By Corrie Folsom-O'Keefe, Bird Conservation Programs Manager, Audubon Connecticut
I really enjoy birding the Caribbean. You get a mix of species – those that are endemic to the islands (Bananaquit and Pearly-eyed Thrasher), species from South America that have colonized the most southern islands (Troupial and Saffron Finch), and overwintering North American breeders, including many that you will find in Connecticut when the weather warms.
What is particularly exciting, and this is true when birding in South and Central America too, is that the observations you make and enter into eBird really contribute to what is known about a species.
Forty percent of the world’s biodiversity, including more than 4,200 species of birds, can be found in Central America and the Caribbean. At least 380 of these bird species are neotropical migrants that spend half their lives in the United States and the other half in Central America and the Caribbean.
We know a good amount about these species distribution in the states (and in Connecticut we’ll soon know a lot more, thanks to the Connecticut Bird Atlas) but a lot less about their wintering distribution and levels of abundance.
In the Caribbean and Central America, there are far fewer birders, ornithologists, and Motus towers (that detect nanotagged birds) collecting information on species. Just as an example, it was not discovered until 2006 that the Bahamas were an important wintering location for the Piping Plover.
When working to conserve birds, you need to think across their life cycles and focus on reducing threats not just at their breeding sites, but at stopover and wintering sites as well. Belize is an epicenter for wintering Wood Thrush and Columbia provides habitat for Canada Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and Least Tern. Protecting large tracts of forest and coastal habitat and working with local communities to reduce threats is necessary to preserving these species.
Another neat aspect of birding the Caribbean is seeing North American breeders in different habitats from what you are accustomed. You can find Northern Waterthrush among mangroves and Western Sandpiper exploring the salt flats on Tortola, for example, and foraging flocks of Ovenbird, Blue-winged Warbler, and American Redstart in moist tropical forest along the Reef Bay Trail on St. John.
E-Birding the Caribbean, Central and South American, is how you can help. Using data collected through eBird, scientists can identify locations that are important to CT bird species in the winter and work with local governments to protection that habitat. For examples, the National Audubon Society worked with the Bahamas National Trust to designate the Joulter Cay, an incredibly important site for wintering Piping Plover, as a national park in 2015.
So if you are planning a trip to a warmer destination, don’t forget your binoculars and be sure to eBird your sightings! Happy travels!
This article was first published in the Bird Finder by The Connecticut Audubon Society, an Audubon Connecticut partner in conservation and the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds.