Birds of the Dominican Republic
Maybe you’re taking a break between kiting sessions. Maybe you came to the beach to work on your tan. Whatever the reason, there’s usually some time to spare on the beach in Cabarete.
While you soak up the sun and enjoy the peaceful sound of the ocean, why not enjoy a little light birdwatching?
I am not an avid ornothologist, but I do love the feeling of being able to successfully identify a passing bird. Even if it’s just a crow or a species of finch.
Here are some of the most common birds you’ll see around Cabarete. Who knows, you might just impress all your friends with your expert local bird knowledge. This stuff comes in handy.
Where better to start our bird journey than with the Dominican national bird?
The Palmchat, Cigua Palmera in Spanish, is only found on the island of Hispaniola. That’s right, you won’t see this little guy anywhere else in the world.
Palmchats are cheerful creatures, full of song and chatter. They tend to hang out at the tops of palm trees, hence the name.
They are small, around 20 cm long, and have a distinctive olive-brown colouring, streaked with brown and cream. Their eyes are red and their bills are yellow.
Palmchats are very sociable, and live in family groups. Their nests can be quite large and intricately designed with rooms and passages. Different ‘rooms’ are sometimes joined together to create a structure up to 2 metres wide! Keep an eye out for their homes while you sip piña coladas on the beach.
Another species found only on Hispaniola is this striking Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo.
This bird has pretty distinctive plumage. The long, white-tipped tail and reddish-brown patches under the wings make it stand out from the rest. It’s about 45cm long.
If you don’t see it, you might hear it first. It calls in very sharp, staccato way. Some have described it as grating. Sorry, cuckoo.
Though this cuckoo mainly hangs out in the forest canopy, it likes to chase lizards and other small animals around the forest floor for its dinner.
The Antillean Palm-Swift is a small swift with easy-to-spot black and white markings. It is mainly black on top and white underneath, with a black breast band.
This little swift is mainly found in Cuba, Hispaniola and Jamaica, but it has been known to wander as far as Florida. Palm Swifts hang around in colonies of about thirty pairs, and often live around urban areas. They are also pretty common in sugar plantations.
They have quite a weak, twittery call. Not surprising, since they are only around 10-15 cm long.
Palm-Swifts fly very nimbly and quickly. They are though to tbe one of the fastest fliers of their size. You may see them showing off in the air, doing twists and turns.
This little cutie is a Vervain Hummingbird. Considered the second smallest bird in the world after the bee hummingbird, the Vervain is around 6cm long and weighs just 2g.
It is so small that you might mistake it for a bumblebee! Look out for its metallic green feathers on its back, and its hovering flight patterns. They also turn their head to the side when singing. Adorable.
Hummingbirds are amazing fliers. They are the only birds on Earth who can spin their wings in a circle, allowing them to fly forwards and backwards, up and down, and side to side. Oh, they can also hover.
They have freaky high metabolisms. Hummingbirds have the fastest heart rates (1,200 times a minute in flight) and highest body temperatures of any animal in the world. This means they burn a lot of energy, and have to eat and drink very frequently. Like, every 10 to 15 minutes. (Gosh, I wish I were a hummingbird right now.) They drink eight times their body weight every day.
In a day, humans eat about 26 calories per kilogram. When hummingbirds are bulking up for migration, they will eat 14,000 calories per kg every day. That’s just insane. I’m around 60kg, so that would be the equivalent of me eating 840,000 calories in a day!
The Broad-billed Tody, or as I like to call him ‘The Joker’s Style Icon’, is a little but chunky, brightly-coloured bird who likes to make a lot of noise.
Todies have very distinctive plumage. The bright green top, white and yellowy underneath with pinkish sides, and sharp red throats make it easy to identify when birdwatching. The narrow-billed tody lives on the island, too, but lacks the yellow streak on the front. They tend to hang out in the mountains, whereas the broad-billed bros stick to the low land.
They love to chatter away, as they bob around on branches, and make a terp terp whistle-like call. They can also make a noise with their feathers that sounds like running your finger along the teeth of a comb quickly. You’ll hear that a lot in mating season, which is April to July.
Todies don’t migrate, and like to stay close to their home nest, even when they’ve grown up. Aww.
El Choco National Park
If you’re keen to see some tropical birds, El Choco National Park might be one for the holiday list. There are guided bird trails, where a local expert will take you around the unmarked trails of the park and teach you all about Cabarete birds.
El Choco is just a short moto ride from the centre of Cabarete, down the Callejon de la Loma. Here, you’ll find 77 square kilometers of limestone hills, lush forest, small farms and pasture land. You’ll also find lots of birds to spot.
It’s recommended that you go to El Choco with a guide for your first time at least, as there aren’t good maps of the trails and it’s really easy to get lost. In the heat, this is a bad idea, and could turn your dream vacation into a nightmare.
Best appreciate the natural beauty in the safe hands of a local who knows each and every path like the back of his hand. With the directions taken care of, you can focus on scouring your surroundings for birdlife!
So, there you have it. Join us next time as we explore more amazing tropical birds native to the Dominican Republic!