, easily appearing twice their true size.

 

The beautifully aerodynamic shape of many flying birds is a testament to their agility in the air.

White ibis (Eudocimus albus), laughing gull (Larus atricilla), and brown pelican (nominate race, Pelecanus occidentalis occidentalis).

Jaragua National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Large and heavy birds, like this Caribbean flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) often have to taxi in order to get off the ground or water.

Jaragua National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

    All birds are fastidiously clean creatures that preen their plumages daily. Many species anoint their feathers, this done with oils produced by uropigial glands at the base of their tails. Feathers on wings and tails are given special, exquisite, individual attention. Many birds bathe regularly, or wallow in dust, activities that keep their plumage clean and free of mites and other parasites. Specialized feathers on the necks and backs of some species, like parrots, gradually turn to dust at their edges. This powdery substance helps to keep the entire plumage dry and clean.

 

    That birds dedicate long periods of time every day to clean and maintain their precious feathers derives from the fact that their lives depend on it... literally. A dirty or soggy plumage looses its insulating quality and makes flight difficult, if not impossible.

 

A female Greater Antillean grackle (Puerto Rican race, Quiscalus niger brachypterus) bathes in a puddle of rain water.

Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

After bathing is a rain puddle, a tropical mockingbird, Mimus gilvus, fluffs up to dry its feathers.

Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

A little blue heron (nominate race, Egretta caerulea caerulea) grooms itself.

Enrique Martí Coll Park, San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



All birds molt their feathers periodically. This troupial (Icterus icterus ridgwayi) has a naked belly due to that process.
Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.


    Birds are the most visual of all metazoans. While some members in all other chordate classes have lost their eyesight through processes of adaptation that have favored the hypertrophy of other bodily senses, not a single bird is sightless. Except for nocturnal species, these animals have excellent color vision, and indeed many are able to see well into the ultraviolet spectrum. Their universe is probably much more colorful and visually intense than ours.

 

    No other chordate group save for fish are as colorful as birds. While some species have drab plumages, the colors of many others are the most beautiful among those of terrestrial animals. The fluorescent greens of todies and hummingbirds, the deep blues and purples of finches and fruit pigeons, the pastel pinks of flamingoes and roseate spoonbills, the blinding yellows and magentas of tanagers and orioles, the incandescent oranges and reds of scarlet ibises and macaws need to be seen in the flesh to be believed.

 

    Living rainbows to which no painting or photograph can ever do justice...

 

    Taken as a group, birds are also the most vocal of all amniotes. With the exception of rather few species, they rely not only on visual displays to communicate with one another, but also on their voices. A bird's voice apparatus is very different from the larynx and vocal chords of mammalian synapsids and is called the "syrinx". While the mammalian larynx is located in the neck, a bird's syrinx is located at the point where its trachea forks towards the two lungs. A bird can modulate either one or both sides of the syrinx simultaneously, allowing for a greater amplitude of sounds. With this mechanism, birds can produce astonishingly complex songs. Some hummingbirds and cowbirds can even superimpose two simultaneous and different sounds, each produced by one side of the syrinx. The calls and songs of some species are so high in pitch as to be ultrasonic to human ears.


    The repertoire of avian calls and songs defies description. From simple croaks and grunts, through stentorian bawls and shrieks, bizarre utterances and sweet modulations, to the most haunting and hair-rising natural melodies that man has ever heard, such voices form an integral part of the World as we know it.

 

    Birds of open woodlands and prairies usually have the more complex songs, since there is not much interference from surrounding vegetation. However, in the deep forests of the Caribbean, as in those in tropics elsewhere, many birds sing from high in the canopy, and their calls are often simple and strident in order to carry far. This is due to the structure of the vegetation, which coriaceous leaves bounce back sound and slur more complex calls into an unintelligible jumble.

 

    By far, most bird songs have the purpose of proclaiming territory and attracting mates. Many also utter alarm calls when they feel threatened or fight among themselves or with other creatures. Given the degree to which sound constitutes a part of their lives, it should not come as a surprise that most birds can hear very well, indeed.

 

    Except for a few species like kiwis, petrels, and some condors, birds seem to have a poorly-developed sense of olfaction, and they depend mostly on their acute sight and hearing to find their way around their world.

 

    Unlike many invertebrates, fishes, reptiles, and even some mammals, no known bird possesses a mechanism to inject venom into their prey. However, the feathers of some species contain toxins that offer them some protection against potential predators. Neither is any bird truly parasitic, in that none feeds exclusively or necessarily off a live host. However, a few species are facultative parasites in that they habitually peck and tear the skin of animals (either other birds or mammals) in order to draw blood which they drink, thus supplementing their diets.


    Almost all birds take care for the young to some degree, even after they hatch. This relationship is well known by all who have observed the way they bring food to their nestlings and even fiercely protect them from attack after they leave the nest.



A female Greater Antillean grackle (Hispaniolan and Puerto Rican race, Quiscalus niger brachypterus), feeds its  chick with... something.
Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.


    Several orders and many families of birds are represented in the Caribbean islands. The region's avifauna, while certainly not as rich and complex of those of Central and South America, boasts many endemics at the specific level, and even two endemic families.


The Birds of the Caribbean

 

    The distributional trends of West Indian birds reflect each island's proximity not only to one another, but to the nearest continent, as well. The southernmost Lesser Antilles, being closest to South America, have many species (like their parrots, hummingbirds, and tanagers) which are either identical to or evolved from those in that continent. As one moves toward the north and west along the island chain, the avian faunae of the northern Lesser Antilles and the Greater Antilles show an ever lesser South American influence and an increasingly clearer relationship with those of Central America (as is the case of their native pigeons, parrots, and cuckoos). Additionally, The Bahamas and Cuba, and to lesser extents Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico, have some avian species whose closest kin are found in temperate North America (for example, in their crows, warblers, and herons). A few North American birds reach the Lesser Antilles, as does the peregrine falcon, Falco peregrinus (known to breed at least in Dominica) while some South American birds, like the shiny cowbird Molothrus bonairiensis, have reached as far as the Bahamas, in recent times. Some birds native to the West Indies are even of Eurasian and African origin, like the cattle egret, Bubulcus ibis, which reached the Americas in the early twentieth century after crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

 

    Generally, forest habitats in the Antilles harbor an average of 20 to 25 species of terrestrial birds. Within limits, these numbers hold true independently of the size of the individual islands. Larger islands have higher absolute numbers of native species, but that is so because they have a higher absolute number of habitats, rather than because they have a higher number of species per habitat. For example, both mesic and xeric forests in Puerto Rico and Hispaniola have a similar number of species. However, in comparison to Puerto Rico, Hispaniola has a higher absolute number of native species because that island has habitats, like temperate coniferous forests (on the highest mountains) which Puerto Rico lacks. In such areas, birds like crossbills (Loxia) and siskins (Carduelis) are present, while they are missing from Puerto Rico.

 

    Especially in the Greater Antilles, some avian genera have a vicarious species on each island, all species comprising a "superspecies" - a group of sister species that are very similar to one another, apparently have the same immediate ancestor and exist largely or completely in allopatry. Such is the case of the Todus todies, the Spindalis striped-headed tanagers, and some members of the Setophaga warblers and Coccyzus lizard cuckoos.


    On the other hand, the West Indies and, again, the Greater Antilles in particular, have certain niches filled by the same species throughout the islands. This happens, for example, with the bananaquit, Coereba flaveola, found almost through the entire Caribbean region.

 

    Where the species is not the same as elsewhere, the niche might be occupied by an - often unrelated - ecological equivalent. This phenomenon somewhat parallels that of the ecomorphs of the Anolis lizards, discussed in their section. Regarding birds, the island of Jamaica, with the most endemic species, the most recently evolved avifauna, and the highest Central American influence of all the Antilles, is the one that serves best to demonstrate the case, since many of its avian species are unrelated to those of the other Greater Antilles. For example, the ecological niche for a large frugivorous pigeons in the mesic forests of Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico is filled by the scaly-naped pigeon, Patagioenas squamosa. In Jamaica, that species is ecologically substituted by the unrelated P. caribaea. The white-chinned thrush, Turdus aurantius, fills the semi-terrestrial thrush niche in Jamaica, while the unrelated red-legged thrush, T. plumbeus, does the same in the other three Greater Antillean islands. The niche for a forest oriole filled in The Bahamas, Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico by the superspecies composed of Icterus northropi, I. melanopsis, I. dominicensis, and I. portoricensis, is occupied in Jamaica by the unrelated I. leucopteryx.

 

    Even in the Lesser Antilles the situation repeats itself, in some islands, vis-a-vis the Greater Antilles. The niche for a montane forest warbler filled in Jamaica and Puerto Rico by Setophaga pharetra and Setophaga angelae, respectively, is occupied in Guadeloupe and Dominica by Setophaga plumbea, and in Saint Vincent by Catharopeza bishopi. The same thing happens with the grackle of the Greater Antillean lowlands, Quiscalus brachypterus, on regards to Quiscalus lugubris in the Lesser Antilles. And so on, and so forth.

 

     The term that best serves to separate avian groups belonging in different niches is "guild". Each island possesses a guild (in many islands, the largest) composed of frugivores: Amazona, Aratinga, Spindalis, Euphonia, Patagioenas, Geotrygon, Margarops, Allenia, etc. There is another of seedeaters: Ammodramus, Tiaris, Volatinia, Sporophilla, etc. Then there come the guild of insectivores: Setophaga, Cataropeza, Teretristis, Tyrannus, Myarchus, Contopus, etc. Another is that of nectar feeders: Coereba, Cyanerpes, Mellisuga, Antracothorax, Eulampis, Chlorostilbon, etc. Yet another is that of diurnal raptors: Buteo, Buteogallus, Accipiter, Falco, etc. Another is composed by nocturnal raptors: Megascops, Tyto, Asio, Pseudoscops, etc. One guild is partially specialized in feeding on lizards, like some of the endemic cuckoos of the genus Coccyzus. Then the wading fish-eaters, Ardea, Egretta, Nycticorax, etc.

 

    Notice that belonging in the same guild means that such birds have similar diets and habits, not that they are necessarily related. In other words, what unites birds within the same guild is not systematic relationship but the general ecological niche they fill as a function of the kind of prey they feed upon.

 

    On the other hand, some islands have specialized birds that occupy a niche or sub-niche, while the same is empty in nearby islands that have it in plenty (in other words, in these cases lack of habitat does not seem to be the reason for the bird's absence from an island). The Semper's warbler, Leucopeza semperi, is a Saint Lucian terrestrial paruline that does not have an ecological equivalent anywhere else in the West Indies. The Cuban pigmy owl, Glaucidium siju, has its niche occupied nowhere else in the Caribbean. The Antillean piculet, Nesoctites micromegas, of Hispaniola, is the only dwarf woodpecker in the West Indies. The Puerto Rican tanager, Nesospingus speculiferus, is the only exclusively montane thraupid in the Caribbean islands.

