"I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me, yeah.
I let the melody shine; let it cleanse my mind... I feel free now,
but the airways are clean and there's nobody singing to me now."
     The Verve, Bittersweet Symphony
"Nascerá dentro me
sul silenzio che habita qui.
Fiorirá un canto che
mai nessuno ha cantato per te."
     Gen Rosso, Nascerá

 

"There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man

than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before. "
Robert Lynd (1879 - 1949), The Blue Lion

 


Jamaican oriole (nominate race, Icterus leucopteryx leucopteryx). Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

 


 

Hymns to Him in the Highest

 

    The passerines are such a huge assemblage of birds that I have decided to discuss them in a section of their own.

 

ORDER PASSERIFORMES

 

    The largest avian order is that of the songbirds. Including almost three quarters of modern dinosaurs on Earth, it is the most varied and successful group of living creatures with feathers. From tiny kinglets a few centimeters long to the huge common and Ethiopian ravens, songbirds occur in every shape and color, with every lifestyle, in every continent save for Antarctica, in every habitat except for the open oceans of the World. Some, like the Saint Andrew's vireo of the West Indies, are limited in their distribution, inhabiting tiny areas of already tiny islands. Others, like the North American bobolink, are among the greatest migrants whose travels extend among continents. Seed, fruit, insect, and carrion eaters, as well as hunters of lizards, snakes, mammals, and other birds; arboreal or terrestrial; from sea level to high alpine summits; from deserts to rain forests; with plumages ranging from somber blacks, grays, and browns to others that pass for living rainbows; songbirds of one kind or another can be found almost everywhere where man looks on land.

 

    Within the passeriformes there are many different families. Some of them are discussed below.

 

Family Sylviidae: Gnatcatchers and Their Kin

 

    Gnatcathchers are small birds, usually of drab plumages and simple songs. Two species are found in the West Indies: the blue-gray in The Bahamas, and the Cuban gnatcatcher. The family is mostly distributed in the Old World.

 

Cuban gnatcatcher, Polioptila lembeyei. Guantanamo United States Naval Base, south-eastern Cuba.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

 

Cuban gnatcatcher, Polioptila lembeyei. Playa Siboney, south-eastern Cuba.

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

 

Family Tyrannidae: Tyrant Flycatchers

 

    The tyrant flycatchers are a group of usually drab-looking birds that are generally poor songsters as well. (Indeed, the term "songbird" does not mean that a particular species within the order sings well). Kingbirds, pewees, and elaenias of one sort or another inhabit every Caribbean island. Notorious for being rather pugnacious (and hence the name of the entire family), kingbirds are creatures of savannas, woodlands, and forest canopies. Elaenias and pewees are smaller, and occupy similar general habitats, but are segregated from kingbirds and each other by occupying somewhat different structural niches, especially in forests' understories and in scrubland. While most species are insectivores, larger ones will capture and devour prey like lizards frogs.

 

    Some kingbirds are so aggressive as to give chase and harass far larger birds like hawks and herons whenever these enter their territories. Only hummingbirds in this region are as bold in attacking intruders.

 

Loggerhead kingbird (Puerto Rican race, Tyrannus caudifasciatus taylori).

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

Second photograph: Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

This species utters a loud and rasping call, especially in the morning.

 

Loggerhead kingbird (Jamaican race, Tyrannus caudifasciatus jamaicensis). Windsor, north-central Jamaica.

Its rolling and rather soft call is most often heard in the early morning.

 

Gray kingbirds, Tyrannus dominicensis.
First photograph: Oualie Beach, north-western Nevis, Lesser Antilles.
Secong photograph: Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

Known for their pugnacious attitude, members of Tyrannus will not hesitate to attack hawks, herons, and other large birds that enter into their territory.

 

A gray kingbird (Greater Antillean race, Tyrannus dominicensis dominicensis) captures a anthophorid bee to feed its chicks.

This is one of the most widespread birds in the Caribbean, and its call is heard in almost every island.

First photograph: Cabo Rojo State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Fort Buchanan, north-eastern Puerto Rico. An individual with an odd-looking bill.

 

Gray kingbird, Tyrannus dominicensis dominicensis, showing the orange patch on its crown in an aggressive display.

Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Gray kingbird nest. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 


Caribbean elaenias (northern race, Elaenia martinica riisii).

First photograph: Lajas, south-western Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.
This species inhabits the Lesser Antilles and reaches the Greater Antilles in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

 

A male Caribbean elaenia emits its call from a tree top.

Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

Greater Antillean elaenia, Elaenia fallax. Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

 

Puerto Rican pewees, Contopus portoricensis. Boqueron Nature Reserve, southwestern Puerto Rico.

Its sweet and plangent call resembles the sound of water filling a crystal goblet.

 

Hispaniolan pewee, Contopus hispaniolensis. Puerto Escondido, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Crescent-eyed pewees, Contopus caribaeus. Cueva de Los Peces, south-western Cuba.

The species is also found in The Bahamas.

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

 

Lesser Antillean pewee, Contopus latirostris. Syndicate, north-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.



Saint Lucian pewee, Contopus oberi. Grande Anse, north-eastern Saint Lucia, Lesser Antilles.

 

La Sagra's flycathcher, Myiarchus sagrae. Bermejas, south-western Cuba.

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

 

Stolid flycatcher, Myiarchus stolidus. Near Rabo de Gato, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Second photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

Puerto Rican flycatchers, Myiarchus antillarum. La Pitahaya, south-western Puerto Rico.


A Puerto Rican flycatcher, Myiarchus antillarum, swallows a stick insect as long as itself. Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.


Lesser Antillean flycatcher, Myiarchus oberi. Syndicate, north-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

Grenadian flycatchers, Myiarchus nugator.

This species is endemic to the insular banks of Saint Vincent and Grenada.

First photograph: Mount Hartman Bay, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

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

 

Rufous-tailed flycatcher, Myiarchus validus. Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

This Jamaican endemic is the largest member of its genus in the Caribbean.

 

And this, also a Jamaican endemic, is the smallest of its genus in the Caribbean: the sad Flycatcher, Myiarchus barbirostris.

First photograph: Windsor, north-central Jamaica.

Second photograph: Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

Its call is softer than those of other members of the genus.


Family Tityridae: Tityras and Their Kin


    This is a small Neotropical group od large-headed birds related to the tyrant flycatchers. It is represented in the Caribbean solely by the Jamaican becard. Like other members of its genus this bird lives in forested areas and builds huge nests that hang from tree branches.



The nest of the Jamaican becard, Pachyrhamphus niger, is an enormous masss of plant fibers. In the Caribbean, becards are only found in Jamaica.

 

Family Vireonidae: Vireos

 

    Vireos are small birds similar to wood warblers, but with heavier bills and of more phlegmatic disposition that is in accordance with feeding more heavily on fruits than on insects. Their melodious but somewhat monotonous calls are heard in most wooded areas in the Antilles.

 

    Each of the Greater Antilles has one or two endemic species.

 


 Jamaican vireos, Vireo modestus.
First photograph: Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.
Last photograph: Barbecue Bottom, north-central Jamaica.
Its call can be quite varied and complex for a vireo, but it usually includes some variation of what sounds like its vernacular name, "sewi-sewi" (1, 2, 3, 4).


Black-whiskered vireo, Vireo altiloquus. Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

The call of this species is one of the most commonly heard sounds in the West Indies, in summertime.

 

Flat-billed vireo, Vireo nanus. Puerto Escondido, Bahoruco Mountains, south-western Hispaniola.

This species is endemic to its island.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).

 

Cuban vireo, Vireo gundlachii. Las Salinas, south-western Cuba.

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

 

Thick-billed vireo, Vireo crassirostris. Providenciales, Turks and Caicos.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).



Puerto Rican vireos, Vireo latimeri.
First photograph: Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

Next two photographs: Florida, central Puerto Rico.
Its short song (1, 2), answers to some variation of the Spanish onomatopoeia "bien-te-veo" ("I can see you").


Family Corvidae: Crows and Their Kin

 

    This group includes crows, ravens, magpies, and jays. Only crows have reached the West Indies, where there are several endemic species in the Greater Antilles, including some that have sadly become extinct in historic times. Most members of the family lack overly melodious voices, and their repertoires are limited to screams, honks, and other simple notes. However, some Antillean emit series of irregular and liquid notes that persons used to Holartic species find very unfamiliar.

 

    Fabled for being among the most cunning and resourceful beings with feathers, the biggest crows (ravens) are also the largest members of their order.

 

Palm crow, Corvus palmarum. Enriquillo National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

Endemic to Cuba and Hispaniola.

 

Jamaican crow, Corvus jamaicensis. Windsor, north-central Jamaica.

As with other Caribbean species, its calls include some parrot-like notes.

 

Cuban crow, Corvus nasicus. Varadero, south-western Cuba.

