The Cayman Islands offer some unique opportunities for the popular hobby of bird watching, as they are host to a surprisingly wide range of resident birds. They also act as a staging post for many migratory birds and other occasional visitors. Cayman is particularly fascinating for the study of wildlife, as species long resident on one island can evolve slightly differently from their mainland counterparts, and develop characteristics not seen anywhere else.
The first studies of birds found in Cayman were published by C.B.C. Cory in 1886, but were restricted to descriptions of birds found in Grand Cayman at that time. Numerous brief visits by ornithologists then followed. Then in 1982, Patricia Bradley came to live in Grand Cayman and began to put together comparative monthly records of bird sightings on all three islands. Her highly regarded field guide Birds of the Cayman Islands (now in its second edition) describes the biogeography of the area, and gives details of the history of bird settlement and migration. Full bird descriptions are provided, with colour pictures by Yves-Jacques Rey-Millet and the author.
International experts also visit Cayman to study its bird life, some under the auspices of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands’ Visiting Scientists Programme. In 1994, for example, Nedra Klein from the American Museum of Natural History arrived to conduct a study of local Tanagers, Warblers and Bananaquits. In 1997, Betty Ann Schreiber also helped conduct the survey on the Red-footed Booby Pond on Little Cayman.
The National Trust organizes regular bird watching activities conducted by local ornithologists and avid bird enthusiasts. Weekends often see members gathering at a selected location, usually in the Botanic Park, for a field trip. Check our Calendar of Events for the latest activities.
The Cayman Islands Bird Club has very supportive of the work of the Trust, and has made some substantial contributions to the greater understanding of local avifauna (birds). Members have also assisted with the census conducted on the range and population of Cayman Islands Parrots, and have constructed a comprehensive list of birds sighted at The Governor Michael Gore Bird Sanctuary.
Some of the most important locations for bird watching in Cayman are held in trust for the people of the islands. These include the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, the Mastic Reserve, the Cayman Brac Parrot Reserve, and the Little Cayman Booby Pond Nature Reserve. Rare and endangered birds also find sanctuary in the Salina Reserve and the Central Mangrove Wetland. Other interesting and protected sites include Meagre Bay Pond in Pease Bay, Colliers Pond in East End, Vulgunners Pond and Palmetto Pond at Barkers in West Bay, and islanders’ own gardens. An astonishing variety of birds can be seen right outside the window of island residences. Several native species have become quite happy to live in built up areas, and can been seen feeding on garden plants and insects. To date, a total of 219 different species (both resident and migrant) have been recorded.
For “would be” birdwatchers, very little skill or equipment is necessary to begin this intriguing pastime. A good pair of binoculars is recommended and a field guide to assist in identifying the birds spotted is helpful. The best time for bird watching is either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Just remember that birds depend on their habitat for everything, so on field trips (especially to Reserves and Sanctuaries) take nothing out and leave nothing behind. If you should see a bird you believe has not been previously recorded, make careful notes about when and where you view and at what time. Take a photograph if possible, then contact the Bird Club. Every birdwatcher is a potential discoverer!