 

    Although rain forests are unequaled in their biodiversity, many xeric forests in the Antilles are actually richer in bird-life than their mesic and hydric counterparts. Moreover, many West Indian birds are very versatile in their habitat requirements in the absence of competitor species (a phenomenon called "ecological release") living in many kinds of vegetative associations. Birds that in the Greater Antilles almost exclusively inhabit xeric or coastal areas (like elaenias, yellow warblers, and some hummingbirds) will in the Lesser Antilles range widely into montane rain forests, due to the absence of competitors that would seclude them into the drier regions, in the larger islands.

 

    A few terrestrial species of Antillean birds are so ecologically versatile that they inhabit almost every single available habitat between the coasts and the highest mountains. Perhaps the best example of this is the aforementioned bananaquit, which in many color morphs is found in every habitat of every Caribbean island except (strangely so) mainland Cuba. A few other species are so specialized for exploiting a single habitat, that their range is extremely limited. An example of this is the Zapata rail, Cyanolimnas cerverai, confined to a single region of grassy swamps in south-western Cuba.

 

    The littoral areas and seas surrounding the Antilles also have their own wealth of birds, both breeding residents and migrants. These last come to the Caribbean Basin mostly from North America, and some nest in places as far as the Antarctic region.

 

    In the West Indies, the tallest native bird is the Caribbean flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber. The longest is the brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis. The widest wingspan in these islands is that of the magnificent frigatebird, Fregata magnificens. The most massive West Indian bird is the Cuban race of the sandhill crane, Grus canadensis nesiotes. And the tiniest - in the Antilles and on Earth - is the bee hummingbird, Mellisuga helenae, also from Cuba.

 

ORDER PODICIPEDIFORMES

 

Family Podicipedidae: Grebes

 

    Grebes are a cosmopolitan family of birds highly adapted to life in water. No other avian group save for penguins and loons, are better suited to a life in water. Only two species, the pied-billed grebe and the least grebe, nest in the Caribbean Basin. With their legs placed so far back in their bodies that they can only crawl on their bellies when on land, grebes are expert swimmers and divers. When taking off from the water's surface, they have to run on it for a short distance before becoming airborne.

    Unlike the superficially similar but unrelated ducks and geese, the feet of grebes are not webbed but instead possess lateral lobs in each toe that serve the same function of paddling in water as a means of propulsion.



Least grebe, Tachybaptus dominicus, in the second photograph shown stretching and showing its lobed toes, with which they swim and dive with ease.

Cartagena Lagoon Nature Reserve, south-western Puerto Rico.

(Second photograph courtesy of Mr. Michael J. Morel).



A pair of least grebes, Tachybaptus dominicus, build a nest of plant material. Cartagena Lagoon Nature Reserve, south-western Puerto Rico.
(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Michael J. Morel).



The chicks of least grebes, like those of other species, often hitch a ride on the back of their parents. The other parent can then continue to feed them.
Cartagena Lagoon Nature Reserve.
(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Michael J. Morel).


A pied-billed grebe, Podilymbus podiceps, delights itself with a giant water bug.

Caño Tiburones Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.

 

ORDER PROCELLARIIFORMES

 

Family Procellariidae: Shearwaters and Petrels

 

    Petrels and shearwaters are among the most pelagic of sea birds, rarely ever coming to land except to breed. So adapted are they to fly and float on water, that their legs are disfunctional. When on land, they crawl on their chests while propelling themselves forward with their wings.

 

    In their vicinity on their nests, they are mostly nocturnal, so even during the breeding season they are seldom seen. When on land, their strange and eerie calls resound in the forests and cliffs where they nest.

 

    Their nasal passages are fused into a tube which opens forward on the bill, and they have keen senses of smell that allows them to track the odor of fish oils and similar substances.

 

Audubon's shearwaters, Puffinus lherminieri, egg, chick, and adult. Six Hills Cay, Turks and Caicos.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).


ORDER PELECANIFORMES


    Pelicans, herons, ibises and spoonbills are found usually found near water in both coastal and inland areas of the West Indies.

 

Family Pelecanidae: Pelicans

 

    Pelicans are among the largest flying birds. However, the only species that breeds in the Antilles is the smallest of its group: the brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis. Unlike other members of its genus, which hunt for fish while floating on water, this mostly marine species dives spectacularly from great heights into the sea to capture fish and other prey with its enormous throat pouch. They frequently fly in beautiful, tight formations, their two-meter wingspans keeping them aloft whether bare centimeters above the waves or high in the air.

 


Brown pelicans (nominate race, Pelecanus occidentalis occidentalis).
First photograph; Beef Island, British Virgin Islands. Second photograph: Guana Island, British Virgin Islands.
Clumsy-looking when on land, this is one of the most elegant of birds as it soars in the air.

Few birds surpass it in size in the West Indies.

 

Brown pelicans, nominate race. Jaragua National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

For all their apparent ungainliness, pelicans can strike poses that would put to shame many a contortionist.

Loiza, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

(Photographs courtesy of Dr. Alfredo Colon Archilla).



Huge birds by almost any standard, brown pelicans become tame when humans offer them food scraps.
La Guancha, Ponce, southern Puerto Rico.


Family Ardeidae: Herons and Egrets

 

    Regal birds, some being very large, herons are among the best known wading birds in the world. They are by far the ciconiiform family that is best represented in the Caribbean region. Many mainly North American species are found in the West Indies either as migrants or as residents. Some small members of the family are arbitrarily called "egrets", though there is no true systematic distinction between them and the larger species. Herons of one species or another are found nearly all West Indian lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and even small, temporary puddles.


    While some species are rather lackadaisical and allow humans to approach closely others are quite skittish as is particularly, in this region, the great blue heron. (Somewhat ironic for such a huge bird).


Herons of many species often congregate in appropriate habitats in the Antilles and elsewhere.

Near Falmouth, northern Jamaica.

 

    Most Antillean species belong to the subfamily Ardeinae and, while most of these are diurnal, there are a few of them that are most active at night.

 


Yellow-crowned night-heron (nominate race Nyctanassa violacea violacea). Caguas, east-central Puerto Rico.

As its common name implies, this beautiful heron is mostly nocturnal, although it is occasionally seen abroad during the day.

 

True to its name, a black-crowned night-heron, Nycticorax nycticorax, strolls after sunset near an artificial pond.

Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

This is one of the most widely distributed birds on Earth. In America, it extends from Canada to Tierra del Fuego.

It inhabits, as well, southern Europe, across Asia to Japan, and south in the Old World to South Africa.

Its taxonomic name (nyctos, "night", and corax, "crow") refers to both its nocturnal habits and its call.

 


Great egret, Ardea alba egretta. Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.


An adult Ardea alba egretta feeds a large juvenile.

Enrique Martí Coll Park, San Juan north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

A great egret carries a stick to build its nest.

Enrique Martí Coll Park, San Juan north-eastern Puerto Rico.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Jose Lee Torres).



Great egrets become very tame in human presence. This one strolled across a houses front yard in Hell's Gate, western Saba, Lesser Antilles.


Great blue herons, Ardea herodias. Caño Tiburones Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.

This is the largest heron in the West Indies, and one of the largest in the World.

 


Snowy egret (nominate race Egretta thula thula).

Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.



These photographs show a little blue heron (nominate race, Egretta caerulea caerulea)

dealing with a fish it just took out of the water before running from two other individuals

(another adult and a white juvenile) intent on stealing its hard-won lunch.

Coral Harbor Pond, Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.



A black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) harasses a snowy egret (Egretta thula thula).
Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.


Tricolored heron, Egretta tricolor.

The individual below is close to its nest.

Enrique Martí Coll Park, San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Juvenile tricolored herons can be distinguished by the reddish color of their necks.

Enrique Martí Coll Park, San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Reddish egret, Egretta rufescens. Big Ambergris Cay, Turks and Caicos.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

 

Cattle egret (nominate race, Bubulcus ibis ibis) in non-breeding plumage. Enrique Marti Coll, Park, San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

In the mid-twentieth century, this bird invaded the Americas from its native Eurasia and Africa by crossing the Atlantic Ocean unaided.

Today, it is found throughout most of North, Central and South America, as well as the West Indies.

Such is one of the most formidable natural invasions and expansions known among birds, in historical times.

Man's conversion of many American forest areas to cattle pasture has greatly helped it accomplish this feat.

 

Cattle egret, Bubulcus ibis ibis, in breeding season, when males' bills become bright lilac, red, and yellow.

Enrique Martí Coll Park, San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 


A green heron, Butorides striatus, sneaks among mangrove roots. Cabo Rojo State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 


A green heron, Butorides striatus, perches on mangrove branches. Jose Marti Coll Park, San Juan north-eastern Puerto Rico.



A green heron fluffs its feathers and then hunts for earthworms near a puddle. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.



Striated heron, Butorides striatus. Cartagena Lagoon Nature Reserve.
This is an Old World vagrant to the Americas.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Michael Morel).

 

    Bitterns are herons belonging to the subfamily Botaurinae. With three genera and nine species, these are rather small wading birds. The only native member of the group in the West Indies is the tiny least bittern, Ixobrychus exilis. A secretive bird, seldom seen, its voice is a very un-heron-like "KUH-ku-ku-ku-ku-ku..." that sounds almost like the call of a dove.

 

One of the smallest herons on Earth: the diminutive least bittern, Ixobrychus exilis, is about the size of a pigeon.

These two fix their nest during bouts of mating. The male has a sooty black crown and back.

Common throughout the region, it might be, however, very difficult to observe due to its secretive habits.

Jose Marti Coll Park, San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Family Threskiornithidae: Ibises and Spoonbills

 

    Some ibises and spoonbills are found in the Caribbean islands, as well. They usually feed on small organisms in marshes and salt ponds. The beautiful roseate spoonbill, Platalea ajaja, was once commonly found in most sizeable saline lagoons in the Greater Antilles and The Bahamas. Today, their populations are very reduced, and persist only in rather isolated areas.

 


White ibises, Eudocimus albus. Jaragua National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

The first photograph shows them together with snowy egrets, Egretta thula thula.



 Glossy ibises, Plegadis falcinellus, adult (forefront) and juvenile. Boqueron State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.
This is one of the most widespread birds on Earth. Possibly of African origin, it is now found in all continents save for Antarctica.
(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Michael Morel).


Roseate spoonbills, Platalea ajaja. Enriquillo National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

Spoonbills are actually large, specialized ibises which use their sensitive, flat bills to gather their nourishment of small organisms from shallow waters.

 

Roseate spoonbills. Salinas Lagoon, Montecristi, north-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(First two photographs courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez. Third photograph courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).


ORDER SULIFORMES

    These are aquatic, often marine birds some of which resemble pelicans.


Family Sulidae: Boobies

 

    Unlike pelicans, the similar boobies and gannets lack a throat pouch. However, they still feed mainly on fish and squid, which the hunt by diving into the water from great heights. The most common Antillean member of the family is the brown booby, Sula leucogaster. It is frequently seen following boats, seeking the fish that are disturbed by the passage of the ship.

