Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cuba - A Birdwatcher's Paradise

Cuba has so many beautiful birds, many of them unavailable to see in their natural habitat anywhere else in the world. The Cuban government has made concerted efforts over the years to preserve wildlife habitats, even before the current environmental movement made it politically popular. Because of those efforts, Cuba has preserved much of its wildlife in the unspoiled, natural beauty in which it thrives.

One of the more colorful birds you will see on your visit is the Cuban Grassquit, a tanager that is related to Darwin's finches. These birds live in lowland forests and tropical or subtropical dry shrubland. You may not have to travel far to see one as they are very common in Cuba. They are hostile toward other birds of the same species or who share the same colors of plumage. Male Grassquits are easily recognizable by their black mask, the black patch on their breast and a yellow-orange collar that extends to just behind their eyes. Their crowns and bellies are gray, creating a pleasing contrast. The females are basically a faded version of the male. Although not a threatened species their numbers have been decimated by trappers who sell them as caged birds. They are marketed as the "Cuban Finch" and are quite popular all over the world.

The Black-cowled Oriole is not exclusive to Cuba, although they are quite common there. They have a wide range that extends throughout the Americas so you can see them in Canada or South America as well as in Cuba. The male is quite colorful, notable for the blue area at the base of his lower beak. Black wings and a black breast show off the bright yellow of their back and belly feathers and if you get to see one in flight you'll notice the bright yellow feathers on the underside of its tail. They like to build their nests in palm trees from palm frond fibers; the nests look as if they will fall at the first gentle breeze but are actually quite sturdy and well attached, resembling a small hammock.

Crested Caracara-open lowlands and sometimes in forests and marches. Found mostly in the southern United States, Central and South America, and Cuba. 19-23" long with a 4 food wing span, they can weigh up to 4 pounds depending on where the live and the variety and availability of food. The Crested Caracara is a carrion feeder, part of Nature's sanitation team, but will also eat small animals, fish, reptiles, insects, and worms. They have no compunctions about stealing food from other birds or devouring other birds' babies in their nests. Part of the falcon family, they have distinctive hooked beaks that are gray at the tip and orange around the middle, extending to a black crown that tops white neck feathers. Their body feathers are black and when in flight their wings are tipped in white; their tail feathers are white with black barring. Part of the falcon family, you can also see them walking or running on the ground as frequently as you see them in flight.

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