December ornithological survey locates 21 endemic Cuban species

Endemic Cuban Gnatcatcher, December 2016.
Cuban endemic gnatcatcher, December 2016. Cuban endemic gnatcatcher, December 2016. Photo by Floyd Downs.

The spectacular birds above and below were photographed by birdwatchers who traveled to Cuba with Bird watching magazine in early December 2016.

Guided by biologist Luis Diaz, curator of the National Museum of Natural History in Havana, and Bird watching editor Chuck Hagner, the group has recorded 150 species in all, including 21 species endemic to the island and 19 species endemic to the West Indies.

Cuban endemic species recorded (21)

1. Cuban Black Hawk
2. Blue-headed Dove
3. Grey-fronted Dove
4. Cuban Pygmy Owl
5. Bee Hummingbird
6. Cuban Trogon
7. Cuban Todi
8. Cuban green woodpecker
9. Fernandina’s Sparkle
10. Cuban Parakeet
11. Cuban Vireo
12. Zapata Wren
13. Cuban Gnatcatcher
14. Cuban Solitaire
15. Yellow-headed Warbler
16. Eastern Warbler
17. Cuban Grassquit
18. Cuban Sparrow (Zapata)
19. Red-winged Blackbird
20. Cuban Robin
21. Cuban Oriole

Participants heard the songs of Cuban Solitaires and spotted Cuban Grassquits in western Pinar del Río province, recorded Zapata Wren and Blue-headed and Grey-fronted Doves on the Zapata Peninsula, Matanzas, and found Zapata Sparrow and Cuban Gnatcatchers near Faro Paredon, the 160-year-old lighthouse on Cuba’s northern coast.

It was Bee Hummingbird, however, that provided the most memorable moments. Team members counted at least eight of the small birds in and around an 11-year-old firebush (Open Hamelia) in the narrow courtyard of a house in Palpite, north of Playa Larga. More than one birdwatcher must have ducked as hummingbirds sped to and from the bright red flowers.

In addition to studying the birds, the group visited Orlando Garrido, lead author of Cuba Birds Field Guide, took a walking tour of Old Havana and introduced local birdwatchers to educational coloring books featuring the island’s birds, binoculars donated by Point Blue Conservation Science, and other items.

The survey was organized by the Caribbean Conservation Trust. Here is an overview:

where we went

Day 1 – Saturday December 10, 2016

We arrived at José Martí International Airport, outside of Havana, and drove west to the town of San Diego de los Baños in Pinar del Rio. Night at the Viewpoint hotel.

Day 2 – Sunday December 11, 2016

We observed the Cueva de los Portales, Che Guevara’s headquarters during the 1962 missile crisis, and the former colonial estate known as Hacienda Cortina. Then we went to Las Terrazas and arrived at Hotel Moka.

Day 3 – Monday, December 12, 2016

We observed the grounds of Hotel Moka, the community’s dairy farm, and Cafetal Buenavista, a former hilltop coffee plantation. Then we drove east and south to the town of Playa Larga on the Zapata Peninsula.

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Day 4 – Tuesday, December 13, 2016

We observed birds in the Refugio de Fauna Bermeja and in Soplillar.

Day 5 – Wednesday, December 14, 2016

We found Zapata Wren in La Turba, we stopped at the crocodile farm in Guamá (crocodile farm), and visited a home in Palpite, where bee hummingbirds flew in and out of a blooming 11-year-old fire bush (Open Hamelia) in the garden. After lunch, we drove to Salinas de Brito, south-southwest of Playa Larga, where we saw hundreds of American flamingos.

Day 6 – Thursday, December 15, 2016

We drove east and north across the island to Cayo Coco and checked into the beachfront Sol Cayo Coco hotel.

Day 7 – Friday, December 16, 2016

We observed Cayo Romano and Cayo Paredon Grande, where we found five Cuban flycatchers in the shadow of the 160-year-old lighthouse known as Faro Paredon. We also observed Cayo Coco’s beach, pond, and sewage treatment facility. After dark we saw yellow-crowned night herons.

Day 8 – Saturday December 17, 2016

We found Mangrove Cuckoo and watched Key West Quail-Doves outside the Boar cave (Boar Cave). Then we leave for Sancti Spiritus. En route, at a fish farm near the town of Moron, we observed Snail Kites as well as Meadowlark. Overnight in Rancho Hatuey, just north of Sancti Spiritus.

Day 9 – Sunday December 18, 2016

We drove west to Havana, checked in at the Park View Hotel and explored the city.

Day 10 – Monday, December 19, 2016

We took a ride in vintage cars, took a walking tour of Old Havana, visited the famous ornithologist Orlando Garrido.

Day 11 – Tuesday, December 20, 2016

We flew to Miami.

Before moving on to the list of bird species recorded during the bird survey (below), please be aware that we are planning another bird survey. It will take place in December 2017. Subscribe to our free bi-weekly email newsletter and watch your inbox for details.