 

Brown boobies, Sula leucogaster. Mona Island.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

 

Family Phalacrocoracidae: Cormorants

 

    Cormorants are large birds, drab in color, that lay in water with their bodies partially submerged. All are expert swimmers and fishers. Only two species inhabit the West Indies, and one of them, the double-crested, breeds at least in Cuba.

 

Double-crested cormorants, Phalacrocorax auritus. Everglades National Park, Florida, south-eastern United States.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).



Neotropical cormorant, Phalacrocorax brasilianus. Cataño, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Alfredo Colon Archilla).


Family Anhingidae: Anhingas

 

    Anhingas belong to a small family closely related to cormorants. Rather widespread in the continent, it breeds in some of The Bahamas and in Cuba. Females can be distinguished by their brown necks. They swim in and underwater to catch fish by spearing them with the sharp bills, and then climb on branches by water's edge, and spread their wings to dry their  feathers.

 

Anhinga, Anhinga anhinga, male and female. Merrit Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, south-eastern United States.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).


Family Fregatidae: Frigatebirds


    Frigatebirds are large fish-eating sea birds closely related to pelicans. The only species in the Caribbean, the magnificent, is a meter long with long narrow wings more than two meters in span. In fact, it has the largest wing area related to body weight of any living bird. The family contains the most aerial of sea birds in that they cannot float on water, let alone dive, due to their permeable plumage. Indeed, they can only feed by snatching food items from the surface or preying on the eggs and chicks of other birds. Some part of their diet comes from piracy, and they are notorious for harassing other sea birds in order to rob them of their catches.


    There are colonies of frigatebirds in solitary cays and peninsulas throughout the Caribbean. Males have a scarlet red gular pouch that inflates during courtship.


Magnificent frigatebird, Fregata magnificens, courting male. Loiza, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Alfredo Colon Archilla).


ORDER PHAETHONTIFORMES


Family Phaethontidae: Tropicbirds


    This birds are of uncertain affinities. Formerly considered to be relatives to pelicans and gannets they are now placed in their own order and their family, Phaethontidae, contains but three species.

    These a mostly white birds with various amounts of black in their plumage. They are habitants of the World's oceans that feed on marine invertebrates and fish, and two species, the white-tailed and red-billed tropicbirds nest in various numbers in the Antilles, particularly in the eastern Caribbean. The nesting sites are sea cliffs inaccessible to most predators.


ORDER CICONIIFORMES

 

    This group of birds commonly associated with wetlands is storks. It also includes a number of species that have evolved to feed on carrion and look very different from the rest of the members of the order, namely American "vultures".


Family Ciconiidae: Storks

 

    Storks of several species inhabit the American continents, but only the huge wood stork, Mycteria americana, breeds in the West Indies, in some of the Greater Antilles. The bird is a predator of fish and other small vertebrates, as well as a carrion eater.

 

Wood stork, Mycteria americana. Jacksonville, Florida, south-eastern United States.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).


ORDER PHOENICOPTERIFORMES

 

Family Phoenicopteridae: Flamingoes

 

    Flamingoes comprise a unique order of birds distantly related to ducks, geese, and swans. They feed by filtering water for tiny organisms with their peculiar bills. The largest, and perhaps the most beautiful species, the Caribbean flamingo, is quite widespread in some of the Greater Antilles and The Bahamas. It is the only species occurring in the West Indies.

 

    These large and beautiful birds have suffered extensively from habitat reduction and poaching by unscrupulous hunters in Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles, and elsewhere. Sizeable colonies subsist only in Hispaniola, Cuba and The Bahamas. In recent years flamingoes have been seen in Puerto Rico more frequently and in increasing numbers, some staying for entire seasons. Hopefully, the species will recolonize the island soon.


Caribbean flamingoes, Phoenicopterus ruber. Anegada, British Virgin Islands.

This population represents a conservation success story.

Decades after their extirpation from this island they were reintroduced, and are now reproducing successfully.

 

Caribbean flamingoes. Enriquillo National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.



Flamingos feed by turning their beaks upside-down into water and filtering small organisms.
Camuy north-western Puerto Rico.

 

ORDER ANSERIFORMES

 

Family Anatidae: Ducks and Geese

 

    Geese and ducks inhabit lakes, swamps, and large rivers of the Antilles. A few species breed here, although most are migrants from boreal latitudes. As with flamingoes, spoonbills, and other wetland birds, and for similar reasons, many species are now reduced to a fraction of their former numbers, in many areas.

 

    These birds are extremely powerful fliers and are excellent dispersers, a fact attested to by the immense natural range of some species. Some geese and ducks are among the greatest avian migrants of all, as well as being the highest-flying birds.

 

    Typical or "dabbling" ducks (subfamily Anatinae) in the Caribbean region belong mostly to the Cosmopolitan genus Anas. Most of the species found in the West Indies are winter migrants. A few, notably the Bahamian or white-cheeked pintail, Anas bahamensis, is a common breeding resident in the islands.

 

    The members of this group cannot dive, and simply obtain their food, consisting of water weeds and small invertebrates, from just under the surface, as they dip the heads and necks in shallow water. They can sometimes be seen feeding on seeds are small fruits while strolling on the ground near the margins of rivers and lakes.

 


White-cheeked pintail (nominate race, Anas bahamensis bahamensis). Virgin Islands National Park, Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

Members of the genus Anas are called "dabbling ducks", noted for their habit of submerging their heads in shallow water in search of food.

They cannot dive, and take off directly from water. Other, diving ducks, must run on the water's surface for a short distance before taking off.

 

    Populations of whistling ducks, in particular, have suffered severely in many areas due to hunting and habitat destruction. The genus of eight species belongs to the small but almost Cosmopolitan subfamily Dendrocygninae. Though very much at home in water, these ducks exhibit markedly arboreal tendencies and often nest in trees. This trait, combined with their being the largest of ducks (some are the size of small geese) and their long necks, explains their Latin name ("dendro-cygna": "tree swans"). Another characteristic of the group is that they are crepuscular or nocturnal in habits, and are seldom seen in the open except in late afternoons.

 


West Indian whistling ducks, Dendrocygna arborea. National Botanical Garden, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.
Whistlers are the largest of ducks, and this one is the largest of the whistlers.

This duck is the only species of its entire order that is totally restricted to the West Indies, mostly in the Greater Antilles,

Cayman Islands, and The Bahamas, with outlying populations in some of the northern Lesser Antilles.

Its Spanish name in some of the islands, "chiririá", is a rendition of its screaming call.

(First two photographs courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).



West Indian whistling duck, Dendrocygna arborea. Cartagena Lagoon Nature Reserve, south-western Puerto Rico.
(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Michael Morel).

 

Fulvous whistling duck, Dendrocygna bicolor. Near Miami, Florida, south-eastern United States.

The species also breeds in some of the Antillean islands.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

 

Black-bellied whistling duck, (nominate race, Dendrocygna autumnalis autumnalis).

This bird has a huge natural range. The nominate race alone extends from southern North America to Panama and breeds

sparingly in the West Indies, and has other populations in the Old World. Another subspecies lives in South America.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

 

    Diving ducks are rather small species with large heads and short necks. The sister genera Nomonyx and Oxyura can also be distinguished from a distance by their short and stiff tails. When taking off from the water surface, they need to run for a certain distance while beating their wings. In that they can be told apart from typical ducks, which can take off straight from water's surface.

 

Ruddy ducks (West Indian race Oxyura jamaicensis jamaicensis), male and female with ducklings.

First photograph: Cartagena Lagoon National Wildlife Refuge.
Second photograph: Caño Tiburones Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.

This species is a diver and finds its food at underwater levels unreachable to many other ducks.

(Second photograph courtesy of Dr. Luis O. Nieves).


ORDER FALCONIFORMES

 

    After seagulls and their kin, these might be among the birds most easily recognized at a glance by people around the World. Falcons and their relations are carnivores that feed on all sorts of other animals.

    All falconiforms have three things in common: the acute binocular vision that allows them to zero in on their prey, and sharp talons and bills.
 

Family Falconidae: Falcons and Caracaras


    Falcons are distinguished from hawks by their more streamlined shapes and their long wings ending in narrow tips. As a group, they are the fastest flying birds alive. Their hunting technique usually  consists of pouncing on their prey from great heights after dive-bombing at great speed.

 

    While larger species prey mainly on other birds and mammals, smaller ones frequently take ground- or tree-dwelling lizards, insects, and snakes.

 

A close up of a juvenile female American kestrel (Puerto Rican and Lesser Antillean race)

shows the trait common to all the members of its order: binocular vision.

This small hawk preys on birds, rodents, lizards, and snakes.

Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

After receiving an anole from the male, a female American kestrel (Puerto Rican and Lesser Antillean race)

devours part of it, and then enters its nest to give the rest to its chicks.

Mayaguez, western Puerto Rico.



American kestrel (Puerto Rican and Lesser Antillean race), male. Windwardside, western Saba, Lesser Antilles.


American kestrels, pair, and female, (Hispaniolan race, Falco sparverius dominicensis), surveys their territory for prey.

Lagunas de Bani, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

ORDER ACCIPITRIFORMES: Hawks, Eagles, Condors, Ospreys, and Their Kin

 

    These are perhaps the best known of raptorial birds. The talons and beaks of the larger hawks and eagles are murdeous affairs which bring quick - if bloody - deaths to their victims. By comparison Old World vultures, being carrion-eaters, have surprisingly weak feet and blunt claws. The largest and most powerful living accipitriforms are the harpy eagle of the tropical forests of Central and South America, and the Philippine eagle of similar environments in the islands by the same name.

    Birds of prey in these islands include hawks, kites and ospreys. Several species and subspecies are Antillean endemics. Aside from crocodiles and some boas, hawks are at the summit of West Indian terrestrial food pyramids, being the largest and most powerful predators. Most prey on other birds, as well as on rats, hutias, and solenodons. A few species are true specialists, like the Chondrohierax kites that feed almost exclusively on arboreal snails.

 

    The fact that some of these birds will take an occasional chicken or rabbit makes them the object of the wrath of many a farmer, and in some places are shot whenever possible. Ironically, they do far more good than harm in ridding farms from vermin like rats and mongooses.


Family Accipitridae: Hawks and Eagles

 

    Hawks and their relations have broader wings than falcons, and typically soar at great heights in search of prey on the ground or tree tops. Some species, like the aforementioned harpy "eagle" of the neotropical mainland, are the most powerful birds of prey in the World.

 

    While in North America hawks are usually denizens of prairies and sparse woodland, in the West Indies several of the same species live in dense forest, their canopies being searched by them the same way they do grasslands in the continent.

 

    Several Antillean taxa within this family, like the Puerto Rican race of the broad-winged hawk, the Cuban kite, and Hispaniola's Ridgway's hawk, are seriously endangered by human encroachment and habitat loss. However others, notoriously the red-tailed (found from Alaska to northern South America) are quite common. Indeed, this species attains its known highest population density in the El Yunque National Forest of Puerto Rico, and is often seen flying over cities in many of the Antilles.

 

    For all their majestic, soaring flight, accipitrids are poor dispersers over ocean barriers, which provide no thermal currents for they to ride on. The implication of this trait is that population in different islands, until now considered to be races of widespread species, may actually have been isolated for very long periods and might have evolved into full species that have gone unrecognized as such, until now.

 

Red-tailed hawk, (Antillean race, Buteo jamaicensis jamaicensis). Santo Domingo, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

This is a mainly North American bird which extends from Alaska south to northern South America.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

A female broad-winged hawk, Buteo platypterus, patrols its aerial realm and then perches to survey its surroundings.

Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

A male broad-winged hawk surveys its territory from a roof-top. Kingstown, south-western Saint Vincent, Lesser Antilles.

 

Broad-winged hawk (Puerto Rican subspecies, Buteo platypterus brunnescens) female.

El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

This race is seriously endangered and is reduced to a few tiny populations spread through montane forests.

The total estimated population is made of 125 individuals.

 

Another highly endangered Caribbean raptor: Ridgway's hawk, Buteo ridgwayi, female and chick at the nest.

Trepada Alta, Los Haitises, northern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

This is an Hispaniolan endemic, reduced to a tiny population in the northern region on the island.

It is the ecological equivalent of the broad-winged hawk (above), which is much more widespread throughout the West Indies.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).

 

Ridgway's hawk, Buteo ridgwayi. Los Haitises National Park, northern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

First two photographs: male. (Courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).

Last photograph, female,  (courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

Common black hawk, Buteogallus anthracinus, female. Kingstown Botanical Garden, south-western Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.



Cuban black hawk, Buteogallus gundlachi, juvenile. Guanahacabibes Peninsula, western Cuba.
(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

 

Another endangered West Indian raptor. A female Puerto Rican sharp-shinned hawk, Accipiter striatus venator,

tears apart a small bird and then feeds its three chicks. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

This hawk feeds mainly on birds, which it captures while pursuing them on the wing.

The total estimated population is composed of 150 individuals.



Puerto Rican sharp-shinned hawk, feeding on a bird nestling. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.
(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Michael Morel).



Accipiter striatus venator. The same individual photographed above now surveys its territory.

Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.



Accipiter striatus venator, juvenile. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.
(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Michael Morel).

Family Pandionidae: Osprey


    The sole member of this subfamily is the osprey, Pandion haliateus. This large hawk feeds on fish caught on any large body of water, including sea coasts. The prey are captured with is long and powerful talons, after the bird plunges feet-first into the water. Once airborne with its prize, the raptor deftly turns the fish to aim head-first into the wind, thus reducing drag caused by air turbulence. Although it breeds sparingly in The Bahamas, Cuba, and perhaps the other Greater Antilles as far east as the Virgin Islands, most individuals seen in the region are North American winter migrants.

 

Osprey, Pandion haliateus, carrying its next meal: a surgeon fish, probably Acanthurus sp.

San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Jose Lee Torres).



Ospreys turn their prey head first into the wind, in order to avoid drag as they fly.
Loiza, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Alfredo Colon Archilla).


Family Cathartidae: Condors


    The Bahamas and the Greater Antilles harbor populations of turkey "vultures". Frequently seen flying over xeric areas and some mountain ranges, these birds belong to the small family Cathartidae: the condors. They are distinct from true vultures, which are exclusive to the Old World. The resemblance between the two types of carrion-eaters is a striking case of convergent evolution between two different families with almost identical lifestyles. The similarities between condors and vultures extend even to the naked heads and necks of most species, an adaptation to squeeze them into bloated, pestilent cadavers in search of entrails and soft, rotten flesh. (As you can imagine, these birds don't exactly smell like roses).


    Two living members of the order are among the most massive flying birds: the immense Andean and Californian condors, with wingspans of 3.2 and 3 meters, respectively. Other species, like the aforementioned turkey vultures (three species in the genus Cathartes) are smaller, but they still are very large and impressive birds.


    Like the vultures, condors can soar majestically for hours with scarcely a flap of their huge wings, riding the thermal columns of hot air that raise from the ground during the heat of the day. Gliding turkey vultures are a typical sight over the drier regions of Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and some areas of Hispaniola. Their habit of congregating around dead dogs and cats on the sides of highways sometimes makes them end up as road-kills, themselves.

 

    A curious habit that cathartiformes exhibit is that they urinate on their own legs. As the liquid evaporates, it helps them to cool down during overly hot weather.


    Unlike true vultures, which find their food exclusively by sight, some condors find theirs by smell. Particularly, species of Cathartes possess the most acute olfactory sense among birds. Even a small, rotten corpse lying on the ground under the canopy of the forest will not go undetected by their keen noses.


    The relish with which condors feast on flesh that has decayed to a putrid gelatinous slime may be enough to provoke nausea in many a person. However, these birds are important scavengers that rid their surrounding environments of potential health hazards to other animals as well as to man himself. In fact, the literal meaning of the Greek term "cathartes" (origin of the word "catharsis") translates into "purifier".


Turkey vulture (nominate race, Cathartes aura aura). Cabo Rojo, south-western Puerto Rico.

Widespread in the Americas, members of this genus of condors have the most acute olfactory sense among birds.

They congregate, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere and maybe from hundreds of square miles around, wherever the stench of decay indicates the presence of carrion.

Condors are not related to the true vultures (order Falconiformes) of the Old World, but are more closely related to storks and herons.



Nature's garbage disposal: a turkey vulture. Windsor, north-central Jamaica.

 

A turkey vulture (nominate race) delights itself with a succulent dead toad. Lajas, south-western Puerto Rico.

(Photograph courtesy of Dr. Luis O. Nieves).

 

And after enjoying a meal of nutritious rotten corpses, there is nothing like a good scratch

against a branch to rid yourself from the pieces of decomposed entrails clinging to your face.

Lajas, south-western Puerto Rico.


ORDER GRUIFORMES

 

Family Gruidae: Cranes

 

    Cranes are a Cosmopolitan family of very large, yet quite primitive, birds. The only native representative of this group in the West Indies is an endemic Cuban subspecies of the Sandhill crane, Grus canadensis pratensis. This animal is a denizen of open prairies and savannas, and has an omnivorous diet of both plant and animal material.

 

Sandhill cranes (Floridian race, Grus canadensis pratensis). Near Miami, Florida, south-eastern United States.

The Cuban race of this species is the only crane to be found in the Antillean islands.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

 

Family Rallidae: Rails, Coots, Moorhens, and Their Kin

 

    Rails, moorhens, coots, and gallinules are probably a polyphyletic assemblage of birds of very ancient origin. Mainly creatures of wetlands, native rails and coots are found in mangrove forests and freshwater swamps. Some species are much more often heard than seen, due to their secretive habits.

 

    Moorhens and coots are excellent swimmers. However unlike ducks, which possess webbed feet, swimming rallids have lobes on their toes that open in the back-stroke of the foot and the animal swims.

 

    One species, the purple gallinule (Porphyrio martinica) is not so much a swimmer as a walker on the large and buoyant leaves of water lilies and similar plants. Their toes are greatly elongated in order to better distribute the bird's weight during this feat, though not as much as those of another group adapted to do the same, namely the rather distantly related jacanas.

 

Common gallinules, Gallinula chloropus cerceris.

First photograph: Caño Tiburones Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: Jose Marti Coll Park, San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
Third photograph: Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Common gallinules can be very pugnacious, battling fiercely for territory.

Caño Tiburones Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.

 

Caribbean coot, Fulica caribaea.

Caño Tiburones Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.

 

The most colorful Caribbean rallid: the purple gallinule Porphyrio martinica.

Caño Tiburones Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.

 

    Rails and crakes are wading birds, inhabitants of the shallow waters of mangrove swamps, marshes, and freshwater lakes. Their peeping or cackling calls denote their presence even as the birds themselves are rather seldom seen in the open. Rallus rails are rather large, but other species are tiny, like the sparrow sized yellow crake, Porzana flaviventer, and the slightly larger black crake, Laterallus jamaicensis.

 

Clapper rail (West Indian race, Rallus longirostris caribaeus).
First two photographs: Cabo Rojo State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.
Last photograph: Corozo National Wildlife Refure, south-western Puerto Rico. (Courtesy of Mr. Michael Morel).

 

Clapper rail (West Indian race, Rallus longirostris caribaeus), captures an Uca fiddler crab, one of its main prey in the Caribbean.

Cabo Rojo State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

The smallest West Indian rail (and one of the smallest in the World), is the yellow-breasted crake, Porzana flaviventer.

Hacienda la Esperanza, Manati, northern Puerto Rico.

(Photograph courtesy of Dr. Alfredo Colon Archilla).



Soras, Porzana carolina. Boqueron National Wildlife Refuge, south-western Puerto Rico.
(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Michael Morel).


Family Aramidae: Limpkin

 

    The limpkin, Aramus guarauna, belongs to the monotypic family Aramidae. Formerly common in most of the Greater Antilles and some of The Bahamas, the limpkin is now uncommon to extirpated in most places outside Cuba, Jamaica and some regions of Hispaniola. There are certain indications that West Indian populations of this bird might belong to a species different from those in the continents. Its call is an eerie scream that carries far across swamps and forests.

 


Limpkin, Aramus guarauna. Female tending its nest and then feeding on a Pomacea snail.
Canóvanas, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

ORDER CHARADRIIFORMES

 

    Gulls, terns, sandpipers, plovers, avocets, and relatives are marine and wetland birds, although a few species, like the killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) can be found far away from water. The majority of species in the West Indies are migrants, though some breed in the region. Most lay their eggs in rudimentary nests made from twigs or pebbles, or on the bare sand. These eggs are often camouflaged with specks and irregular spots that break their outline against their background. Chicks are likewise colored during the first few days after hatching.

 

Family Charadridae: Plovers and Their Kin

 

    Several species of spindly-legged plovers can be seen easily around lakes, lagoons, and seashores of the Caribbean islands. Their high-pitched, piping calls are most often uttered as warnings to their neighbors when a predator or human gets too close.

 

Wilson's plover (nominate race, Charadrius wilsonia wilsonia).

Coral Bay Pond, south-eastern Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Wilson's plover (nominate race, Charadrius wilsonia wilsonia).

Salinas de Bani, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 


Wilson's plover's eggs. Great Pond, southern Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Killdeers (Caribbean race, Charadrius vociferus ternominatus), eggs, chick and adult. Camp Santiago, Salinas, south-eastern Puerto Rico.


Two adult killdeers (Caribbean race, Charadrius vociferus ternominatus), attempt to distract me away from their chick. Camp Santiago, Salinas, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

In the Caribbean, this plover is the most terrestrial member of its genus, often breeding far away from water.