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

 

White-necked crow, Corvus leucognaphalus. Los Haitises National Park, northern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

This impressive bird is named after the white bases of its neck feathers, not seen unless the animals puffs up its plumage.

Presently restricted to Hispaniola, this largest corvid in the West Indies formerly inhabited Puerto Rico, as well.

Its voice is rather unusual for a crow, and consists of a gurgling series of melodious notes mixed with harsher ones.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

Family Hirundinidae: Swallows

 

    The Cosmopolitan swallows are the best known and most easily recognized members of the immense order of songbirds, as well as the most aerial among them. Morphologically and ecologically similar to the unrelated swifts, West Indian swallows often make their mud nests under roof overhangs and bridges, as well as on cliffs and caves. There are several endemic species and subspecies in The Bahamas and the Greater Antilles.



Many swallows build their nests out of mud that they collect laboriously in their bills.
These are cave swallows, Puerto Rican subspecies, Petrochelidon fulva portoricensis, nesting inside a former military bunker. Toa Baja, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Cave swallow,
Puerto Rican subspecies, Petrochelidon fulva portoricensis. Toa Baja, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



A Caribbean Martin chick (Progne dominicensis), begs food from a somewhat unwilling mother. Piñones, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

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

 

Barn swallow, Hirundo rustica, juvenile. Grand Anse, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

This species, widespread in the Northern Hemisphere winters in the West Indies in considerable numbers.

 

Golden swallow, Tachycineta euchrysea. Aceitillar, Bahoruco Mountains, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

This species is endemic to Hispaniola and Jamaica.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).

 

Family Troglodytidae: Wrens

 

    Wrens are generally small and drably-colored birds, yet many have powerful and melodious voices. In several of the Lesser Antilles, the tiny Troglodytes aedon emits its hyperbolic song from the branches of the rainforest's understory, and it even inhabits some suburban areas, in gardens and yards. This bird lives from Canada to Tierra del Fuego in South America, and is the most widely distributed bird in the Americas. Some taxonomists consider the Lesser Antillean populations to be a different species.

 

    The only other genus that inhabits the West Indies is monotypic. Larger than the house wren, the Zapata wren, Ferminia cerverai, is endemic to a small area in south-western Cuba.

 

House wren (Dominican race, Troglodytes aedon rufescens). A tiny bird with an immense voice.

It's beautiful, if jumbled, song announces its presence even as the bird is absurdly small and not easily seen.
It begins with a few raspy notes before exploding into a rich and loud warble.

Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

Family Turdidae: Thrushes, Solitaires, and Their Kin

 

    This family is represented in the West Indies by the widespread Turdus thrushes and the Myadestes solitaires, and by Cichlherminia lherminieri (belonging to a monotypic Lesser Antillean genus). Some of these species emit beautiful and melodious songs, heard especially in the rain and humid forests of the islands. As well, there are several migrants of this family, belonging to diverse genera, to be found in the Antilles.


    Perhaps the most beautiful avian voice in the Antilles is that of the rufous-throated solitaire, Myadestes genibarbis. Its habitual song is an eerie whistle that slowly arises from silence, modulates in pitch and strength, and fades back into silence. It is impossible to describe it properly.


Red-legged thrushes (Hispaniolan and Puerto Rican race, Turdus plumbeus plumbeus).

First photograph: Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: Enrique Marti Coll Park, San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

This species is restricted to the Greater Antilles, except for one population inhabiting the Lesser Antillean island of Dominica.

Its sweet, if monotonous, song is often heard in both cities and rural areas before dawn and in late afternoons.

When alarmed, it emits a scolding "wet-wet" call.

It is one of the more terrestrial species of the genus in the Caribbean, often seen seeking insects and other invertebrates in leaf litter.

 

The Cuban race of the red-legged thrush has a reddish tint on its lower abdomen.

Cueva de Los Peces, south-western Cuba.

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

 

White-chinned thrushes, Turdus aurantius. Anchovy, north-western Jamaica.

This species ecologically substitutes the previous one in its own island.

 

La Selle's thrush, Turdus swalesi. Zapoten, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

Endemic to Hispaniola, this is a species of montane rain and pine forests.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

Bared-eyed robin, Turdus nudigenis. Kingstown Botanical Garden, south-western Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.

This species reaches through the Lesser Antilles north to Martinique, and is widespread in South America.
Its song is a melodious ululation.

 

Rufous-throated solitaire, Myadestes genibarbis. Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

The haunting song of this species consists of prolonged, high-pitched whistles with a strangely "electronic" quality. It may also emit a trill at the end of a phrase.

