Caribbean: The Lesser Antilles - Insight Guides (2016)
INSIGHT: ENDANGERED BIRDS
Color and noise characterize the profusion of birds on the islands, providing inspiration for many a Carnival costume, but loss of habitat is endangering many of them.
Every time a swamp is drained for a beach resort, a mangrove forest cleared for a marina, or a rainforest cut down for growing root crops, the habitat of birds and other wildlife is threatened. They retreat to ever-smaller patches of woodland and their numbers inevitably decline. The variety of birds on the Lesser Antilles is amazing, and is directly linked to the wide range of habitats, from dry, tropical forest to wetlands and rainforest. Migrant seabirds and waterfowl add to the numbers of residents, attracting large flocks of birdwatchers in their wake.
On many islands forest reserves protect water supply. Here, parrots flourish in the treetops and doves scuttle about on the forest floor while hummingbirds flit about from flower to flower. The Windward Islands parrots are all of the genus Amazona, originally from South America, but most islands have a unique species, such as the versicolor in St Lucia and in Dominica the sisserou (Amazona imperialis), which is critically endangered, and its marginally less threatened relative the red-necked parrot, or Jacquot (Amazona arausiaca). In the 1970s all these flashy green parrots faced extinction, hunted for food and the pet trade while their nesting sites were destroyed by hurricanes or urbanization. Protection, education, and breeding programs have gradually raised numbers but they still remain endangered.
Barbuda’s mangroves are home to over 5,000 nesting frigate birds (Fregata magnificens) nicknamed the Man-o-War bird.
Corrie Wingate/Apa Publications
Birdwatching in Trinidad and Tobago
Together, Trinidad and Tobago have more species of birds than any other Caribbean island, as a consequence of their proximity to South America. Estimates put the total at 469, including a staggering 21 species of hummingbirds, 11 of parrots and macaws, and 24 of tanagers. Tobago has half the number of its larger sister, but hosts 12 species of breeding birds not found on Trinidad. Mangrove swamps, marshes, savannah, and rainforest contribute to the islands’ biodiversity so attractive to birds, while many of the offshore islets (Saut d’Eau, Konstadt Island, Soldado Rock off Trinidad, Little Tobago, St Giles and Marble Islands off Tobago) are reserves with the largest seabird colonies in the Southern Caribbean, including breeding colonies of red-billed tropic birds and frigate birds.
The most accessible birdwatching sites on Trinidad are the Caroni Bird Sanctuary, the Asa Wright Nature Centre, and the Pointe-à-Pierre Wildfowl Trust. Caroni offers the spectacular sight of hundreds of scarlet ibis coming home to roost at dusk, while a staggering 159 species have been recorded at Asa Wright, including the nocturnal, cave-dwelling oilbirds, a nesting colony of oropendolas, and numerous hummingbirds which come to the verandah to feed.