Three kildeers
(Caribbean race, Charadrius vociferus ternominatus), face off for turf. Juana Diaz, southern Puerto Rico.

 


Snowy plover, Charadrius nivosus. Anegada, British Virgin Islands.

 


A snowy plover, Charadrius nivosus, sits on its nest. Salinas de Bani, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).



Black-bellied plovers, Pluvialis squatarola. Rio Grande, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Family Haematopodidae: Oystercatchers

 

    Oystercatchers feed mainly on bivalve mollusks on rocky seashores. This niche is occupied by no other bird in the West Indies.

 

American oystercatcher, Haematopus palliatus. Rincon, western Puerto Rico.

This is a specialized form that feeds mostly on mollusks on rocky shores (though this individual is eating the flesh of a coconut).

Its breeds in the West Indies with certain frequency.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Michael Morel).

 

Family Recurvirostridae: Stilts and Avocets

 

    Stilts are related to plovers, but differ from them in being long-necked and legged. Their yapping, bark-like calls can be most annoying when you wish for silence as you try to photograph other, nearby birds. Their characteristic upturned beaks are used to expertly pick up small organisms from the water in which they wade.

 

Black-necked stilt, Himantopus mexicanus.
First two photographs: Cabo Rojo State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.
Third photograph: Piñones State Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Black-necked stilt chick. Caño Tiburones Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.

(Photograph courtesy of Dr. Luis O. Nieves).

 

Family Scolopacidae: Sandpipers, Snipes, and Their Kin

 

    Sandpipers look similar to plovers, although many species are comparatively tiny. The vast majority are winter migrants to the West Indies although one species, the willet, does nest here.

 

    Many scolopacid species that migrate through the West Indies to and from their breeding grounds are so alike to each other in their wintering plumages, that it can be extremely difficult to tell apart. This is so especially with the many species of Calidris sandpipers.

 

Lesser yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes, small individual on the left) and greater yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca, the other two individuals).

These species, as many others from a number of families, are winter migrants in the West Indies.

Coral Harbor Pond, south-eastern Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Lesser yellowlegs, Tringa flavipes. Benner Bay, south-eastern Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

 

A lesser yellowlegs, Tringa flavipes, feeds on swamp flies. Cabo Rojo State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Willet, Tringa semipalmata. Cabo Rojo State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

This species breeds sparingly in the West Indies, though most individuals in the region are migrants.

(Photograph courtesy of Dr. Luis O. Nieves).

 

Hudsonian godwit, Limosa haemastica. Salinas de Bani, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

Whimbrel, Numenius phaeopus. Salinas de Bani, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

Some of the smaller species of Calidris sandpipers are extremely difficult to tell apart.

These groups, perhaps composed of more than one species, were photographed

at the Cabo Rojo State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Stilt sandpipers, Calidris himantopus. Coral Harbor Pond, south-eastern Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Least sandpipers, Calidris minutilla. Anegada, British Virgin Islands.

 


Semipalmated sandpiper, Calidris pusilla. Piñones State Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Although highly gregarious, sandpipers can still be aggressive. These two semipalmated sandpipers settle their differences.

Dunas de Bani Natural Monument, Bani, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

Ruddy turnstones, Arenaria interpres. Jacksonville, Florida, south-eastern United States.

Found as winter migrants throughout the Caribbean.

The name derives from its habit of turning over objects in beaches in search of invertebrates that comprise their food.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Jose Burgess).

 

Ruddy turnstones.
First photograph: Protestant Cay, off northern Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.
Second photograph: La Pitahaya, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Short-billed dowitchers, Limnodromus griseus, males. Cabo Rojo State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

After just arriving from their nesting grounds in the far north, these individuals still show some of their courtship plumages.

 

Family Laridae: Gulls and Terns

 

    Gulls and terns are two closely related subfamilies with several species passing through or remaining in the Caribbean during winter. Among terns, several species do nest in the region, while the rather small laughing gull is the only one of its kind to do so. Mixed-species nesting colonies can be found in remote cays or isolated peninsulas and salt flats.

 

    One particular species, the arctic tern, Sterna paradisea, is perhaps the most accomplished avian migrant. It circumnavigates the planet once every year, as it nests within the Arctic Circle during the northern spring, then to spend the southern summer in Antarctica and its islands. A number of individuals pass through the Caribbean during this yearly migration.

 

    Gulls may be the quintessential birds, in that they are universally recognized for what they are by people all around the World.

 


Laughing gulls, Larus atricilla. Charlotte Amalie Bay, southern Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

This is the most common gull in the Caribbean, nesting in cays and rocky coasts between April and September.

During the rest of the year they wander far out at sea.

 

Nestling and juvenile laughing gulls. Jaragua National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Least terns, Sternula antillarum, eggs, chick, and adult.

First photograph: Ponce, southern Puerto Rico.

Other two photographs: Jaragua National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Least terns, Sternula antillarum Salinas de Bani, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

The male in the first photograph is sent away by  female unimpressed by its present of a small fish.

The female in the second photograph tends to her chick.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

 


Royal tern (nominate subspecies, Thalasseus maximus maximus). Aguirre State Forest, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

This individual is banded on one of its legs.

 

Gull-billed tern, Gelochelidon nilotica. Salinas, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Sandwich tern  (yellow-pointed bill subspecies, Thalasseus sandvicensis acuflavidus).

Salinas, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Terns and relatives can be highly gregarious birds when nesting.

This shows part of a colony of Sandwich terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis acuflavidus) adults and juveniles.

They are joined by a royal tern (Thalasseus maximus maximus) in the third photograph.

Jaragua National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Brown noddies, Anous stolidus.

First photograph: Cayos Siete Hermanos, north-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola. (Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).

Second photograph: French Cay, The Bahamas. (Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

 

Sooty terns, Onychoprion fuscatus, two adults and a chick. French Cay, The Bahamas.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

 

ORDER COLUMBIFORMES

 

Family Columbidae: Pigeons

 

    Pigeons and doves are rather primitive birds capable of very strong flight. They have conquered every land habitat on Earth, including many isolated oceanic islands. The order is well represented in the West Indies with several endemic species, and some others of continental origin. There is no true systematic distinction between pigeons and doves. Native doves in the region are rather small and usually are ground foragers (with the exception of the white-winged dove) while pigeons are larger and mostly arboreal. The largest of the order in the Caribbean are the four native Patagioenas pigeons, fruit-eating species which live mostly in forested areas.

 

Ground dove (Puerto Rican race, Columbina passerina portoricensis), male, emitting its call. Salinas, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

This sparrow-sized dove is the most widespread bird in the Caribbean, found throughout the entire region,

and from the southern United States, through Central America to much of South America.

As its name implies, it spends much of its time on the ground, looking for the seeds it feeds upon.

 

Ground dove (Puerto Rican race), female.

Fort Buchanan, Guaynabo, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

A ground dove nestling expresses its displeasure at the camera.

Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Ground dove nestlings. Los Indios Ecological Reserve, Juventud Island, off south-eastern Cuba.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. David Ortiz Martinez).

 

White-winged doves (nominate race, Zenaida asiatica asiatica).

First photograph: Florida, central Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Cabo Rojo State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

In spite of its Latin epithet, the species is not Asiatic, but North American and West Indian in its distribution.

The second individual inflates its throat sack as it emits its explosive (for a dove) call.


Zenaida dove, Zenaida aurita. Philipsburg, southern Sint Maarten, Lesser Antilles.

Zenaida doves are one of the most common species of their order in Antillean urban areas.

They are frequently seen in mixed flocks with some of their relatives, like ground doves, white-wings, and

rock pigeons, as they look for seeds and food scraps left behind by humans in parks and city streets.

Its call is very similar to that of the mourning dove.

Fort Buchanan, Guaynabo, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Mourning dove, Zenaida macroura. Cartagena Lagoon Nature Reserve, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Eared doves, Zenaida auriculata. Grand Anse, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

 

Caribbean dove, Leptotila jamaicensis. Anchovy, north-western Jamaica.

Its sweet call is heard among dense shrubbery .

 

    A group of Caribbean doves, those of the sister genera Starnoenas and Geotrygon are peculiar in their habits. These are dwellers of forests' underbrush and of tickets. In this habitat, where the shrubbery creates lots of acoustic interference for the calls of most birds, their low-pitched, drawn-out calls, which resemble foghorns, carry far. Their strange utterances are strongly ventriloqual and this, coupled with their elusive disposition, make these birds much easier to be heard than seen.

 


Bridled quail-doves (nominate race, Geotrygon mystacea mystacea). Guana Island, British Virgin Islands.

These beautiful terrestrial doves inhabit many of the Lesser Antilles and range north to Puerto Rico.

Members of this genus emit foghorn-like, ventriloqual calls designed to penetrate through the forest's understory.

 

Key West quail-dove, Geotrygon chrysia. Susua State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Ruddy quail dove, Geotrygon montana, female. Bahoruco National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

    Powerful fliers, some West Indian pigeons, like the scaly-naped (Patagioenas squamosa) and white-crowned (P. leucocephala) of the Greater Antilles, are sometimes seen out at sea as they migrate among the islands in search of food or better nesting conditions.

 

A scaly-naped pigeon, Patagioenas squamosa, feeds on the fruits of a teyer palm, Coccothrinax alta.

Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

This is primarily a pigeon of forested highlands, although it can be found at sea level in some regions.

When it lives in urban or suburban areas, this usually shy animal becomes quite used to human presence.

Its call, sometimes rendered as a variation of "who-are-you", is often heard in forested areas.


During courtship, two scaly-naped pigeons contort themselves on branches.

Virgin Islands National Park, Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Plain pigeon (Puerto Rican race, Patagioenas inornata wetmorei). Captive specimen photographed

at the aviary of the Puerto Rican Plain Pigeon Project, Humacao Campus of the University of Puerto Rico.

These large pigeons endemic to the Greater Antilles were one found in large numbers. Sadly,

they are now rare throughout much of their range, due to hunting and habitat destruction.

(Thank you, Dr. Raúl Pérez Rivera, for allowing me to photograph the beautiful

birds under your care, and for your and your staff's efforts in saving them from extinction).

 

Male white-crowned pigeon, Patagioenas leucocephala, sitting on the nest. Fort Buchanan, Guaynabo, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

This is an Antillean near-endemic, being found outside the West Indies only in some of the Florida Keys.

 

A white-crowned pigeon chick rests from the mid-day sun.

Protestant Cay, off Christiansted, Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.

 

ORDER PSITTACIFORMES

 

Family Psittacidae: Parrots, Parakeets Macaws, and Their Kin

 

    Related to pigeons, parrots are especially common in the tropics of the World. All species in the Americas belong to the family Arinidae. Sadly, several species in the Lesser Antilles became extinct centuries ago, due to anthropogenic reasons. Most remaining species are from threatened to almost extinct.