The utterance resembles a sweetly melodious version of the noise produced by a microphone with feedback.

It is extremely ventriloqual and far-carrying, beginning and fading at inaudible levels, so it can be very difficult to locate the bird by its voice.

Conversely, the alarm or aggressive note is a harsh and piercing "pe-oh".

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

 

Rufous-throated solitaire, Myadestes genibarbis. Cortico, Bahoruco Mountains, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).

 

Rufous-throated solitaire, (Dominican race, Myadestes genibarbis dominicanus). Syndicate, north-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

Family Mimidae: Mockingbirds, Thrashers, Tremblers, and Their Kin

 

    Thrashers, mockingbirds, and their allies are conspicuous birds found both in forest and savannas, as well as cities. Some have the capacity to imitate the songs of other birds, hence the family's name ("mimics"). The several species of Mimus mockingbirds present in the region are among the best Antillean songsters and are surpassed, on that regard, only by some of the Turdus and Myadestes thrushes.

 

    Allenia, Margarops, and Ciclocerthia thrashers are endemic to the Lesser Antilles, one species (Margarops fuscatus) having reached Puerto Rico quite recently. Where it becomes accustomed to people, the pearly-eyed thrasher will use every given opportunity to steal some food from human tables. It also has something of a bad reputation for devouring every bird's nestling that it can kill.

 

    The two species of  Cinclocerthia are called "tremblers", and have earned their name due to the peculiar habit of quivering their wings when they are excited for any reason.

 

Several species of mimid thrushes (Mimidae) inhabit the Caribbean.
This is a pearly-eyed thrasher (nominate race, Margarops fuscatus fuscatus). Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.
A Lesser Antillean species that invaded the Puerto Rican bank at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Its call somewhat resembles the tuning up of a radio.

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



Pearly-eyed thrasher, Margarops fuscatus. Slopes of Mount Scenery, central Saba, Lesser Antilles.

 

Scaly-breasted thrashers, Allenia fusca. Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

Brown tremblers, Cinclocerthia ruficauda. Slopes of Mount Scenery, Saba, Lesser Antilles.

The name derives from its habit of vibrating its wings and tail when it is exited.


Perhaps the most familiar of the mimid thrushes, and one of the most cherished birds in North America and the Greater Antilles:

the northern mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos (this one belonging to the subspecies orpheus).

Both its generic name ("imitator") as well as its specific epithet ("many-tongued") allude to its capacity

to integrate the calls and songs of other birds into its own repertoire. In the Caribbean, one often thinks he is

hearing the call of a vireo, warbler, thrush, or tanager, when actually it is a mockingbird which is being heard.
In this example, the individual briefly imitates the call of a grey kingbird.

First photograph: Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

A northern mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos orpheus, momentarily regurgitates a fruit in order to accommodate it better in its crop.

Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

A tropical mockingbird, Mimus gilvus, extricates its meal of insect larvae from a ripe guava, Psidium guajava.

Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

Bahamian mockingbird, Mimus gundlachii. Cabo Rojo Natural Wildlife Reserve, south-western Puerto Rico.

This individual was found very far away from its usual range. It probably was a stray due to one of the tropical storms of the region.

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

 

Family Dulidae: Palm Chat

 

    The monotypic family Dulidae is probably related to waxwings. The palm chat obtains its name from its habit of building their large communal nests among palm fronds, most often. The family is endemic to Hispaniola alone, in the Greater Antilles.

 

Palm chats, Dulus dominicus. Santa Cruz de Barahona, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

This monotypic family is confined to this island.

 

Palm chats. Santo Domingo, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).

 


The communal nests of palm chats can be seen on the crowns of trees.
Near Rabo de Gato, south-central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Parulidae: Wood Warblers

 

    The group containing the wood warblers is particularly species-rich. Active insect-eaters, the majority of the species find their prey on trees (although a few are mainly terrestrial). They jump, flit, and fly up and down the foliage at a frantic pace, and seldom stay put for more than a few seconds except to utter their songs during mating seasons.

 

    Many are winter migrants in the region but many others are native, even endemic, to the Caribbean islands. Some species are highly specialized, like Saint Lucia's Semper's warbler. Others are partial to particular habitats, like the Puerto Rican elfin woods warbler and the Jamaican arrowhead warbler, two sister species that inhabit montane rain forests in their respective islands.

 

Above: yellow warblers, (Lesser Antillean race,  Setophaga petechia petechia), males. Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

This is one of the most widespread birds of the Western Hemisphere, breeding from Alaska to northern South America.

