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Birdwatching in Cuba — Finding Beauty in the Untouched Wilderness

For many people, a trip to the island of Cuba is something they may never get to experience in their lifetime. However, If you’re one of the lucky ones who get to visit Cuba, you’ll experience a land full of natural beauty and endless wonder.

If you’re a birdwatcher, you’ll have an even better treat during your visit. The island is home to about 368 bird species, with 27 species endemic to Cuba. However, it’s also a great place to watch migrating birds, who come here during their trip between South America and North America.

Keep reading to get acquainted with the fantastic types of migratory and endemic birds that you’ll find if you ever get the chance to visit the mysterious and isolated island nation of Cuba.

A Little Bit About Tourism in Cuba

Map showing the location of CubaAlthough tourism has always been one of the island’s primary sources of revenue, it declined drastically in the early 1960s with the Cuban Revolution and when an embargo and travel ban kept many Americans out of the country. It didn’t really start to pick back up again until the early-1990s, and even then, it was a different kind of tourism.

Although tourists could still visit the island from other countries, its proximity to the United States meant it lost a considerable part of its primary tourist clientele. When the country opened back up again to U.S. tourists in 2015, it gave new hope that everyone would once again get to visit this fascinating country. However, not too long afterward, the U.S. government reinstated restrictions, and travel to Cuba from the United States once again remains greatly restricted and is only allowed for specific reasons. Today, the largest number of tourists to Cuba comes from Canada, which has always had good relations with the island.

A Haven for All Types of Wildlife

Aside from the unique bird species, you’ll see here, Cuba has more plant and animal species on the island than anywhere else in the Caribbean. Interestingly enough, none of these animals pose any harm to humans. Even the sharks that swim there do not pose a danger, as the water near the beaches is too shallow and warm for them.

Part of the reason that Cuba has so many different types of unique animals and plants is because of its biodiversity. You’ll find rainforests, small desert areas, and pine forests there. In fact, it’s officially known as a Caribbean Islands biodiversity hotspot.

BirdLife International has designated 28 Important Bird Areas on the small island of Cuba, meaning it’s one of the most important countries for birds, and it’s crucial to protect them.

Endemic Birds You’ll Find Only in Cuba

As mentioned, Cuba has 26 species of birds that are endemic to the island. Unfortunately, most of them are considered threatened and in need of conservation. Some of the past endemic birds have already gone extinct.

If you find any of the following birds during your Cuban visit, you’re likely experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Here’s a quick overview of ten of the most notable endemic species you will find on the island of Cuba.

Cuban Trogon
Cuban Trogon

The Cuban Trogon is Cuba’s national bird and resembles Cuba’s flag with its bright colors (red, blue, and white). It also has areas on its body that are green, orange, and black and has a beautiful tail that’s layered. You’ll find it all across the island.

Look for the Barre-Legged Owl at night in the island’s dry and moist lowland forests, particularly in Los Hondones and Bermejas. It likes to rest in abandoned woodpecker holes. It’s brown in color with large brown eyes.

Be on the lookout for the Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world. Its total length is only 30.4 mm (1.2 in) from the head to the tail and it weighs only a few ounces. Because it’s so tiny and fast, you might have difficulty finding it. If you do see it, you’ll find its bright pink head absolutely stunning.

The Blue-Headed Quail Dove is very endangered, and you’ll only likely find it in the thoroughly conserved areas of Cuba, such as Guanahacabibes and the swamp of the Zapata Peninsula. It has a brown body and a bright blue head with black stripes.

Cuban Blackbird
Cuban Blackbird

One common endemic bird you’ll see in Cuba is the Cuban Blackbird. Look for it among the forests, cultivated gardens, and even in the city. They’ll usually appear in small flocks. As its name suggests, the bird’s body is all black, even the beak. The only non-black color of the bird is its brown eyes.

Another unique and fascinating bird is the Cuban Green Woodpecker. Look for it in the tropical dry forest and moist low inland forests. You’ll also see it in the heavily deteriorated former forest areas. It’s very recognizable for its unique look, having a green body with red tufts on the head and neck.

If you have the chance to spot the Cuban Kite, you’re fortunate. This critically endangered bird is rapidly declining; only a few have been spotted in recent years. Likely there are less than 250 of them left in the world. The habitat of this rare bird is the low-altitude evergreen forests and rainforests. It has a bright yellow beak, and the males are grey on the body, while the females are chocolate brown. If you spot one, it will likely remain perched long enough for you to observe it, as they are not very afraid of humans.

Cuban Parakeet
Cuban Parakeet

Another colorful bird, the Cuban Parakeet, resides in specific isolated patches of the island, mainly the Zapata swamp area in the western part of the island. One of the main reasons it’s known as endangered is its popularity as a caged bird. If you spot one, admire its beautiful bright green body, which is complimented by yellow and red under the wings and on the tail.

Fernandina’s Flicker, a unique-looking woodpecker, resides in swampy areas and open forests. Because its habitat has declined over the past forty years, it’s gained status as a vulnerable bird and one of the most endangered species of woodpeckers. It’s a yellowish color with black markings all over the body.

Look up high to see Gundlach’s Hawk, an endangered bird of prey that resides on the island. You can find it distributed in all areas, but its population is very small, so it might be challenging to spot. Most of the current habitat is in the protected areas of the forests. It’s a beautiful hawk with a striped tail and a smooth glide through the sky.

Red-shouldered Blackbird
Red-shouldered Blackbird

Since we can’t cover all of the 27 species in-depth in this article, here are the rest of the endemic bird species in Cuba to look out for during your trip:

● Cuban Black Hawk
● Cuban Bullfinch
● Cuban Gnatcatcher
● Cuban Grassquit
● Cuban Nightjar
● Cuban Oriole
● Cuban Pygmy Owl
● Cuban Solitaire
● Cuban Tody
● Cuban Vireo
● Grey-Fronted Quail-Dove
● Oriente Warbler
● Red-Shouldered Blackbird
● Yellow-Headed Warbler
● Zapata Rail
● Zapata Sparrow
● Zapata Wren

Other Birds to Look for During Your Trip

Some other notable birds you’ll want to catch a glimpse of during your trip include the following non-endemic bird species.

The Crested Caracara is an interesting raptor with long legs and a flat head. You’ll find them slowly flying close to the ground with a similar flight formation as a Bald Eagle. In addition to Cuba, you’ll find them across Central and South America and even in parts of Florida in the United States.

If you’re visiting in winter, you might catch a glimpse of some of the migratory birds, such as the Semipalmated Sandpiper, the Black-Bellied Plover, and the Black-Throated Blue Warbler.

A bird near-endemic to Cuba but still found in other areas of the Caribbean is the Western Spindalis. This bird is well-suited for islands, and you won’t find it on the nearby mainland of North or South America. It’s a very bold-looking bird, especially the males of the species. The female is a bit more subdued.

La Sagra’s Flycatcher is a common bird you’ll see on the island, as it breeds in Cuba. They’re near-endemic to the Caribbean, but sometimes you’ll spot a few in Florida. It’s an exciting bird with its grey-brown coloring and a unique tuft of feathers on the top of its head. You’ll often first spot it when you hear its voice, which is a sweet-sounding whistle.

How To Make the Most of Your Cuban Birdwatching Trip

Most of the top birdwatching destinations in Cuba are in the protected areas of the national biosphere reserves and National Parks. It’s best to join a birdwatching tour, as you can’t get into many of these protected areas on your own and need a local guide.

Try to stay as close as possible to the areas you want to explore, and of course, remember to bring your birdwatching equipment. You can’t easily purchase or rent things like binoculars or cameras in the country.

We always recommend purchasing a pocket guide of the birds for the country you visit to keep track of the ones you see and help with identification.

Final Thoughts

If you’re lucky enough to visit the mysterious island nation of Cuba, no doubt you are in for a treat and an unforgettable cultural experience. If you’re a serious birdwatcher, make a point to join a guided birdwatching tour and look for some of the fantastic endemic species that live here. Because Cuba can be a complicated nation for tourists, this method gives you the best chance of spotting these birds, many of which unfortunately have very limited and threatened populations.

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