 

    Famous for being able to imitate sounds that habitually surround them, many parrots are able to reproduce human voices and words. Curious, raucous, and often exhibiting colors which beauty defies description, they are among the most engaging non-mammalian pets that man has taken into his own abode.

 

    All parrots have a combination of anatomical characteristics, like a zygodactylous arrangement to their toes (two pointing forward and two backwards, a trait shared with owls and woodpeckers) that allows them to obtain a firm hold on their perches, and a powerful bill used to deal with the seeds, fruits, and nuts they usually feed upon. The bill itself is jointed to the skull and, combined with a muscular and mobile tongue, it allows the bird not only to manipulate difficult food items, but makes many parrots capable of cracking open rock-hard nuts unavailable to any other animal. The bill itself is often used as a grasping "third foot" as the bird maneuvers among the bough of trees.

 

    Indeed, a parrot's bill is something to reckon with. It is usually taller than wide or long, and comes with a set of enormously powerful jaw muscles. This combination makes for an excellent and nimble nutcracker... or weapon. In defense, even a small parakeet can deliver a very painful bite, while the awesomely massive bills of the largest macaws and cockatoos are capable of severing a human finger at the first attempt.

 

    Parrots are not precisely songsters, their vocalizations often being far from melodious. Their screeches and trumpeting calls help them communicate over vast distances. Indeed, the ear-splitting screams of the largest macaws are among the loudest noises produced by any terrestrial organism on Earth, surpassed in decibels only by those of a few cotingas, like bellbirds.

 

    The most impressive living parrots are the enormous Ara and Anodorhynchus macaws of South America. Several species might have inhabited the Antilles, yet there is clear historical information about only one: the now extinct Cuban macaw, Ara tricolor.

 

    The other two genera that naturally occur in the West Indies are the Aratinga parakeets and the Amazona parrots. Several species of Aratinga inhabit the Greater Antilles, where they occupy mainly forested areas but sometimes adapting to and becoming quite tame in man-made environments, like cities. In places like Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic hundreds of them flock in the evenings on trees in the grounds of some hotels.

 

Hispaniolan parakeets, Aratinga chloroptera chloroptera.

First four photographs: Santo Domingo, southern Dominican Republic,  Hispaniola.

Last photograph: Pedernales, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

This species formerly inhabited Puerto Rico as well, as an endemic subspecies (A. c. maugei).

After its extinction the nominate race has been introduced recently into Puerto Rico.

 

Jamaican parakeet, Aratinga nana. Windsor, north-central Jamaica.

Its loud screeches foretell their presence much before they are noticed amongst the foliage.

 

    Compared to Aratinga, Amazona is more widespread, existing also in the Lesser Antilles and The Bahamas. The five Greater Antillean and Bahamian Amazona are rather small species of mainly green color and of Central American origin. The four extant Lesser Antillean species are much larger and colorful, and are of South American ancestry. Among these last are two of the most beautiful Antillean birds: the huge imperial and Saint Vincent's amazons.

 

Hispaniolan parrots, Amazona ventralis. Bahoruco Mountains, south-central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(First photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodríguez. Second photograph courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).

 

Puerto Rican parrots, (mainland Puerto Rican race, Amazona vittata vittata).

This birds were near extinction in the late XX century, and have been saved through continued efforts to

breed them in captivity in aviaries custom-made for them, like this one at Rio Abajo, central Puerto Rico.

As of the year 2008, it is still one of the 10 most endangered birds on Earth.

The species has been "Puerto Rican" only in the last few centuries, since apparently it also inhabited the

Lesser Antilles as far east and south and the Antigua-Barbuda insular bank.



Cuban parrots, (Bahamian race, Amazona leucocephala bahamensis). Great Inagua, The Bahamas.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).


Yellow-billed parrot, Amazona collaria, Hope Botanical Garden, Kinston, south-eastern Jamaica.
(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

Queen of the Amazons: the imperial parrot, Amazona imperialis, is the giant of its kind.

It is endemic to Dominica, the only one of the Lesser Antilles to boast two native species of the genus.

This beautiful organism, half a meter in length, is the national bird of its home island.

Roseau Botanical Garden, south-western Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

A red-necked parrot, Amazona arausiaca, flies under a cloudy sky and then perches high amidst canopy branches.

One of the two endemic parrots of the island, these impressive birds are threatened by habitat destruction.

Its loud calls are heard high among tree tops in the rain forests.

Northern Forest Reserve, Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

(Audio file courtesy of Dr. Luis O. Nieves).

 

Red-necked parrots are kept for a captive-breeding program in the Roseau Botanical Garden, south-western Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

Efforts like these are necessary to help populations of endangered birds to again reach viable wild populations.

Although not noticeable in these photographs, the name derives from the red patch on the back of the neck.

 

Another huge Antillean psittacid: the stunning Saint Vincent's parrot, Amazona guildingii.

Its bombastic screams often scare hikers who unwittingly approach them in the rain forests of the island.

Kingstown Botanical Garden, south-western Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.


ORDER CUCULIFORMES

 

Family Cuculidae: Cuckoos

 

    Cuckoos are well known in some parts of the World for being nest parasites. Females lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, which then rear their chicks for them. However, species that are native to the Caribbean islands build their own nests. The cuckoos of the genus Coccyzus are commonly seen in the Antilles. Some of the Greater Antillean and Bahamian endemic species are very large, and are specialized lizard hunters. Their very long tails make them look much larger than they really are, and the squirrel-like way in which they move among branches is very picturesque. The smaller members of the genus are more widespread throughout the West Indies, and are ecological generalists.

 

Mangrove cuckoos (Antillean race, Coccyzus minor nesiotes).
First two photographs: Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

Third photograph: Cambalache State Forest, north-western Puerto Rico.
West Indian cuckoos are not nest-parasites, unlike many members of the family in other areas of the World.
The first individual displays the typical black and white tail feathers, a trait shown by all West Indian cuckoos except the for the anis.

 

    All Caribbean species of this genus emit long and strident "kakakakakaka...." calls. Other, more subdued utterances include clucks and mews which seem to fulfill the purpose of contact calls between mates.

 

    These birds have peculiar black and white patterns under their tails, which are believed to serve them for scaring their main prey - anoles and other lizards - into moving. In that way, the birds can better detect them amongst the dense foliage.

 

The largest member of its order in the Caribbean: the huge chestnut-bellied cuckoo, Coccyzus pluvialis.

Windsor, north-central Jamaica.

 

Bay breasted cuckoo, Coccyzus rufigularis. Bahoruco Mountains, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).

 

    Placid in disposition yet difficult to see, these cuckoos inhabit the dense foliage of forests, where they use their long bills to pry into bromeliads and masses of leaves in search of their food. They avidly devour spiders, caterpillars, centipedes, small snakes, and even the occasional mouse. However, much of their diet consists of lizards, especially Anolis.

 

    Although they are highly arboreal, lizard cuckoos sometimes take to the ground in search of prey. Running quickly with their long tails being held horizontally, they give off the fleeting appearance of being a mongoose or ferret.

 

Hispaniolan lizard cuckoo (nominate race, Coccyzus longirostris longirostris). Jaragua National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).


A Puerto Rican lizard cuckoo, Coccyzus vieilloti extricates a buthid scorpion, Centruroides griseus,

from underneath tree bark and then disables it before swallowing the venomous arachnid.

Cambalache State Forest, northern Puerto Rico.



Puerto Rican lizard cuckoos, Coccyzus vieilloti.
First photograph: Tortuguero Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Florida, central Puerto Rico.


Family Crotophagidae: Anis

 

    Anis are very different from typical cuckoos. Sooty black in color, and with strange, parrot-like bills, they are communal nesters: several females lay their eggs in a single large nest. Each layer of eggs is separated from the next by a layer of leaf litter, and only the uppermost batch of eggs ever hatches.

 

    The smooth-billed ani, Crotophaga ani, is widespread throughout the West Indies. Its strange and plaintive "eeeee-lik" call is frequently heard in many areas except the highest mountains and dense rain forests. Its main diet consists of insects which it captures among the leaves of trees.

 


Smooth-billed ani, Crotophaga ani. Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.
Unusual members of the cuckoo family, one or another of the three species of anis are found from Florida to  South America.

In the Antilles, only the smooth-bill occurs, where it is widespread in open woodlands and in savannas.

 

All three species of anis are highly gregarious.

These smooth-bills were photographed in Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 


Smooth-billed ani. Cartagena Lagoon Nature Reserve, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

ORDER CAPRIMULGIFORMES

 

    These Cosmopolitan, mainly nocturnal family includes nightjars, nighthawks, potoos, and the highly peculiar oilbirds of South America. These last are the only birds known to use echolocation to maneuver in the dark.

 

Family Caprimulgidae: Nighthawks, Nightjars, and Their Kin

 

    Nighthawks of the genus Chordeiles are the only Antillean members of the order apt to be seen by day, as they fly above both cities and rural areas in overcast days.

 

    One native species, Chordeiles gundlachi, breeds exclusively in the Caribbean islands from late spring to early fall, migrating to northern South America in winter. Another, C. minor, is a North American winter migrant in the West Indies. Other genera present in the West Indies are the American Antrostomus and the Antillean endemic genus Siphonorhis. This last contains only one living species in Hispaniola, while the Cuban and Jamaican ones seem to be extinct.

 

An Antillean nighthawk, Chordeiles gundlachi, sits on its egg, laid on the bare, gravelly ground of a beach.

Ponce, southern Puerto Rico.

 


Antillean nighthawk egg, Chordeiles gundlachi. Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Antillean nighthawk on a more typical diurnal retreat: a tree's bough.

It is this behavior with further evolved into the usual stance of potoos (further below).

Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Hiding in plain sight: common nighthawks, Chordeiles minor, rest on exposed branches at midday.

Fort Hood, Texas, southern United States.

The species is a migrant resident in the West Indies during the boreal winter.

 

Least poorwill, Siphonorhis brewsteri. Puerto Escondido, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).

 

Puerto Rican nightjar, Antrostomus noctitherus, male incubating eggs.

The last photograph shows the bird displaying a "broken" wing in order to distract me from the nest.

Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.



Puerto Rican nightjars, Antrostomus noctitherus, males. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.
Even when they seem to have their eyelids closed, caprimulgids have slits in them that allow the birds to keep an eye on their surroundings.


Family Nyctibiidae: Potoos

 

    This small family is composed of only one genus, Nyctibius. Potoos are strange birds that look like huge goatsuckers with enormous mouths. In spite of their size, they are very difficult to see, due to a unique behavioral adaptation. When resting during the day, a potoo clings to a branch in an almost vertical position, elongating its body and closing its eyes to slits. Combined with its grey- or brown-mottled plumage, the bird is nearly indistinguishable from a dead stump.

 

    They lay single eggs on a bare branch, and the bird incubates it in the same position described above.

 

    Only one species inhabits the West Indies: the common potoo, Nyctibius jamaicensis, is found in Jamaica and Hispaniola.

