As the winter grays settled in farther north in many parts of the US, we were fortunate to escape and to spend a fun week of birding in the Caribbean. Jamaica, with its impressive 28 endemic species, is a perfect destination to explore some Caribbean birds, sample the unique cuisine, and to soak up some rays. Although our Thanksgiving maybe wasn't in the traditional style, I think we'd all agree we had lots to give thanks for.
Our tour started in Kingston and although getting there was a challenge for most of us, soon we were enjoying Magnificent Frigatebirds gliding over our beachside hotel. As we made our way north across the island, we stopped at the Castleton Botanical Gardens and Westmoreland Bridge for some birding and soon we were starting to check off some endemic birds; Ring-tailed Pigeons, White-chinned Thrushes, Jamaican Spindalis, and others were all waiting for us. Once to Mockingbird Hill, our home for 4 nights, we settled in and enjoyed our lovely rooms before having a fantastic dinner.
On two of our mornings we ventured eastward to Ecclesdown Road where the birds came fast and furiously! Gaudy Jamaican endemics, lifers for most, were seen left and right. Whether it was Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Woodpecker, the endemic parrots, Jamaican Becard, Jamaican Pewee, or Blue Mountain Vireo, we almost always had a fun bird in view. We checked off Jamaican Oriole, Arrowhead Warbler, Jamaican Euphonia, and White-eyed Thrush. Although we weren't able to access the Blue Mountains this year, Ecclesdown Road was a fantastic substitute.
Down in the lowlands near our lodge, we explored a couple of other places like the San San Reserve and the Errol Flynn Marina. The forest yielded more eye-catching specialty birds; Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo, Orangequit, and multiple endemic flycatchers helped round out the list. The marina had a street full of blooming trees and those were magnets for Jamaican Mango and the teeny tiny Vervain Hummingbird.
Although we had a blast birding the eastern portion of the island, there was more to sample along the north shore. As we drove towards Montego Bay, the coastline was alive with Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans, various herons, and of course frigatebirds were keeping an eye on things. One of the many highlights of the trip was when we visited the Rocklands Bird Sanctuary. A must-see experience, the property was humming with activity. Yes, the Red-billed Streamertails (or "Doctor Bird" as they are called) were so focused on sipping some sugar water that they would actually land on us! Hand-feeding a gaudy hummingbird like that surely ranks up there as one of the many highlights.
Our final day we explored some forests deep down in Cockpit Country. Stewart Town is a well-known location one can tally almost all the endemics from one spot! Our visit was no different; we tallied more than 20 of the endemics from our walk. Ranging from the gurgling Jamaican Crows to the Yellow-shouldered Grassquit, the bird life once again treated us well. By this point we had seen most of the endemics time and time again which was great for helping us learn. We even made a quick morning stop to witness one of the rarest pigeons on the entire island, the Plain Pigeon, as they rocketed up towards the mountains to who-knows-where.
All in all, this was a quick but fruitful exploration of Jamaica! Whether it was the Jamaican jerk which we got to try on several occasions, or just the wonderful companionship of our driver Raymond and local guide Dwayne, I certainly had fun and I hope each of you did as well. Thanks for coming along with me as we birded the Caribbean!
From Field Guides, myself, Sharon, and others, thank you and be safe! Good birding,
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)
This dabbler was seen at the Montego Bay Sewage Ponds along with a variety of other waterfowl.
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
The only spot we saw this familiar duck was the Montego Bay Sewage Lagoons.
RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Note the species name, jamaicensis. And Jamaica was a great spot to see this white-cheeked diving duck. Specifically, we saw them at the Montego Bay Sewage Lagoon.
LEAST GREBE (Tachybaptus dominicus)
A small, dark grebe with a bright golden eye, this tropical species was spotted at the MoBay Sewage Ponds.
PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)
These weren't abundant for us but given the lack of freshwater marshes and lakes, that's not too surprising. We saw them a couple of times including at the Montego Bay Sewage Ponds.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
Seen a few times around cities and towns.
WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON (Patagioenas leucocephala)
We tallied these large, dark pigeons every day and they were especially common in the lowlands including right by our hotel in Montego Bay.