It is very probable that this taxon is actually a complex of several related species which could be split apart in the near future.
The song of West Indian populations can be rendered as some variation of "sweet-sweet-sweet-I'm-so-sweet!"



The colors of a juvenile yellow warbler are more subdued than the adult's.

Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

Yellow warbler, (Puerto Rican and Virgin Islands race, Setophaga petechia cruciana),  male. Boqueron State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 


Yellow warbler, (Puerto Rican and Virgin Islands race, Setophaga petechia cruciana),  female, feeding on cactus fruit.

Boqueron State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Adelaide's warblers, Setophaga adelaidae, two adults and a juvenile. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.
A Puerto Rican endemic whose closest relatives are in Barbuda and Saint Lucia, Lesser Antilles.

Its call is a ascending trill.



Adelaide's warblers, Setophada adelaidae. Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.
Like most parulids, they hardly ever stay put for more than a few seconds.



Saint Lucian warbler, Setophaga delicata, male. Grande Anse, north-eastern Saint Lucia, Lesser Antilles.
Together with the Adelaide's (above) and Barbudan warblers, it comprises a superspecies.

 


Arrowhead warbler, Setophaga pharetra. Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, east central Jamaica.

This form forms a triad of species together with the plumbeous warbler and the elfin woods warbler of Puerto Rico (both shown below).

 


Elfin woods warblers, Setophaga angelae. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.
Its common name refers to its prefered habitat: the elfin cloud forests of the central mountains of the island.

Its song is a long series of dry notes uttered in a single pitch.
(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Michael Morel).



A juvenile plumbeous warbler (yellowish individual) Setophaga plumbea, begs food from an adult, while another forages alone for food.

First photograph: Northern Forest Reserve, Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

Second photograph: Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

The species is endemic to that island and Guadeloupe.



    The relationships of some Caribbean species of warbler are obscure, and perhaps they should be placed in other families, like that of tanagers. These include the white-winged (Xenoligea montana) and green-tailed warbler (Microligea palustris) of Hispaniola, and the two Teretristis warblers of Cuba

 

Green-tailed warbler, Microligea palustris. Puerto Alejandro, southwestern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

This species is of uncertain relations, and could possibly be a tanager.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

White-winged warbler, Xenoligea montana. Zapoten, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).

 

Yellow-headed warbler, Teretristis fernandinae. Las Salinas, south-western Cuba.

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

 

Oriente warbler, Teretristis fornsi. Siboney, south-western Cuba.

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

 

    The West Indies are either stopovers or final destinations for a large number of migrant parulids which nest in North America. On their way south, a number of species use the Antilles as supply stations where they feed and rest, before continuing onwards to Central and South America. Other migrants remain here during the late fall to early spring, adding to the numbers of other birds found in the Antilles during those seasons. Some North American migrant birds, like the northern parula (Setophaga americana) and several other wood warblers of that genus winter almost exclusively in the West Indies.

 

    The next photographs show some of the North American parulids that either pass through or stay in the Antilles during the northern hemisphere's fall, winter, and early spring.

 


Black-throated blue warbler, Setophaga caerulescens, male. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

 


Black-throated blue warbler, Setophaga caerulescens, female.

Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

 

American redstart, Setophaga ruticilla. Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

 


Northern parula, Setophaga americana, male. Cambalache State Forest, northern Puerto Rico.

This individual already exhibits its breeding plumage before returning to its breeding grounds in North America.

 

Black-and-white warbler, Mniotilta varia. Parque Central, San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

This is among the most common northern migrants in the Antilles.

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



Common yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas, male. Cartagena Lagoon Nature Reserve, south-western Puerto Rico.
(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Michael Morel).



Protonotary warbler, Protonotaria citrea. La Pitahaya, south-western Puerto Rico.
Named after the former papal ambassadors, the protonotaries that used to wear yellow vestments.


Thraupidae: Tanagers

 

    Tanagers are mainly herbivores. They feed mostly on fruits, flower buds, and leaves, though many species include varied amounts of insects in their diets. These last include the three Calyptophilus chat tanagers of Hispaniola as well as the Puerto Rican tanager, Nesospingus speculiferus.

 

    The fact is that leaves and buds are not very good food. They are difficult to digest, and are but a meager source of energy. Such is the reason why birds and other endotherms that feed mainly on such items spend a lot of time eating.


    The West Indian genera Spindalis, Nesospingus, Phaenicophilus, and Calyptophilus are placed here only provisionally. They are currently being reconsidered as to their taxonomic placement. Although they resemble tanagers, recent genetic studies are revealing that they may belong to other families. However, until a verdict is handed down, I will keep calling them "tanagers".