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Zapata Sparrow, a Cuban endemic species, December 2016.Zapata Sparrow, a species endemic to Cuba, December 2016. Photo by Doug Chang

All recorded bird species (150)

1. West Indian Wigeon
2. Gadwall
3. Wigeon
4. Blue-winged Teal
5. Shoveler
6. Pintail
7. Collared Duck
8. Lesser Scaup
9. Crested merganser
10. Red Duck
11. Helmeted guineafowl (I)
12. Lesser Grebe
13. Pied-billed Grebe
14. American Flamingo
15. Wood Stork
16. Superb Frigate
17. Double-crested Cormorant
18. Neotropic Cormorant
19. Breathe
20. American White Pelican
21. Brown Pelican
22. Great Blue Heron
23. Great Egret
24. Little Blue Heron
25. Tricolor heron
26. Reddish Egret
27. Cattle Egret
28. Green Heron
29. Black-crowned night heron
30. Black-crowned night heron
31. White Ibis
32. Rosy Spoonbill
33. Turkey Vulture
34. Osprey
35. Kite
36. Hen Harrier
37. Cuban Black-Hawk
38. Broad-winged Hawk
39. Red-tailed Hawk
40. Damper rail
41. Sora
42. Mottled Rail
43. Common Gallinule
44. American Coot
45. Limpkins
46. ​​Black-necked Stilt
47. Black-bellied Plover
48. Selmipalmated Plover
49. Piping Plover
50. Killdeer
51. North Jacana
52. Lone Sandpiper
53. Grand Knight
54. Willett
55. Little Knight
56. Turnstone
57. Sanderling
58. Short-billed Dowitcher
59. Laughing Seagull
60. Herring Gull
61. Black-backed Gull
62. Gull-billed Tern
63. Caspian Tern
64. Royal Tern
65. Rock Pigeon (I)
66. Scaly-naped Pigeon
67. White-crowned pigeon
68. Eurasian collared dove
69. Common dove
70. Blue-headed Dove
71. Ruddy Quail-Dove
72. Grey-fronted Dove
73. Key West Quail Dove
74. White-winged dove
75. Dove Zenaida
76. Sad Dove
77. Mangrove Cuckoo
78. Great Cuckoo Lizard
79. Smooth-billed Ani
80. Cuban Pygmy Owl
81. West Indian Swift
82. Bee Hummingbird
83. Cuban Emerald
84. Cuban Trogon
85. Cuban Todi
86. Belted Kingfisher
87. West Indian Woodpecker
88. Yellow-bellied Woodpecker
89. Cuban green woodpecker
90. Twinkle of the North
91. Fernandina’s Sparkle
92. Crested caracara
93. American Kestrel
94. Merlin
95. Peregrine Falcon
96. Cuban Parakeet
97. Cuban Parrot (Rose-throated)
98. Crescent-Eyed Pewee (Cuban)
99. Sagra Flycatcher
100. Loggerhead Tyrant
101. Giant Tyrant
102. Thick-billed Vireo
103. Cuban Vireo
104. Yellow-throated Vireo
105. Cuban Crow
106. Cave Swallow
107. Zapata Wren
108. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
109. Cuban Gnatcatcher
110. Cuban Solitaire
111. Red-legged thrush
112. Catbird
113. Mockingbird
114. Bahamas Mockingbird
115. Ovenbird
116. Worm-eating warbler
117. Louisiana Louisiana Louisiana Waterthrush
118. Brook Warbler
119. Black-and-white warbler
120. Tennessee Warbler
121. Common Yellowthroat
122. American Redstart
123. Cape May Warbler
124. Northern Parula
125. Magnolia Warbler
126. Yellow Warbler
127. Black-throated Blue Warbler
128. Palm warbler
129. Olive-headed Warbler
130. Yellow-throated Warbler
131. Prairie Warbler
132. Black-throated Warbler
133. Yellow-headed Warbler
134. Oriental warbler
135. Red-legged Treecreeper (I)
136. Cuban Grassquit
137. Yellow-faced Grassquit
138. Cuban Bullfinch
139. Western Spindalis
140. Cuban Sparrow (Zapata)
141. Summer Tanager
142. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
143. Red-winged blackbird
144. Red-winged Blackbird
145. Meadowlark
146. Cuban Blackbird
147. Antillean Grackle
148. Brilliant Cowbird
149. Cuban Oriole
150. House Sparrow (I)

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Bee Hummingbird, a Cuban endemic species, December 2016. Bee Hummingbird, a species endemic to Cuba, December 2016. Photo by CJ Johnson.

In ‘Birding Briefs’ of our March-April 2017 issue, on sale at Barnes & Noble and other newsstands February 28, we published photographs of 10 of the 21 endemic species recorded during the December 2016 birding survey.

Read Carrol Henderson’s 2015 cover story about birding in Cuba.

Read a summary of our first survey of the birds of Cuba, in February 2016.