PLAIN PIGEON (Patagioenas inornata exigua)
This is a pretty rare species, actually, and so it was a treat to be able to see these flying over from the Falmouth Bridge.
RING-TAILED PIGEON (Patagioenas caribaea) [E]
This species is a Jamaican endemic that we saw very well and many times. Especially numerous at the higher elevations, we encountered quite a few at places like Ecclesdown Road.
COMMON GROUND DOVE (Columbina passerina jamaicensis)
Note the subspecies which is endemic to Jamaica. We saw these a couple of times and especially well at Rocklands.
CRESTED QUAIL-DOVE (Geotrygon versicolor) [E]
The Mountain Witch really showed how tricky she could be! Although everybody got to hear this skulker, seeing it was a different matter. We eventually saw a couple of them high up as they moved around on a branch.
RUDDY QUAIL-DOVE (Geotrygon montana)
Only a few people saw it but one of these large, chunky doves flushed from the road in front of us at Ecclesdown.
CARIBBEAN DOVE (Leptotila jamaicensis jamaicensis)
This attractive species was seen very well at Rocklands.
WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)
Common around some of the cities.
ZENAIDA DOVE (Zenaida aurita)
Largely taking the place of Mourning Doves, this close relative was fairly common. They have white trailing edges of the wings (which shows up as a white mark on the folded wing).
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
We saw this familiar species once or twice during our drive into Montego Bay.
SMOOTH-BILLED ANI (Crotophaga ani)
This big, long-tailed, clumsy cuckoo was seen near some grassy areas but they were never very common for us.
MANGROVE CUCKOO (Coccyzus minor)
It's never easy to find one of these when you want to! We bumped into one at the San San Reserve where, as we discussed, it wasn't associated at all with mangroves.
CHESTNUT-BELLIED CUCKOO (Coccyzus pluvialis) [E]
We encountered this large, tricky endemic cuckoo at three different spots: San San Reserve, Ecclesdown Road, and Stewart Town. The low, growly calls were especially memorable.
JAMAICAN LIZARD-CUCKOO (Coccyzus vetula) [E]
This snazzy, prized specialty is the other endemic cuckoo found in Jamaica. We encountered them a couple times including at San San Reserve and at Ecclesdown Road.
NORTHERN POTOO (CARIBBEAN) (Nyctibius jamaicensis jamaicensis)
We had an incredible look at one on a dayroost right on our hotel grounds! This subspecies, the nominate jamaicensis, is endemic to Jamaica.
ANTILLEAN PALM SWIFT (Tachornis phoenicobia phoenicobia)
These swifts were tiny, fast, and distinctive. They ended up being fairly common in the lowlands such as at the Mynt. This species is typically found only on 3 islands in the world: Cuba, Hispaniola, and Jamaica.
JAMAICAN MANGO (Anthracothorax mango) [E]
This was a great trip for getting looks at hummingbirds. On that list is this large, chunky Jamaican endemic. We had several views but our experience at the Errol Flynn Marina was especially good.
VERVAIN HUMMINGBIRD (Mellisuga minima minima)
This tiny species, the 2nd-smallest bird species on earth, is found on only two islands in the world: Hispaniola and Jamaica. We had crushing views of these at the Errol Flynn Marina.
RED-BILLED STREAMERTAIL (Trochilus polytmus) [E]
This is a truly fantastic species to enjoy in Jamaica and in fact, this long-tailed hummingbird is found no where else on earth. Lucky for us, they were common throughout much of the trip and I think we all ended up with amazing looks. At Rocklands Bird Sanctuary, for example, they even landed on our fingers while they fed!
BLACK-BILLED STREAMERTAIL (Trochilus scitulus) [E]
Most sources treated this as a subspecies of the former species until recently when it was split out into a distinct species. We enjoyed this dark-billed "Doctor bird" right on the hotel grounds at Mockingbird Hill.
COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)
This species, which is in the rail family, was seen at the Montego Bay Sewage Lagoons.
AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)
The sewage lagoons in Montego Bay was the only spot we saw this familiar, white-billed species.
BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)
The Wag River Bridge and the Montego Bay Sewage Ponds hosted this tall and lanky shorebird species.
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
We happened to find one of these wintering shorebirds on a sandy spit near the Father Bull restaurant towards the end of our tour.
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
At the same spot as the previous species, these familiar shorebirds were also seen. We counted 15 in that flock.
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
One of these tiny, yellow-legged peeps was seen alongside the previous two species of shorebirds on our drive westward.
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
The Montego Bay Sewage Ponds had loads of these but our first one was from the Westmoreland Bridge at the start of our tour.
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
Singletons were seen at the Montego Bay Sewage Ponds as well as the Westmoreland Bridge.
LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)
This was the only common gull along the shorelines.
ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)
These big terns were fairly common anywhere along the ocean shoreline.
MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD (Fregata magnificens)
Common and seen daily, these are quintessential residents along the tropical coastlines. The nicknamed "Man-o-war birds" were seen gliding effortlessly high overhead. These specialize in stealing food from other species.
BROWN PELICAN (SOUTHERN) (Pelecanus occidentalis occidentalis)
These giants were seen a few times along the coastlines. This nominate subspecies is a different one from the subspecies we see in the United States.
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)
Although not exactly common, these familiar herons were spotted a few times.
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)
We saw most of ours at the Excelsior at the start of tour.
LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)
Spotted just a couple of times on tour including at the Montego Bay Sewage Ponds.
CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)
Now officially named "Western Cattle Egret". These familiar herons were common in grassy habitat near cattle, and were seen daily.
GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)
The Westmoreland Bridge hosted a few of these small and sneaky herons.
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea)
A very obscured adult was tucked back in some mangroves near our lunch spot on the final day.
WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)
One of these flew over the Errol Flynn Marina during our visit.
GLOSSY IBIS (Plegadis falcinellus)
Seen on a number of days, these all-dark ibis were tallied from the Westmoreland Bridge, the Errol Flynn Marina, and near the Falmouth Bridge.
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
This familiar scavenger, known locally as the John Crow, was common and tallied every day.
RED-TAILED HAWK (JAMAICENSIS) (Buteo jamaicensis jamaicensis)
It was great getting to spend time with the nominate subspecies of this very widespread raptor. We tallied them daily.
BARN OWL (WHITE-WINGED) (Tyto alba furcata)
We were calmly eating dinner in the Mynt courtyard when all of a sudden one of these flew overhead, downhill!
JAMAICAN OWL (Asio grammicus) [E]
One of the more prized endemics in Jamaica, this species can be hard to find. Lucky for us, we had fantastic looks at our lodge grounds and then again at Rocklands.
JAMAICAN TODY (Todus todus) [E]
There are only five species of todies on the planet and they're all found on Caribbean islands. Jamaica has its own and this endemic was high on our list of favorites from the trip. Tiny but full of character!
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)
This uncommon, wintering species was seen a couple of times including at the Westmoreland Bridge.
JAMAICAN WOODPECKER (Melanerpes radiolatus) [E]
Common, this endemic was seen daily. It was easy to ID since it's the only common woodpecker present!
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)
Common, these pale falcons are pretty unique looking in Jamaica! There is still some uncertainty as to which subspecies is found in Jamaica but many of the sources suspect it's the F. s. dominicensis from Hispaniola.
BLACK-BILLED PARROT (Amazona agilis) [E]
This is the more uncommon of the two endemic parrots. They can be tricky to find sometimes but we had amazing luck as soon as we arrived at Ecclesdown Road. A few flocks of these swirled overhead and we ended up with scope views.
YELLOW-BILLED PARROT (Amazona collaria) [E]
Only found in Jamaica, this endemic parrot was another specialty we tracked down on Ecclesdown Road. We had some more encounters at Stewart Town on our final day as well.
GREEN-RUMPED PARROTLET (Forpus passerinus) [I]
It's fascinating but these were actually introduced from South America. Since then, this tiny parrotlet is now firmly established in Jamaica. We had a few fly over near Mockingbird Hill.
OLIVE-THROATED PARAKEET (JAMAICAN) (Eupsittula nana nana)
Note the subspecies. We saw this nominate (and endemic) subspecies every day and at a variety of spots. It's only a matter of time until this is split out as a distinct species.
