The Bahamas is a chain of over 700 limestone islands, cays and rocks rising from the Atlantic Ocean and extending diagonally southeastwards from Florida towards the northern shore of Cuba. Scattered over an area 1100 km in length, the Bahamas encompasses a total land area of 13,940 km2.
A total of 300+ bird species have been recorded on the islands, including six endemics (unique to The Bahamas), and 109 wintering resident species (birds that breed in northern latitudes, but winter in The Bahamas).
On the northern islands of Abaco, Grand Bahama, Andros and New Providence, Caribbean Pine dominates much of the forested land. Abaco and Grand Bahama are home to the Bahama Warbler. Andros is home to the Bahama Oriole. The Bahama Yellowthroat and Bahama Swallow can be found on all three of those islands. The Bahama Woodstar can be found on all the Bahama islands except Great and Little Inagua, which now has its own newly declared endemic, the Inagua Woodstar.
Further south, the islands become dryer and support a thick, semi-evergreen forest. Southeast from Crooked Island, dry scrub woodlands dominate the landscape. The northern and central Bahama islands have both deep water and shallow water areas. Shorebirds and herons frequent the shallow side, while terns and pelagic seabirds can be found feeding over the deep water. Shorebird visits are more likely on islands where ponds and freshwater can be found.
If your bird watching goal in the Bahamas is to see all of the region’s specialty birds (birds that are unique to this region of the Caribbean and to The Bahamas), the best islands to bird on are: Andros, New Providence, Abaco, Grand Bahama and Eleuthera. Each island supports different combinations of specialty birds and migrants, so you will need to visit at least two islands to check off all the Bahama specialty birds on your list, Andros and Abaco being the best pair for this purpose.
Endemics of The Bahamas: Bahama Woodstar, Bahama Swallow, Bahama Warbler, Bahama Yellowthroat, Bahama Oriole, and Inagua Woodstar
Other Bahamian Specialties: West Indian Whistling-Duck, White-cheeked Pintail, American Flamingo, Neotropic Cormorant, Key-west Quail-Dove, Zeneida Dove, Cuban Parrot, Great Lizard-Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Cuban Emerald, West Indian Woodpecker, Cuban Pewee, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Loggerhead Kingbird, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Thick-billed Vireo, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Red-legged Thrush, Olive-capped Warbler, Bahama Mockingbird, Bananaquit, Western Spindalis, Black-faced Grassquit, Cuban Grassquit, and Greater Antillean Bullfinch
Breeding seabirds: Audubon’s Shearwater, White-tailed Tropicbird, Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Booby, Red-footed Booby, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Least Tern, Bridled Tern, Sooty Tern, Roseate Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Sandwich Tern, and Brown Noddy
Summer breeding birds: Gray Kingbird, Black-whiskered Vireo, and Antillean Nighthawk
Recommended field guides:
- Birds of The Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos Islands by Bruce Hallett (ISBN –13: 978-0333-937-44-0)
- Birds of the West Indies by Herbert Raffaele, James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith and Janis Raffaelle (Hardcover 1998. ISBN 0-691-08736-9; Paperback 2003. ISBN 0-691-11319-X)
- A Birder’s Guide to The Bahama Islands (including Turks and Caicos) by Anthony W. White (1998. ISBN 1-878788-16-7)
Special thanks to Carolyn Wardle and Erika Gates for the Bahamas text!