Take a closer look in the sky, along the water’s edge, and in the trees to see birds in The Bahamas.
The Bahamas archipelago comprises several hundred islands, cays, and islets. Many are uninhabited. They form a subtropical chain stretching more than 600 miles southeastward from the latitude of the southern Florida coast almost to Cuba. The islands are home to an enormous variety of resident bird species. They also lie close to major migration routes, providing seasonal homes for many species and stopovers for transient
birds making longer journeys.
Here is a glimpse of the Birds in The Bahamas’ and where to find them.
The National Bird
When The Bahamas became an independent Commonwealth realm nearly 50 years ago, it adopted the flamingo as its national bird. Flamingos, once a common sight, were hunted to near extinction, but, fortunately, disaster was averted on Inagua. Its protected wetlands, now a vast national park, is home to the largest flamingo colony in the world. “Fillymingos” are also found on Andros and in smaller numbers or as vagrants elsewhere. Thanks to timely conservation initiatives, the national bird’s future is safe.
The Bahamas has six unique bird species. The Inagua Woodstar is the most recently recognized (2015) as a species distinct from the endemic Bahama Woodstar, which is found on other islands. The rarest endemic species is the critically endangered Bahama Oriole, a gorgeous bird found only on Andros since its extirpation from Abaco in the 1990s. For any birder, it is a prized “Lifer.” Intensive conservation measures are being taken to protect the habitat of the tiny, localized population. Other more widespread endemics include the Bahama Yellowthroat found on just six islands; the Bahama Warbler, found only on Grand Bahama and Abaco islands and the rare, endangered Bahama Swallow found in the northern islands.
Specialty Resident Birds
The most famous of the “resident” birds are the local species of Cuban Parrot, the Bahama Parrot. The growing Abaco population, rescued in the recent past from near-extinction, uniquely nests underground in the limestone caves of the National Park. Its cousins on Inagua nest conventionally in trees. For those visiting Nassau, there is a small (around two dozen) group of the parrots, mostly on the east side, but you’ll hear them before you see them.
Two other species are noteworthy. You’ll find the handsome West Indian Woodpecker primarily on Abaco, where it is quite common. They are also found in small numbers on
San Salvador and occasionally reported on Grand Bahama. The melodious Bahama Mockingbird is another local treasure. You can find it on most islands but isn’t endemic to The Bahamas. The population as spread to Turks & Caicos and small areas of Cuba and Jamaica.
Rare Migratory Birds
Two winter visitors are of enormous significance and interest for birders. The Kirtland’s Warbler breeds in limited areas of Michigan and Ohio. In winter, they head for The Bahamas, favoring the northern islands. Don’t rely on luck alone; you’ll need an experienced guide to locate them. The hot spots are on Abaco (mainly in the National Park), Eleuthera and Cat Island. The Piping Plover is another important winter visitor. These tiny, scarce birds arrive in The Bahamas each fall. Many return to the same location each year, due to the safe habitat of their preferred areas. These are mainly on Abaco, Andros, and Eleuthera. Abaco, in conjunction with organizations, has a conservation program in the breeding grounds.
There are more than 40 recorded warbler species in The Bahamas, mostly migratory from North America. Each fall, the common, the less frequently seen and the rare arrive in large numbers. There are a handful of year-round resident warblers, such as the Olive-capped Warbler- found only on Grand Bahama and Abaco.
Although the density of many species of migratory warblers is greater in the northern Bahamas, all the islands have their regular visitors with the chance of rarer species stopping by. The abundance of warblers demonstrates the great benefit of the archipelago’s position in relation to migration routes.
Other Species of Note
You’ll find the Iridescent Cuban Emerald hummingbirds on Grand Bahama, Abaco and Andros, though rarely elsewhere. The White-tailed Tropicbird, magnificent frigatebirds and a wide variety of gulls, terns and other sea birds patrol the seas throughout the archipelago.
The shores and wetlands are locally rich in Sanderling and Plover species throughout The Bahamas. All the islands have healthy populations of herons, egrets and water birds. The Red-legged Thrush, also found in Cuba and Hispaniola, is another notable resident, mostly in the northern Bahamas. In the coppice, keen eyes will see the lovely Western Spindalis on most islands. The Thick-billed Vireo, another Bahamas specialty bird, is ubiquitous—you’ll often hear their distinctive, cheerful call.
The reputation of The Bahamas as a prime birding destination has increased dramatically in the new millennium. National parks, preserves and protected areas both on land and in the sea have been created or expanded. Birders will see beautiful birds. You can’t miss the shades of blue, but don’t forget The Bahamas’ other colors.
By Keith Salvesen, Southern Boating May 2019