JAMAICAN BECARD (Pachyramphus niger) [E]
It's interesting that Jamaica has a becard; it's the only one found in all of the Caribbean! This endemic was seen many times, especially at Ecclesdown Road.
JAMAICAN ELAENIA (Myiopagis cotta) [E]
Only one was tallied and that was up along Ecclesdown Road.
JAMAICAN PEWEE (Contopus pallidus) [E]
This cute, long-tailed flycatcher was seen on most of our days flycatching from exposed branches.
SAD FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus barbirostris) [E]
One of the three Myiarchus flycatchers found in Jamaica, this endemic turned out to be quite common throughout our stay. These are quite small and dark, rather reminiscent of Dusky-capped Flycatchers.
RUFOUS-TAILED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus validus) [E]
This is a big Myiarchus with a noticeable pale base to the bill and lots of rufous in the wings and tail. We saw this Jamaican endemic a few times including at Ecclesdown Road, San San Reserve, and Stewart Town.
STOLID FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus stolidus stolidus)
Whew! Although not endemic to Jamaica, it's a regional endemic found only on Hispaniola and Jamaica. A fairly local species in Jamaica, the only one we found was up the trail at Stewart Town. But boy, once we saw it, we saw it well!
LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD (LOGGERHEAD) (Tyrannus caudifasciatus jamaicensis)
These active and vocal flycatchers were a common sight on our trip. Note the endemic subspecies, these could theoretically be split someday.
BLUE MOUNTAIN VIREO (Vireo osburni) [E]
This thick-billed vireo, which is one of the two endemic ones, was seen well at Ecclesdown Road and Stewart Town. Unlike the following species, these lacked wingbars.
JAMAICAN VIREO (Vireo modestus) [E]
With a pale eye and noticeable wingbars, there wasn't much confusion between this and the previous species. This endemic, although common throughout our time, tended to be tricky to see.
JAMAICAN CROW (Corvus jamaicensis) [E]
We loved listening to the odd gulping calls of this large, all-black Corvid! We ended up with a fair number of sightings including ones at Castleton Botanical Gardens, Ecclesdown Road, and Stewart Town. You wouldn't know it from our experience but this can be a tricky endemic to find sometimes.
CAVE SWALLOW (CARIBBEAN) (Petrochelidon fulva poeciloma)
A few of these were seen flycatching overhead as we were driving on our final full birding day.
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
Seen only twice; first along the Greenwood Shore and then again from The Mynt on our final morning watch.
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)
Common, seen daily.
RUFOUS-THROATED SOLITAIRE (RUFOUS-THROATED) (Myadestes genibarbis solitarius)
Although they didn't sit out for many of us, this regional endemic was heard a couple of times and glimpsed even fewer times. Globally, this is a pretty range-restricted species, found only in Jamaica, on Hispaniola, and some of the Lesser Antilles.
WHITE-EYED THRUSH (Turdus jamaicensis) [E]
Ecclesdown Road and the San San Reserve both hosted a couple of these quiet, unassuming, endemic thrushes.
WHITE-CHINNED THRUSH (Turdus aurantius) [E]
This endemic thrush was common and at times was seen along the road edges.
SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA (Lonchura punctulata) [IN]
It was rather interesting to watch this species nest building at our lunch restaurant near Ecclesdown Road.
JAMAICAN EUPHONIA (Euphonia jamaica) [E]
Did you know that Jamaica is the only Caribbean island with a native euphonia? It's an interestingly-colored bird too, very different from most euphonias. We encountered these a few times at Ecclesdown Road, San San Reserve, and Stewart Town.
JAMAICAN SPINDALIS (Spindalis nigricephala) [E]
This beautiful species is another one of the stunning Jamaican endemics. It was once part of the Stripe-headed Tanager complex before it was split up and renamed. These were fairly common and tallied on a majority of the days.
JAMAICAN ORIOLE (Icterus leucopteryx leucopteryx)
The orioles were easy to ID in Jamaica... because there was only this one! These were actually quite common and we tallied them most days. Although Jamaica is in the name, it's not actually endemic to Jamaica, it's also found on a Colombian island.