    Without a doubt, the most beautiful West Indian members of this group are the four Spindalis striped-headed tanagers of the Greater Antilles and The Bahamas. Females are always a drab olive or grayish brown with yellow tinges, but males are striking in their bright yellow and orange bodies and black and white heads, wings, and tails.

 

Puerto Rican striped-headed tanager, Spindalis portoricensis, male.

San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

The genus Spindalis is a near-endemic to the West Indies, since the four species are mainly Greater Antillean and Bahamian in their distribution.

Outside the Caribbean region the Western stripe-headed tanager, of Cuba and The Bahamas,

has also invaded the continental island of Cozumel, off the eastern coast of Mexico.



Striped-headed tanagers can be very pugnacious.
This juvenile male S. portoricensis spent almost an hour attacking its image in a car's window and mirror.
San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Hispaniolan striped-headed tanager, Spindalis dominicensis, male. Bahoruco National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Jamaican striped-headed tanagers, Spindalis nigricephalus, male and female, feeding on flower buds and leaves

(Rubus sp., in the case of the male; Persea sp., in the case of the female).

Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, east central Jamaica.

 

Black-crowned palm tanagers, Phaenicophilus palmarum.

First photograph: National Botanical Garden, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

Second photograph: Ebano Verde Nature Reserve, Central Mountain Range, Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.
Third photograph: Jaragua National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

The second individual is feeding on a guava, Psidium guajava.

The two-species genus is endemic to that island.

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

 

Puerto Rican tanagers, Nesospingus speculiferus. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

During evenings they congregate by the dozen to spend the night at their roosting sites.
At such times they make quite a racket that turns into scolding notes as one approaches and invades their space.


Western chat tanager, Calyptophilus tertius. Zapoten, Bahoruco Mountains, southwestern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).


    Most Antillean tanagers have evolved to look like finches and, indeed, are colloquially called exactly that. Their beaks are conical and might be quite powerful in delivering a pinch when caught by a human hand. They feed mostly on seeds and fruit, but will add insects to their diets. Their voices are often weak and unmusical but a few, like some Loxigilla emit loud whistles that carry far.

Puerto Rican bullfinches, Loxigilla portoricensis, adult and juvenile.
First photograph: Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
Third photograph: Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

Its loud song consisting of rising, rich whistles, is heard in most of the island's forests.

Occasionally it emits a "koochi-koochi-koochi...".

The genus Loxigilla, consisting of five species, is an exclusively Antillean endemic.

 

A juvenile Puerto Rican bullfinch feeds on a sphynxid moth caterpillar. Jose Luis Monagas Park,, Bayamon, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Puerto Rican bullfinch, male. Cartagena Lagoon National Wildlife Refuge, south-western Puerto Rico.

The striking black and red coloration is actually difficult to distinguish among the dense canopy and shrubbery where it lives.

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

 

Greater Antillean bullfinch, Loxigilla violacea, female. Bahoruco National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

A male Lesser Antillean bullfinch, Loxigilla noctis. Morne Trois Pitons National Park, central Dominica, Lesser Antilles

Unlike the case of the previous species, this taxon is sexually dichromatic except for

populations in the island of Barbados, where both sexes are olive brown in color.

 

Lesser Antillean bullfinch, male. Grand Anse, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

 

Much bolder than its Greater Antillean congeners, the Lesser Antillean bullfinch frequently raids tables in search of food scraps left by humans.

This male carries nest material. Kingstown, south-western Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.

 

Male and female Lesser Antillean bullfinches. Oualie Beach, north-western Nevis, Lesser Antilles.



Lesser Antillean bullfinches, Loxigilla noctis, male and female. Oranjestad, western Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.

 

Cuban bullfinch, (mainland Cuban race, Melopyrrha nigra nigra). La Gran Piedra, south-western Cuba.

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

 

A sub-adult male black-faced grassquit (Puerto Rican race, Tiaris bicolor omisus) patrols its territory.

Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Black-faced grassquit (Puerto Rican race, Tiaris bicolor omisus), male. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.


A black-faced grassquit (Puerto Rican race, Tiaris bicolor omisus)

interrupts its meal of buttonwood mangrove fruits to declare its territory by song.

Parque Central, San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Black-faced grassquits, (Jamaican race, Tiaris bicolor marchii), male and female.

First photograph: Anchovy, north-western Jamaica.

Second photograph: Windsor, north-central Jamaica.

