Cuba is an island, similar in land area to England. The natural beauties of the archipelago are worldwide recognized. Hidden rivers, astounding white sand beaches, majestic and prehistoric mountains, and fauna as diverse as the country itself are some of the local natural luxuries. One of Cuba’s riddles is its wondrous birdlife. In fact, the island can be considered a Birdwatching destination, due to its beautiful local birds and different birds of passage.
In terms of unique species, Cuba is the Caribbean country with most endemic birds. In this context, endemic birds are birds which only be found in Cuba. Cuban birdlife consists of 369 species, 29 of which are endemics, counting the extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker (aka Carpintero Real) and the Cuban Macaw (Guacamayo Cubano). Here we will show you the top 5 endemic birds to spot in Cuba in any season of the year (spoiler: it includes the smallest bird in the world).
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Known to many as the most beautiful bird in the country, the Cuban Trogon or Tocororo (Priotelus temnurus) is also Cuba’s national bird. Its main colours are the same ones of the national flag (red, white and blue). Is also recognized that it can’t live in captivity, like the Cuban people, who fought throughout decades of oppression from the Spaniards first, and later from the local governments during the Republican period in the XX century.
The name comes from the sound it makes (to-co-ro-ro, to-co-ro-ro). The Cuban Trogon measures around 28 centimetres long, half of the length corresponding to the tail, with a wingspan of nearly 40 cm. It doesn’t have sexual dimorphism, except for a slight length difference between male and female, as the females are 0.5 cm longer. In the wild they weigh between 47-75 grams.
This bird stays large amounts of time perched on tree branches. Its flight is fast and precise, but most of the time it flies short distances. Its diet is rich in insects, fruits and flowers taken whilst flying. The mating season is from April to July, when you may consider yourself lucky if you see it nesting in a tree cavity abandoned by a woodpecker. The pictures of the Cuban Trogon often show its side or its back, as it perches most of the time with its back facing the sunlight. Will you be lucky enough to capture a photo of a flying Trogon?
Where to find the Cuban Trogon
Two slightly different relatives of the family P. temnurus live in the archipelago, one in the largest island and another in the Isle of Youth. The main spots to find the mainland specimen are (from west to east): Sierra de los Órganos, Zapata Swamp, Escambray mountains and Sierra Maestra. It can be seen mainly in dense woods, including pine forests and other forests with tall trees.
Named Cartacuba in Spanish, this is one of the favourites in the wide range of birdlife within the island. In the eastern region of Cuba there is another name for the bird: Pedorrera, which means literally “farting fit”. The epithet is due to the sound it makes when it moves its wings.
The Cuban Tody (Todus multicolor) is 10 cm long, with a short tail. The body is squat and the neck is indefinable, providing it a funny, but fascinating figure. Green colour predominates on the head and the back, whilst the chest is red and the belly is white and pink. The beak is long and squashed.
Spotting the bird is quite easy, mainly because you can notice its presence very soon. The singing or calling is an unmistakable to-to-to, which also confers the name Todus to its genus. The mating takes place in March and April. Nests can be found either in tunnels under clayey ground or in holes within rotten trunks.
Where to find the Cuban Tody
The Cartacuba lives all over the country. It is very common in wooded areas, gullies and crags, and very often in the same places where Cuban Trogons live.
Its name in Spanish is Zunzuncito or pájaro mosca. It is the smallest bird in the world, swelling the records of unique animals living on the island, where also lives the tiniest frog. The Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) owes its name to the sound of the wings flapping in the air. Do not mistake the Cuban Emerald with the Bee Hummingbird: the former is a little bigger.
The male specimen are 5 cm long from beak to tail, hence considered the world record holders: the bee hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world. An ostrich, the world’s largest bird at 270 cm, is 54 times bigger than the bee hummingbird. In fact, the bee hummingbird is about the size of the ostrich’s eye.
The head and the neck are bright red, wings and back are metallic blue, and the chest and belly are greyish white. On the contrary, the female is a few millimetres bigger and it bears predominantly bluish green and white colours in its chest and belly. It has some white spots on the tail’s end.
its top flying speed is really fast. It can reach 114 kilometres per hour, and sucks the flower’s nectar using its thin beak while hanging in the air. The wings flapping speed can be as fast as 80 times per second! This feature allows it to remain steady in the air for minutes. Trying to glimpse a nest can be hard because its size is only 3 cm. However, don’t give up; the nesting season is between February and September.
Where to find the Bee Hummingbird
The Hummingbird’s size, and not the habitats or population numbers, is what makes it difficult to see and to photograph it. It’s a common bird in woods and gardens. You can spot it preferably in Peninsula of Guanahacabibes, Isle of Youth, Zapata Swamp, Sierra Cristal and Sierra Maestra. In these locations it is common to take great pictures of the Bee Hummingbird.