 

Northern potoo (Jamaican race, Nyctibius jamaicensis jamaicensis). Windsor, north-central Jamaica.

(Third photograph courtesy of Mr. Mel Jose Rivera).



Nyctibius jamaicensis jamaicensis. Portland Ridge, south-central Jamaica.
(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).


Northern potoo (Hispaniolan race, Nyctibius jamaicensis abotti). Puerto Escondido, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

ORDER STRIGIFORMES

 

    To a degree, owls are nocturnal counterparts of the diurnal hawks and falcons. However, they are not related to them, but to nightjars and potoos (order Caprimulgiformes). The larger Antillean species like Asio, Pseudoscops, and Tyto feed mostly on birds and small mammals, while the smaller ones, like Megascops, Otus, Glaucidium, and Athene prey mainly on insects, lizards, and small birds (though a juicy mouse will not be ignored).

 

    Very few species in the World are diurnal but, in the Antilles, and with the partial exception of the Tyto barn owls sometimes seen abroad in late afternoons, all species are consummated lords of the night.

 

    Unlike diurnal raptors, owls have a zygodactilous arrangement to their toes. The two outer ones point backwards, while the two middle ones point to the front. This trait, shared with a few other avian groups like parrots and woodpeckers, grants owls a better perching ability. It also facilitates a stronger grip on their prey. Like parrots, many owls are capable of using a foot to manipulate their food and bring it to their mouths. In a way similar to raptors, owls possess long and sharp talons and extremely powerful tendons in their feet and toes, an arrangement that spells certain death for their prey.

 

    An owl has such large eyes for its size that these cannot move in their sockets. Instead, the animal has to rotate the entire head in order to point its eyes toward any certain spot. The forward-pointing eyes, which grant the bird perfect binocular vision to accurately judge distance to prey and perches, coupled with its roundish face, give an owl an eerily human-like appearance. This is the reason, precisely, why in many cultures owls are beheld with either irrational suspicion or as symbols of wisdom.

 

    An owl's neck is rather short, but is nonetheless very flexible, and the bird can often turn its head more than 180 degrees in any horizontal direction. Hence the comical way in which an owl can look straight at a person standing right behind it without turning its body around.

 

    Having the best nocturnal eyesight among birds means that owls have had to sacrifice color vision for light sensitivity. Unusually among birds, owls probably see only in black and white. These means that visual signals are not a primary means of communication for them, as it is among many diurnal birds and, so, most members of the group are rather drab in their color. In order to communicate among themselves in the darkness of the night, owls emit a repertoire of ululating screams, trills, hoots, and whistles. These are often far-carrying and highly ventriloqual, and the haunting quality of many of these calls contributes to the superstitious fear that many uninformed people feel about these fascinating birds. 

 

    For all their acute eyesight, most owls also have an excellent sense of hearing. The external ears of many species are placed asymmetrically on the sides of their heads, one opening being slightly higher or further back on regards to the other. This arrangement helps the bird pinpoint the exact location of potential prey or danger. The round or heart-shaped faces of most owls are due to the facial disks of feathers that funnel sound waves into the ear openings. Indeed, save for the South American oilbird (a relation of the nightjars) owls have the best hearing of their entire class.

 

    In order to minimize noise interference caused by their own wings as they close in on prey, many owls have special microscopic flecks along the edges of their wing feathers that avoid making the flapping sounds so characteristic of, say, pigeons. At least to our ears, owls fly in perfect silence.

 

    Silent ghosts in the forests of the night...

 

Family Strigidae: Typical Owls

 

    These are the typical owls, and the most varied group of their order in the Antilles.

 

    Asio owls inhabit The Bahamas and the Greater Antilles, while Glaucidium siju, Pseudoscops grammicus, and Megascops nudipes are endemic to Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico, respectively. Athene cunicularia is also found mainly in the Greater Antilles although some populations are likewise found in some of the northern Lesser Antilles.

 

Puerto Rican screech owl (mainland Puerto Rican race, Megascops nudipes nudipes). Pandura Mountains, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

This race is common, but the one endemic to the Virgin Islands (M. n. newtoni) is today very rare, due to the deforestation that did away with old, hollowed-out

trees in which this species nests. The recent secondary forests and bushland now covering most areas of the Virgin Islands cannot sustain viable populations

of this species. The Puerto Rican woodpecker and parrot were likewise extirpated from the Virgin Islands long ago. Their abandoned nests are

often used by the screech owls to lay their own eggs, so their disappearance has not helped improve the situation of the nocturnal raptors.

Aside from a low-pitched trill, this species emits a very loud call that resembles a bout of hysterical laughter.

It can be very alarming when you are alone in a forest, at night, and suddenly hear one cackling nearby.

 

Puerto Rican screech owl (mainland Puerto Rican race, Megascops nudipes nudipes), in aggressive display.

El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

(Photograph courtesy of Dr. Luis O. Nieves).

 

Fledging Puerto Rican screech owl.

Captive specimen from Trujillo Alto, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Cuban bare-legged owl, Gymnoglaux lawrencii. Guanahacabibes Peninsula, western Cuba.
(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

 


Burrowing owls (Hispaniolan race, Athene cunicularia troglodytes). Bahoruco Mountains, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

This species exhibits the peculiar behavior of nesting underground,

in burrows excavated by the birds themselves or sequestered from other animals.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).



Burrowing owls (Hispaniolan race, Athene cunicularia troglodytes. Neiba Range, south-central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.


Short-eared owls (Puerto Rican race, Asio flammeus portoricensis).
First photograph: San Germán, south-western Puerto Rico. (Courtesy of Dr. Rafael Tirado Cruz).
Second photograph: Cabo Rojo, south-western Puerto Rico. (Courtesy of Mr. Michael Morel).

This is one of the largest owls to inhabit the West Indies, second in size only to the Stygian owl (below).

It is possible that Antillean populations comprise a distinct species.

 

Stygian owl, Asio stygius. Bahoruco Mountains, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).

 


Cuban pigmy owl, (mainland Cuban race Glaucidium siju siju).

First photograph: Bermejas, south-western Cuba. (Courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).
Second photograph: Zapata Swamp. (Courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

This sparrow-sized species is the smallest owl in the West Indies.


Family Tytonidae: Barn Owls

 

    Barn owls comprise an almost Cosmopolitan family, represented in the West Indies by the common barn owl, Tyto alba, found in the Greater Antilles and a few of the Lesser. The endemic Hispaniolan ashy faced owl, Tyto glaucops. Several extinct species are known from the other Greater Antilles.

 

    Unlike typical owls, barn owls are frequently crepuscular in habits, and are sometimes seen abroad on early evenings. However, like the strigids, they are silent predators of rodents and other small animals.

 

Barn owl, Tyto alba, feeding its chicks with a mouse. Matadero de Honduras, south-western Dominica Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

Ashy faced owl, Tyto glaucops. Villa Mella, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photogtraph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

ORDER APODIFORMES

 

    Swifts and hummingbirds are closely related even as the two groups look so different from each other. Swifts (family Apodidae) are the most aerial of birds. Some species even mate in the air, sleep on the wing at night, and touch land only to breed. In fact, the name of the order ("those without feet") stems from the ancient belief that swifts could not land because they had no legs.


Family Apodidae: Swifts

    Perhaps these birds spend more time in the air than any others.  Superficially similar to swallows,  swifts are characterized for their flattened heads, long and streamlined bodies and long, pointed and unusually stiff wings. All these are adaptations for a life spent flying. Some species are amond the fastest living animals.


    There are few species of swifts in the Antilles. Species of Streptoprogne, Cypseloides, and Tachornis inhabit the Greater Antilles and some of The Bahamas. Several species of Chaetura can be found mainly in the Lesser Antilles.



Black swift, Cypseloides niger, on its next. Ebano Verde Nature Reserve, central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.
(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).


Family Trochilidae: Hummingbirds

 

    While swifts are almost Cosmopolitan in distribution, the other group in the order is exclusively American. From Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, these small birds are well known for their colorful plumage and for their ability to hover in mid-air, and are the most accomplished aerial acrobats among chordates: hummingbirds. They are especially diversified in the Neotropics, and are found throughout the West Indies. Every island has at least one species, with Puerto Rico having the most with five, including its two endemics. The smallest bird on Earth is Cuban: the bee hummingbird, Mellisuga helenae. Its congener, Mellisuga minima of Hispaniola and Jamaica, is but a little larger.

 

    Hummers are the jewels of the avian kingdom. Their strongly iridescent plumages reflect sunlight in all hues of metallic greens, reds, yellows, oranges, purples, and blues. However, because of the peculiar phenomenon of light refraction that lies behind their brilliant colors, they may appear to be a drab brown or black in poor illumination. Indeed, their glorious tones are difficult to observe, let alone photograph, unless lighting is ideal.

 

The iridescence on the throat of a male Antillean mango hummingbird (Puerto Rican race, Antracothorax dominicus aurulentus)

shows and hides as the bird turns its head, varying the angle of light's incidence.

Camp Santiago, Salinas, south-eastern Puerto Rico.


    Hummingbirds can hover like no other bird, as they probe flowers and leaves for nectar and insects. Beating their wings as quickly as 75 times per second, twisting and changing direction in mid-air in almost impossible ways, hummingbirds are true aerial acrobats. This feat of hovering and their generally frenetic lifestyle consumes immense quantities of energy for their size. Indeed, hummers need to feed almost constantly. Just one day without food can weaken them to the point of death. During their nighttime sleep, these birds lower their metabolism until only their most vital functions remain active. Then, their breathing almost stops, and their heartbeats are reduced from almost 1200 per minute during daylight hours to just a few. The purpose of this phenomenon is to conserve as much energy as possible during the hours when they cannot feed. This state of suspended animation is a sort of circadian hibernation, a trait shared with other small and extremely active animals, like some bats. The energy cost for being a tiny endothermic organism can be very high, indeed.

 

    Hummingbirds build peculiar nests: tiny, cute, and tidy affairs made of plant fibers and often camouflaged with generous amounts of spider webs and lichens. Hidden in plain sight, the nests and the eggs and chicks they contain are seldom noticed even when in close proximity.

 

A female Puerto Rican emerald hummingbird (Cholorostilbom maugeus) sits on its nest. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

Seen from below, the tiny nest of a Puerto Rican emerald hummingbird resembles a vulgar mass of fibers and lichens.

Only a closer inspection reveals the two chicks hidden in it.

El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

    Although all hummers are small birds by almost any standards, some are considerably larger than others. The diverse species segregate from one another by specializing in obtaining nectar from different flowers. The rather large Antracothorax mangoes, Glaucis hermits, and Eulampis caribs, all with long and down-curved bills, feed on Cordia, Agave, Heliconia, and other plants with large flowers. Tiny species, like the Chlorostilbon emeralds, the Lesser Antillean Cyanophaia blue-headed, the Orthorhynchus crested, the Bahamian Calliphlox woodstar, and the Greater Antillean Mellisuga vervain and bee hummingbirds have short, straight bills. These species feed on smaller flowers. The medium sized Trochilus streamertails, with their straight but longer bills, are rather unspecialized and will take nectar from a variety of flowers. All species add large quantities of small insects to their diets, gleaning them from leaves and branches located at different strata in the forest.

