Bathed by warm trade winds, ringed with pink sand beaches set in electric green waters, The Bahamas attract millions of visitors every year. But sun, sand and sea aren’t the only allure of these islands. Bahamian skies, trees, bush lands, even hypersaline lakes are home to scores of gorgeous birds. Around 300 species have been recorded in The Bahamas. More than 100 species—either permanent residents or summer visitors—breed here. Another 169 are migrants or winter residents, and 45 species are occasional visitors. Three species and nine subspecies are endemic to The Bahamas—that is, they breed nowhere else but these islands. Of particular interest among transitory species is the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler, a native of Michigan that winters only in The Bahamas.
Birding is excellent year round on all the islands of The Bahamas. Many exotic species—flamingoes, parrots and cuckoos—inhabit the less developed Out Islands. But even in Nassau the birding can be rewarding. New Providence teems with Cuban Grassquits, for instance, introduced to the island in the 1960s by an unusual twist of fate.
What follows is a descriptive, annotated list—compiled with the assistance of Anthony W. White, author of A Birder’s Guide to the Bahama Islands—of some of the most interesting birds you can see while visiting The Bahamas. Having once noticed the rich bird life here, you’re likely to find birding in The Bahamas a major reason for revisiting these lovely islands.
The Greater Flamingo. Great Inagua. This super flock of vivid, flame-red birds—numbering 60,000 during the winter breeding season—inhabits the Inagua National Park north of Matthew Town, the island’s only settlement. The largest concentration of the species in the world, the flamingos of Great Inagua offer perhaps the most extraordinary birding opportunity in The Bahamas. Maintained by The Bahamas National Trust, the Park is accessible only in the company of park wardens. Day passes are $25.00, and accommodations in Matthew Town are sparse, so make your plans well in advance.
“Flamingos, the national bird of The Bahamas, are endangered. They formerly bred throughout these islands. People and hurricanes broke up a large colony on Andros in the early 1950s. The only remaining colony, on Great Inagua, was down to 5000 pairs in 1951. The establishment of the Inagua National Park and careful stewardship by local wardens have enabled the population to flourish. If you can’t see the Inagua flock, you can see captive flamingos at Ardastra Gardens in Nassau and the Rand Nature Centre in Freeport.” —Tony White
The Bahama Parrot. Abaco and Great Inagua. These noisy and outrageously colorful birds—green, blue, white, red and yellow—are actually an endemic subspecies of the Cuban Parrot. The robust Great Inagua population nests in trees free from danger, but the Abaco parrots nest on the ground, which exposes them to predators.
“There are about 1500 parrots left on Abaco and these are considered threatened. Abaco parrots eat seeds from pinecones, and they nest in natural holes in the limestone, a trait that leaves them vulnerable to feral cats and raccoons. Land has been set aside for a national park and there are plans to control predators in order to improve the breeding success of this beautiful bird.” —Tony White
Magnificent Frigatebird. All Islands. Also known as the Man-o’-War Bird or the Hurricane Bird, this 38-41" bird is indeed magnificent. Black with a deeply forked tail, its long elegant wings offset its short neck. Males have a brilliant red throat patch. Frigatebirds can be seen wheeling high above the water far from land but also closer in, soaring over busy harbors everywhere in The Bahamas.
“Although Frigatebirds nest only on isolated cays in the southern Bahamas, they range widely, as far north as Grand Bahama. Frigatebirds are unusual seabirds in that they never settle on water. Instead, they feed by picking up prey off the surface or by chasing other birds and forcing them to drop their prey. Seeing a Frigatebird chase a Booby and force it to drop its fish is an experience a birder will never forget. Frigatebirds have long wings and are extremely light, enabling them to soar effortlessly for days. The males inflate their throat sacks like a balloon during courtship.” —Tony White
Great Lizard Cuckoo. Andros, New Providence, Eleuthera. Native to woodland areas and thickets, this is an unusually large and long-tailed type of cuckoo. Greyish on top, whitish and buff underneath with black and white tail feathers, the Great Lizard Cuckoo is a cantankerous but wonderful bird to see.
“This is my favorite bird in The Bahamas. It’s large and skulks through the bush without a sound or telltale movement by the bushes. They are very endangered on New Providence where development has destroyed much of their favorite coppice habitat. Great Lizard Cuckoos are twice the size of our North American cuckoos, and their tail is immense especially when spread.” —Tony White
Bahama Woodstar. All the islands. The Woodstar is a tiny hummingbird—deep green on top, white underneath, with a black and rufous tail deeply forked, and a reddish violet throat. Endemic to The Bahamas, it lives nowhere else in the world. A subspecies with a larger throat patch lives only on Great Inagua.
“Bahama Woodstars can be distinguished from Ruby-throated Hummingbirds by their smaller size, the male’s magenta-colored throat, and the buff on the body and tail. Bahama Woodstars feed on nectar, and at hummingbird feeders, and they can usually be seen in parks and suburban gardens. They are also present in native pinewoods and coppice. This is a bird bird-watchers are not going to see anywhere else in the world, so they should make a special effort to see it while they are here.” —Tony White
Cuban Grassquit. New Providence. A small bird with pale green back and wings, a black face fringed with bright yellow ruff, the Cuban Grassquit is a beautiful bird with a pleasing song.
“Cuban Grassquits were introduced onto New Providence in 1963 when a plane transporting caged birds from Cuba to Europe broke down and landed at Nassau. The birds on board were released in order to prevent them from dying in the hot airplane. The Cuban Grassquits flourished and are now found throughout New Providence, even in downtown Nassau. What makes the introduction all the more serendipitous is the fact that they have remained a favorite of the Cuban cage bird trade, and are now scarce in the wild on their home island.” —Tony White
Bahama Yellowthroat. Northern Islands: Grand Bahama, Abaco, New Providence, Eleuthera, Andros and Cat. Slightly larger than the Cuban Grassquit and even more colorful, this green and yellow bird with a black eye “mask” is another species endemic to The Bahamas. It lives in bush and bracken areas, including many offshore cays.
“The different islands have endemic races; the birds on Eleuthera and Cat Island are the brightest and handsomest of all. The race of Bahama Yellowthroats on New Providence is extremely endangered as its preferred coppice habitat has been destroyed by development. On the other hand, the Bahama Yellowthroat is common on other islands in its range.” —Tony White