Amongst the songbirds of Cuba, the Cuban Grassquit (Tiaris canorus) is one of the most common. Due to its lively singing and attractive colours, some people to capture it and put it inside a cage. If you are a little child in Cuba, you will know the Tomeguín del Pinar for sure. This is the name for locals, although in the Eastern part of the country it is also called Senserenico.
The length is up to 11 centimetres. The upper parts of the body are an olive-green colour, while in the lower parts it is ash-grey dun. The chest is almost black and it shows off a vivid yellow collar on both sides of the neck. You can distinguish the sex because the females have a less formed collar.
When not in the mating season, they group in flocks. When males are in the rut, they fight each other for territory. They prefer to build nests near the land, usually on trees or thorny shrubs. They lay eggs in the period between April and June.
Where to find the Cuban Grassquit
It is common to see it in the countryside and it is not usual in urban landscapes. It lives in the savannahs, the borders of semicaducifolious or pine forests, the undergrowth of farming lands or in coastal thickets. In general, it’s very representative in all the country, excepting the Isle of Youth and Pinares de Mayarí, Holguín.
This beautiful periquito (parakeet), known in Spanish as Catey, was more common in days gone by. In past centuries, it suffered the indiscriminate marketing of its chicks, hence reducing the total population on the island.
The striking plumage of the Cuban Parakeet (Aratinga euops) is mainly green, with shades of shiny yellow and red. Its length is about 28 centimetres. You can’t find out whether you are in presence of a male or a female bird. It flies fast and straight, normally emitting some screeches. Like the Cuban Parrot, they learn how to imitate human words and short sentences. In its wild habitat, the couples of Parakeets live together their entire lives. They use the holes in the trees as nests. It’s one of the common birds that adapts well to domestication by humans. Some can create tight bonds with the owners. For this reason, this type of parakeet is often for sale. They mate in the month of April and May, producing up to four eggs.
Where to find the Cuban Parakeet
Nowadays, the hotspots are limited compared to past centuries. The zones of healthy populations are Zapata Swamp, the Escambray mountains, Sierra de Najasa in Camagüey province and some regions of Oriente (the Easternmost part of Cuba).
Complete list of Cuban endemic Birds:
|No.||English Name||Spanish Name||Scientific Name|
|1||Gundlach’s Hawk||Gavilán Colilargo||Accipiter gundlachi|
|2||Red-shouldered Blackbird||Mayito de Ciénaga||Agelaius assimilis|
|3||Cuban Macaw||Guacamayo cubano||Ara tricolor|
|4||Cuban Parakeet||Catey||Aratinga euops|
|5||Cuban Black-Hawk||Gavilán Batista||Buteogallus gundlachii|
|6||Greater Antillean Nightjar||Guabairo||Caprimulgus cubanensis|
|7||Cuban Kite||Gavilán Caguarero||Chondrohierax wilsonii|
|8||Fernandina’s Flicker||Carpintero Churroso||Colaptes fernandinae|
|9||Cuban Palm Crow||Cao Pinalero||Corvus minutus|
|10||Zapata Rail||Gallinuela de Santo Tomás||Cyanolimnas cerverai|
|11||Cuban Blackbird||Totí||Dives atroviolaceus|
|12||Zapata Wren||Fermina||Ferminia cerverai|
|13||Gray-fronted Quail-Dove||Camao||Geotrygon caniceps|
|14||Cuban Pygmy-Owl||Sijú Platanero||Glaucidium siju|
|15||Cuban Screech-owl||Sijú Cotunto||Gymnoglaux lawrencii|
|16||Greater Antillean Oriole||Solibio||Icterus melanopsis|
|17||Bee Hummingbird||Zunzuncito||Mellisuga helenae|
|18||Cuban Solitaire||Ruiseñor||Myadestes elisabeth|
|19||Cuban Gnatcatcher||Sinsontillo||Polioptila lembeyei|
|20||Cuban Trogon||Tocororo||Priotelus temnurus|
|21||Blue-headed Quail-Dove||Paloma Perdiz||Starnoenas cyanocephala|
|22||Yellow-headed Warbler||Chillina||Teretistris fernandinae|
|23||Oriente Warbler||Pechero||Teretistris fornsi|
|24||Cuban Grassquit||Tomeguín del Pinar||Tiaris canorus|
|25||Cuban Tody||Cartacuba||Todus multicolor|
|26||Zapata Sparrow||Cabrerito de la Ciénaga||Torreornis inexpectata|
|27||Cuban Vireo||Juanchiví||Vireo gundlachii|
|28||Cuban Green Woodpecker||Carpintero Verde||Xiphidiopicus percussus|
|29||Ivory-billed Woodpecker||Carpintero Real||Campephilus principalis|