 

Bahamian woodstar, Calliphlox evelynae, male and female. Big Ambergris Cay, Turks and Caicos.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

 

A green-throated carib hummingbird (nominate race, Eulampis holosericeus holosericeus) grooms itself. Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


A green-throated carib hovers by a garden flower. Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

Purple-throated caribs, Eulampis jugularis, feeding on nectar. Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

Purple-throated caribs. Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

Antillean mango hummingbirds (Puerto Rican race, Antracothorax dominicus aurulentus), male and female.

Camp Santiago, Salinas, south-eastern Puerto Rico.



Sometimes birds misplace their nests. This Antillean mango hummingbird chick died under the Sun.
Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

 


Antillean mango hummingbird (Puerto Rican race, A. d. aurulentus) male. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Antillean mango hummingbird (Hispaniolan race, Antracothorax dominicus dominicus) male.

Enriquillo National Park, south-western Dominican Republic,  Hispaniola.

 

Antillean mangoes, mother and juvenile (Hispaniolan race). Jaragua National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

Green mango, Antracothorax viridis. Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

(Photograph courtesy of Dr. Javier Mercado).

 

Jamaican mangoes, Antracothorax mango.
First photograph: Anchovy, north-eastern Jamaica.
Second photograph: Windsor, north-central Jamaica.

 

Antillean crested hummingbird, Orthorhynchus cristatus exilis, female, feeding on the nectar of the legume Piscidia carthagenensis.

Virgin Islands National Park, Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

This is the smallest bird in the Lesser Antilles and Puerto Rico.

 

Antillean crested hummingbird, Orthorhynchus cristatus, female, feeding on nectar. Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

 

Red-billed streamertails, Trochilus polytmus, two males and a female. Windsor, north-cenral Jamaica.

The call of the species is a simple but emphatic note.


Red-billed streamertails, Trochilus polytmus, male and female. Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

 


Puerto Rican emerald hummingbird, Chlorostilbon maugeus, male. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Puerto Rican emerald hummingbird, female. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Hispaniolan emerald hummingbird, Chlorostilbon swainsonii, male, feeding on the nectar of Cuphea ignea.

Central Mountain Range, Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Hispaniolan emerald hummingbird, Chlorostilbon swainsonii, male. Zapoten, Bahoruco Mountains, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispniola.

(Photographs courtsey of Mr. Miguel Angel landestoy.

 


Vervain hummingbird (Jamaican race, Mellisuga minima minima), male. Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

This is the second smallest bird in the World, after its congener, the bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) of Cuba.

 

Vervain hummingbird, Hispaniolan race, male. National Botanical Garden, Santo Domingo, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

The smallest bird on Earth. This is a nesting female bee hummingbird, Mellisuga helenae.

Monte Iberia, Guantanamo, south-eastern Cuba.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. David Ortiz Martinez).

 

 

ORDER TROGONIFORMES

 

Family Trogonidae: Trogons

 

    Trogons are beautiful birds of tropical forested and brushy areas of both the Eastern and Western hemispheres. In the Caribbean, only Cuba and Hispaniola have representatives of the order, an endemic species of the genus Priotelus in each of the two islands.

 

    Phlegmatic in disposition and dressed mainly in green, their whistled, ventriloqual calls place on the observer an added difficulty in spotting them among the foliage.

 


Hispaniolan trogon, Priotelus roseigaster, male. Bahoruco National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

Its ventriloqual calls are often heard in pine forests.

(Audio file courtesy of Dr. Luis O. Nieves).

 

Hispaniolan trogon, Priotelus roseigaster, male. Ebano Verde Nature Reserve, Central Mountain Range, Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

Cuban trogons, Priotelus temnurus. Alejandro Humboldt National Park, south-eastern Cuba.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Eladio. M. Fernandez).

 

ORDER CORACIIFORMES

 

    This order is almost Cosmopolitan, and contains several families of birds widely dissimilar in appearance but with a number of anatomical and behavioral traits in common. Some of these are the motmots, rollers, hoopoes, and bee-eaters.

 

Family Todidae: Todies

 

    Two families of birds are endemic to the West Indies, specifically to the Greater Antilles. One of them is composed by the todies (Todidae). These are small, chunky-looking birds that superficially resemble hummingbirds. However, their closest relatives are kingfishers, with which they share certain morphological and behavioral traits. Both groups are placed in the order Coraciiformes.

 

    All five species of todies are bright green above and have a blood-red throat. Their rather long bills are flattened and adapted to snatch insects from the air and from the surrounding vegetation. Their breasts, flanks, bellies, and wings show different colors - combinations of gray, pink, yellow, blue - depending on the species. Their nests consist of burrows with terminal chambers, excavated in earthen banks in both xeric and mesic forests. The family was not always endemic to the Antilles and, as such, it is a relict taxon: all that is left of a formerly more abundant and widespread group. There are fossil records of todids from North America where, in fact, they probably arose. Only Hispaniola has two species. These may have evolved when the two Hispaniolan paleoislands were still separate. They are now partially sympatric, ever since the two paleoislands fused together. The other three species of todies are found, one each, in Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. As is the case with the aforementioned lizard cuckoos, all extant todies comprise a single superspecies.

 

Broad-billed todies, Todus subulatus, females. Rabo de Gato, south-central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

The throat of the individual on the right is inflated as the bird emits its nasal call.

This is one of two Hispaniolan species, widespread in the lowlands of its home island.

Largest of its genus, it is still a diminutive bird, difficult to see except when it moves from one perch to another.
Like all todies, this bird amits short, unmusical calls.

 

    Todies are voracious animals that are almost exclusively insectivorous. Their constant activity and prodigious appetites force them to consume one insect almost every minute of the daytime hours. Their usual hunting technique consists of sallying out from a perch, capture an insect located on a leaf,  twig, or in mid-air, and land on another perch, all in one neat, graceful movement. Like hummingbirds, when they cannot feed (at night or during prolonged periods of heavy rain) todies lower their metabolisms and temperatures to conserve energy.

 

A female broad-billed tody sallies out to catch a flying insect. Rabo de Gato, south-central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

The brown streaks on its chest and belly are dirt that have stuck to the bird as it excavates its nesting burrow.

 

 

Narrow-billed tody, Todus angustirostris, male and female. Ebano Verde Nature Reserve.

(First photograph courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy. Second photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

    Although beautiful for their plumage and perky, their mainly green color and their habit of sitting motionless between sallies to catch an insect make todies difficult to detect visually amongst the foliage. They are far easier to hear than to see, yet they are not precisely distinguished for their vocal abilities. Their nasal, raspy, and monotonous "e-weee", "prrrrrrreeet", or "neeet" calls and the rattling sound made with their wings during their short flights give away their presence. Extremely tame creatures that they are, they will often allow a human to approach them to within a couple of meters.

 


Puerto Rican todies, Todus mexicanus, males.
The first specimens that reached museums were thought by curators to have been collected in Mexico, hence the specific epithet is a misnomer.

The first individual was bringing small arboreal grasshoppers to its nestlings, in a burrow excavated in a stream bank. Carite State Forest, Cayey Mountains, east-central Puerto Rico.
Next two photographs: Florida, central Puerto Rico.

In all species of todies, both sexes cooperate to feed the ravenous chicks.

 

Puerto Rican todies.

First photograph: Cartagena Lagoon Nature Reserve, south-western Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: Guajataca State Forest, north-western Puerto Rico.



Puerto Rican todies, Todus mexicanus, juveniles. Upon leaving their underground nests, they lack the red throats of the adults.
Guanica State Forest, south0western Puerto Rico. (Courtesy of Mr. Michael Morel).

 

Cuban todies, Todus multicolor. Bermejas, south-western Cuba.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).

 


Jamaican todies, Todus todus.

First photograph: male. Windsor, north central jamaica.
Next two photographs: male and female.
Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, east-central Jamaica.

This is the smallest member of its genus.

 

Family Alcedinidae: Kingfishers

 

    The other family of the order Coraciiformes that is present in the Caribbean region is Alcedinidae: the kingfishers. Two members of the genus Megaceryle are found here. M. alcyon is a common winter migrant, while the larger M. torquatus breeds at least in some of the Lesser Antilles.

 

A female belted kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, patrols its winter territory. Coral Harbor Pond, south-eastern Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

 

ORDER PICIFORMES

 

Family Picidae: Woodpeckers

 

    Woodpeckers and piculets are represented by several genera in the Antilles. The most widespread genus in the region is Melanerpes, of North American origin. There is one species in each of the Greater Antillean insular banks, plus another species in Guadeloupe, Lesser Antilles.

 

    Cuba has the most species of native woodpeckers, members of Melanerpes, Colaptes, Xiphidiopicus, and an endemic subspecies of one of the largest members of the order, the ivory-billed woodpecker Campephilus principalis. Sadly, this magnificent animal (C. p. bairdii) might have gone the same way taken by the North American populations: extinction due to the destruction of mature pine forests.

 

Puerto Rican woodpeckers, Melanerpes portoricensis.

First two photographs, males. Lajas, south-western Puerto Rico.

Next two photographs: female. Maricao State State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

The call of this bird is a loud chatter, sometimes mixed with barks and mews.

(Audio file courtesy of Dr. Luis O. Nieves).

 

A male Puerto Rican woodpecker probes a dead snag for termites. Piñones, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Alfredo Colon Archilla).

 

Hispaniolan woodpeckers, Melanerpes striatus. Enriquillo National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.
The call is a loud, rolling chatter.

 


A Hispaniolan woodepecker regurgitates a sierra palm fruit (Prestoea acuminata) in order to feed its chicks.

Central Mountain Range of the Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Jamaican woodpeckers, Melanerpes radiolatus, males.

First photograph: Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

Second photograph: Anchovy, north-western Jamaica.

Third photograph: Windsor, north-central Jamaica.

 

West Indian woodpeckers, Melanerpes superciliaris, female and male tending its nest.

First photograph: Guantanamo Naval Base, Guantanamo, south-eastern Cuba. (Courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

Second photograph, Bermejas: south-western Cuba. (Courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).

This species ranges throughout Cuba and a few of The Bahamas.

 

The smallest Antillean woodpecker: the Hispaniolan piculet, Nesoctites micromegas.

First photograph: Jaragua National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

Second photograph: Matadero de Honduras, Baní, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).

 

Cuban green woodpeckers, Xiphidiopicus percussus.

First photograph: Cueva de los Peces, south-western Cuba. (Courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).

Second photograph: Guantanamo Naval Base, Guantanamo, south-eastern Cuba. (Courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

 

Fernandina's flicker, Colaptes fernandinae. Bermejas, south-western Cuba.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).