 

Black-faced grassquits, male. Oualie Beach, north-western Nevis, Lesser Antilles.

Yellow-faced grassquits, (Puerto Rican race, Tiaris olivaceus bryanti), two males and a female. Cartagena Lagoon National Wildlife-Refuge, south-western Puerto Rico.


Yellow-faced grassquits, (Jamaican race, Tiaris olivaceus olivaceus), male and female. Anchovy, north-western Jamaica.
The song of this bird is a thin trill.


Yellow-shouldered grassquit, Loxipasser anoxanthus. Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, east-central Jamaica.


Orangequits, Euneornis campestris. First two photographs: male and female; Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

Last two photographs: males; Anchovy, north-western Jamaica.


    The bananaquit is the single member of its genus. This birds specialize in feeding on nectar, but also consume large quantities of small invertebrates. The species is vastly widespread in the Neotropics. Although it is common in the West Indies, it presents a biogeographic puzzle in that it is absent from Cuba.


    This is perhaps the most ecologically versatile bird in the Caribbean islands, since it is found in every habitat that contains at least some trees. In many forests it is the most abundant bird, and it has a number of color morphs, showing bright yellow bellies and gray throats in the Greater Antilles, white throats in The Bahamas, and an almost totally black plumage in some of the Lesser Antilles.

 

Bananaquit, (Puerto Rican race, Coereba flaveola portoricensis). San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

This tanager-like species feeds mainly on nectar and small insects.

Its partiality to sweets makes it easy for people in the Caribbean to attract them by the dozen to gardens and verandas, by use of a simple bowl filled with sugar.

This is one of the most widespread birds of the American tropics, found from extreme southern Florida to Argentina.

It also represents a biogeographic oddity in the Caribbean, in that it is absent from mainland Cuba, while it

inhabits every other island from the northernmost Bahamas to Grenada, southernmost of the Lesser Antilles.
Its song is always some variation of an insect-like buzz.

 

A bananaquit (Virgin Islands race, Coereba flaveola sancti-thomae) feeds on the pulp and seeds of the fruit of a Pilosocereus royenii cactus.

Little Dix Bay, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

 

Bananaquit. Oualie Beach, north-western Nevis, Lesser Antilles.



Banaquits, Coereba flaveola. Oranjestad, western Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.

 

Bananaquit. Southern Andros Island, The Bahamas.

Many Bahamian populations of these bird have white throats and flanks.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

 

The melanistic morph of the bananaquit exists in some of the southern Lesser Antilles.

First photograph: Mount Hartman Bay, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

Second photograph: Grand Anse, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

 

A pair of bananaquits (each of a different morph) feed their nestlings.

In the third photograph, the parent takes the excrement of one of the chicks away from the nest.

Grand Anse, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

 

Bananaquits have a habit of building nests not just for raising young, but for sleeping at night, as well.

Guilarte State Forest, central Puerto Rico.


    Saltators have powerful bills adapted to feed on seeds and, to a lesser extent, on fruits. The sole West Indian species emits a loud, rich song consisting of piercing whistles. Indeed, their calls are among the most characteristic diurnal sounds in Lesser Antillean forests.

 

Lesser Antillean saltator, Saltator albicollis, feeding on a papaya fruit. Cabrits National Park, north-western Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

Saltators are very large finches whose loud, whistled songs are heard in some of the Lesser Antilles in most habitats except the highest mountain peaks.



Family Emberizidae: American Sparrows and Their Kin


    This group is composed of seed-eating birds with short, conical, powerful bills. They tend to be most common in open and grassy areas, like Ammodramus possess thin and reedy voices.


Grasshopper sparrow (Puerto Rican race, Ammodramus savannarum boriquensis).

Caño Tiburones Wildlife Reserve, Arecibo, northern Puerto Rico.

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


Rufous-collared sparrow, Zonotrichia capensis. Near Constanza, central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

This species has a peculiar distribution, being found in Central and South America but, in the Caribbean, only in the mountains of Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).

 

Family Icteridae: Grackles, Cowbirds, Blackbirds, Orioles, and Their Kin

 

    Grackles, orioles, blackbirds and their allies are rather large birds with long, pointed bills adapted for feeding on insects as well as fruits. Almost all Caribbean species have some amount of glossy black on their plumage. However, many species are also strikingly marked with yellow, orange, or red.


    Icterids are highly versatile as a family, and are found in most habitats in the Caribbean. Some, like the Agelaius blackbirds, are strongly partial to wetlands including lakes, marshes, and mangrove forests.