JAMAICAN BLACKBIRD (Nesopsar nigerrimus) [E]
Perhaps the rarest of the Jamaican endemics, this specialty is usually a main target for us in the Blue Mountains. However, this year, we weren't able to drive up to those because of landslides. Thankfully, we had bits and pieces of this odd, tree-top-loving Icterid a couple of times up Ecclesdown Road.
SHINY COWBIRD (Molothrus bonariensis)
Seen a couple of times including at the Falmouth Bridge and another at Rocklands.
GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)
A recent addition to the avifauna of Jamaica, this large grackle has become easy to find around some of the big airports including Kingston.
GREATER ANTILLEAN GRACKLE (Quiscalus niger crassirostris)
Fairly widespread in the lowlands where we saw them daily. Note the endemic subspecies.
OVENBIRD (Seiurus aurocapilla)
This wintering warbler was seen walking on the road in front of us a couple of times at San San Reserve.
WORM-EATING WARBLER (Helmitheros vermivorum)
Generally a rare bird in Jamaica, this wintering warbler was actually spotted several times including at Ecclesdown Road, the San San Reserve, and Stewart Town. This species has an affinity for probing through clumps of dead leaves.
LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia motacilla)
Seen briefly early on in the tour and then heard again in Stewart Town.
BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER (Mniotilta varia)
Uncommon overall but still found on several of our days. This is a familiar, black-and-white tree-creeping species.
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)
We encountered a couple of these wintering warblers along Ecclesdown Road and again briefly at the Falmouth Bridge.
ARROWHEAD WARBLER (Setophaga pharetra) [E]
A highlight species! This Jamaican endemic is a non-migratory warbler that prefers the higher forests on the island. We found them a couple of times along Ecclesdown Road but those remained our only encounters.
AMERICAN REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla)
Seen daily, this wintering species was our most common warbler.
CAPE MAY WARBLER (Setophaga tigrina)
Never a common species for us, this wintering species was seen just a handful of times including at the San San Reserve, the Errol Flynn Marina, and The Mynt.
NORTHERN PARULA (Setophaga americana)
Rather common and seen most days.
BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER (Setophaga caerulescens)
It was lovely getting to spend time with this stunning warbler. Jamaica is in the core of its wintering range and they ended up being fairly common for us.
PALM WARBLER (WESTERN) (Setophaga palmarum palmarum)
This tail-pumping species was seen by a few folks on the day we drove to Montego Bay.
YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER (Setophaga dominica)
It wasn't until our final morning, at the Mynt, that we brought in several of these attractive warblers. Some of them posed point blank too!
PRAIRIE WARBLER (Setophaga discolor)
This wintering species was seen only a handful of times.
BANANAQUIT (GREATER ANTILLEAN) (Coereba flaveola flaveola)
This was another abundant species for us. We found them, well, anywhere that had flowers in bloom!
YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUIT (Tiaris olivaceus olivaceus)
The only spot our group encountered this small, seed-eating species was at Rocklands towards the end of the trip.
ORANGEQUIT (Euneornis campestris) [E]
This interesting species, an endemic of Jamaica, is the only member of the genus Euneornis. We encountered these most days but we couldn't have gotten better views than we did at Rocklands on our final full day. What an outstanding experience!
GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH (Melopyrrha violacea ruficollis)
Although they were never out in the open or perching nicely, this attractive species was still seen several times.
YELLOW-SHOULDERED GRASSQUIT (Loxipasser anoxanthus) [E]
One of the trickiest of the Jamaican endemics to get a look at is this tiny tanager (yes, grassquits are actually in Thraupidae!). We had a couple of encounters including some at Ecclesdown Road and more up the trail at Stewart Town.
BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT (Melanospiza bicolor marchii)
We didn't see these until Rocklands where they may have landed on your knees!
AMERICAN CROCODILE (Crocodylus acutus)
Some folks saw one of these slowly cruising by, swimming past our first hotel in Kingston!
Totals for the tour: 102 bird taxa and 0 mammal taxa