Cuba is a perfect place for trekking, practicing nature photography and of course birdwatching. If you don’t normally enjoy birding, maybe just escaping the noise of Havana in the countryside for a day sounds appealing. It’s up to you how you spend your holiday, but if it is in Cuba: why not taking a birding tour? You’ll not regret it.
Cuba has many protected areas and biosphere reserves, all of with plenty of the autochthonous birdlife of the island. The archipelago has more than 350 species of birds, with more than 25 of them being endemic to Cuba. In other words, here you can see birds that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. This is a birdwatchers dream.
In the Caribbean, Cuba holds the first position in endemicity. The actual number of birds that can be seen on the island is bigger, since the migratory paths from North America to the South include Cuba. The beginning of migrations is in autumn, whilst the comeback is in spring.
Unfortunately, birds in cages are also very common on Cuban streets. Although it is not legal at all, there are lots of these birdies locked in all around the country, captured by people more interested in getting a gain from them than appreciating the beauty. This is an extended practice also because many kids love to have their own songbird inside their houses rather than to admire it in the natural environment.
Tips for Birdwatching in Cuba
The birding destinations in Cuba are near the main tracks and many of them inside the national biosphere reserves and National Parks. If you are traveling on your own, it is necessary to hire a car in order to get to these protected areas. Finding accommodation in any of the birdwatching hotspots would be ideal. For instance: stay in Las Terrazas to explore Sierra del Rosario; in Playa Larga for Zapata Peninsula; Trinidad or Topes de Collantes for the Guamuhaya Massif (Escambray mountains and Lomas de Banao); Cayo Coco on the Jardines del Rey; and Baracoa for Cuchillas del Toa Biosphere Reserve.
It’s better to bring your own stuff to do birding: binoculars, photographic camera and so on. Getting these in Cuba can be difficult, since there are no specialized stores where you could buy or borrow your equipment.
You need a local guide to enter the National Parks and nature reserves, unlike in other countries, where you can enter the parks on your own. A well-prepared guide shall know all the hotspots and will help you to make the best out of your trip. This is also a good manner to get in touch with the local customs and culture. Some local guides are inhabitants of the woods, and they would not speak another language than Spanish, so unless you find one who speaks English or another language, try to put in practice your translation abilities. Now, take a look at some of the best hotspots to do Birdwatching in the country.
Best sites to do birding in Cuba
Birdwatching in Sierra del Rosario and Sierra de los Órganos
The west of Cuba is a wonderful region for those who want to admire the beauty of local and migratory birds. The Sierra de los Órganos and the Sierra del Rosario are the two main natural reserves for avian sightings. Within these regions are located the Viñales Valley, La Güira National Park and Las Terrazas, all of them full with birding highlights.
The relief here is mountainous, with caves, hills with different heights, fertile soil and rich flora. Try to spot here birds of prey like the Cuban Pygmy-Owl (Sijú Platanero) or the endangered Gundlach’s Hawk (Gavilán Colilargo). Charming and melodious songbirds like theCuban Grassquit (Tomeguín del Pinar) and the Cuban Solitaire (Ruiseñor) abound in this area. You will be blessed if you are able to see the hard-to-spot Fernandina’s Flicker (Carpintero Churroso) and the more common and beautiful Cuban Trogon (Tocororo), Cuba’s national bird.
Birding in the Zapata Peninsula
Zapata Peninsula’s most well-known landmark is Zapata Swamp (Ciénaga de Zapata), in the south of Matanzas province. It is the largest and most well-preserved swamp in all the insular Caribbean, and also catalogued as a Ramsar site. This place is a real paradise for birdwatchers, with different habitats like mangroves, marshes and woods. More than three-fifths of the total of birds in Cuba can be found here. The Zapata Wren (Ferminia), the Zapata Rail (Gallinuela de Santo Tomás) and the Zapata Sparrow (Cabrerito de la Ciénaga) are endemic to this specific region, being considered the birds with more restricted habitat in the world. The Gray-fronted Quail Dove (Camao) and the Blue-headed Quail Dove (Paloma Perdiz) are gracious specimens of the family Columbidae that you can spot here.