Carib grackles, Quiscalus lugubris, displaying male and two females. Grand Anse, south-western Grenada Lesser Antilles.

 

Being to a great degree onmivorous, Carib grackles feed on anything from food scraps dropped by people, to lizards.

Grand Anse, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

 

Greater Antillean grackles (Puerto Rican race, Quiscalus niger brachypterus).

First two photographs: male and female. Enrique Marti Coll Park, San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
Third photograph: male. Cambalache State Forest, northern Puertto Rico.

Next two photographs: female and a brownish juvenile. Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



A male Greater Antillean grackle (Puerto Rican race, Quiscalus niger brachypterus), drinks water from a faucet.
Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Similar in appearance to a grackle, this female shiny cowbird, Molothrus bonariensis, is a nest parasite.

Frequently seen in mixed flocks with their relatives, grackles and blackbirds, cowbirds have seriously impaired

the reproductive success of some endangered avian species in the Antilles.

First photograph: female. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: juvenile. Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Cuban blackbirds, Dives atroviolacea. Guantanamo Naval Base, Guantanamo, south-eastern Cuba.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

 


Yellow-shouldered blackbirds (mainland Puerto Rican race, Agelaius xanthomus xanthomus). Cabo Rojo State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

Formerly widespread in most littoral areas of the island, and ranging inland on a seasonal basis, this bird is now seriously endangered

due to habitat destruction, compounded more recently by nest-parasitism by the glossy cowbird, an invader from the Lesser Antilles.

Another subspecies inhabits small Mona Island, west of Puerto Rico.

 

Venezuelan troupials (northern South American race, Icterus icterus ridgwayi). Lajas, south-western Puerto Rico.

This beautiful bird is found in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and, occasionally, in some of the Lesser Antilles.

It is not known for certain if it is native in the West Indies, or if it was introduced from South America.

Its name derives from its loud call.

 

Puerto Rican orioles, Icterus portoricensis.
First photograph: Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico. (Courtesy of Dr. Luis O. Nieves).
  Next photographs: Florida, central Puerto Rico.


The nest of the Puerto Rican oriole, like those of its relatives, is a pendent structure that is sown on the leaves of palms and other trees.

Here an adult brings an anole to feed the chicks. These however, seem to actually be those of the parasitic glossy cowbird, Molothrus bonariensis.

Often this bird will utter its lovely song for only a few minutes before sunrise. It does the same seldom during the day, when it mostly emits a contact call.

Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

Hispaniolan oriole, Icterus dominicensis. Enriquillo National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Jamaican oriole (Jamaican race, Icterus leucopteryx leucopteryx). Anchovy, north-eastern Jamaica.

Its sweet calls are heard in many of the rural areas of the island.

 

Eastern meadowlark, Sturnella magna. Playa Siboney, Santiago de Cuba, south-western Cuba.

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

 

Family Fringillidae: Siskins, Euphonias, and Their Kin

 

    Siskins (subfamily Carduelinae) and euphonias (subfamily Euphoniinae) are very small birds that feed mostly on fruits and seeds. Their beautiful colors stand out amidst the foliage of the forests they inhabit. Some species, like the Antillean euphonia, Euphonia musica, seem to be highly specialized in feeding almost exclusively on the fruits of but a few species of plants, like mistletoes and figs.


Hispaniolan corssbills, Loxia megaplaga. Bahoruco National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

These finches have assymetric bills adapted to probe into pine cones and extract their seeds.

 


Hispaniolan siskins, Spinus dominicensis. Bahoruco National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.



Antillean euphonias, (Puerto Rican race, Euphonia musica sclateri), two males, female and juvenile.

Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

Formerly placed among tanagers, the several members of the genus Euphonia are now classified as euphoniine finches.

These tiny but often brightly colored bird has a specialized diet composed mostly of mistletoe fruits.

The species has an extensive range covering many of the Lesser Antilles and the Greater Antilles save for Jamaica,

where a related endemic species lives. Lesser Antillean males resemble females in their more somber olive green color.


Antillean euphonia chicks throw themselves out of the nest and are then fed on the ground by their parents until they are able to fly.

The adults regurgitate fruits directly into the chicks throats.

Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.



Antillean euphonia, (Puerto Rican race, Euphonia musica sclateri), male. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.
Although this photograph seems to indicate what the bird thinks of me and my camera, it actually shows it excreting
mistletoe seeds and the way these birds spread the parasitic plants through the forest.

 

Jamaican euphonias, Euphonia jamaica, males. Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.