Birdwatching in Central Cuba
The central highlands of Cuba is another region with plenty of winged attractions, above all in Sierra del Escambray, Lomas de Banao and Topes de Collantes. The humid mountains and dense woods shelter a considerable amount of local birds. The eye-catching Cuban Parrot (Cotorra), the tiny Bee Hummingbird (Zunzuncito), the Cuban Bullfinch (Negrito), the Cuban Parakeet (Catey) and diverse kinds of warblers flutter in the green forests and savannahs of the provinces of Villa Clara and Sancti Spíritus.
The northern cays of Ciego de Ávila province, especially Cayo Coco and all the Jardines del Rey area, take in gatherings of pink Greater Flamingos (Flamenco Rosado), although they live in the Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago and Jardines de la Reina as well. Expert and novice twitchers may enjoy the presence of little emeralds, vireos, swallows, the Cuban Gnatcatcher (Sinsontillo), the Great Lizard-Cuckoo (Arriero) and the Cuban Black-Hawk (Gavilán Batista).
Birdwatching in Sierra de Najasa, Camagüey
The limestone hills, mogotes and caves of Sierra de Najasa and El Chorrillo offer a landscape that presumably of shelters the Cuban Green Woodpecker (Carpintero Verde) and the Red-tailed Hawk (Gavilán de Monte). Checking other names off on the list of endemics, we have the rare Giant Kingbird (Pitirre Real) and the one that mimics other birds, the Cuban Mockingbird (Sinsonte). The Plain Pigeon (Torcaza) is another favorite for birders to discover in this zone.
Birding in Cuchillas del Toa
Cuchillas del Toa, in the easternmost part of Cuba, amasses the greatest biodiversity of the entire Insular Caribbean. The World Heritage Site, National Park Alejandro de Humboldt is where the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Carpintero Real) was last seen. It is the only place in the country where you can find ancient mammals such as the Almiquí or the Antillean Manatee. Back to the birds, it’s important to remember that some species are easier to see than others. That is the case of the Cuban Kite (Gavilán Caguarero), which is harder to spot than the Cuban Tody (Cartacuba), the Oriente Warbler (Pechero), the West Indian Woodpecker (Carpintero Jabado) or the omnipresent Cuban Trogon (Tocororo).
The proximities of the city of Baracoa and the highest mountains of Cuba, in the Sierra Maestra, are teeming with these birds. Other beautiful examples are the Red-legged Thrush (Zorzal Patirrojo), a subspecies of the Cuban Vireo (Juanchiví) and, in the seacoast, the Red-billed Tropicbird (Rabijunco de Pico Rojo).
Best season to do Birdwatching in Cuba
The local weather and other features help to find Cuban birds during almost every season of the year. The winter seems to be a good period to spot both national and migrant birds. The summer attracts less of the visitor birds, though. Having this in mind, the most appropriate season to spot the local and foreign birdlife at the same time would be from October to April. Nevertheless, the nesting season is mainly between March and June. In general, one can say that the entire year is suitable for Birdwatching in Cuba.
Birding Tour Cuba: Great Caribbean Birding and Endemics March 2019
Company: Birding Ecotours
Tour Dates: 2 March 2019 – 12 March 2019 (10 days)
Tour Price (per person): GBP 3,640 / USD 4,992 / EUR 4,397
Top sites: Havana, La Güira National Park, Zapata Peninsula, Cayo Coco, Camagüey, Sierra de Najasa.
Cuba Birding Tours
Tour Dates: 17 March 2019 – 28 March 2019 (12 days)
Tour Price (per person): USD 3,880 / GBP 2,870 / EUR 3,290
Top sites: Havana, La Güira National Park, Camagüey, Sierra de Najasa, Cayo Coco, Playa Girón, Zapata Swamp.
Cuban Ornithological Survey
Company: Naturalist Journeys
Tour Dates: 27 March 2019 – April 7 2019 (11 days)
Tour Price (per person): USD 4,890 / GBP 3,689 / EUR 4,293
Top sites: Havana, Viñales Valley, Playa Larga, Zapata Swamp, Trinidad, Camagüey, Sierra de Najasa, Jardines del Rey.
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