The Dominican Republic supports a remarkably diverse avifauna of more than 300 species. In addition to 32 endemic bird species, the country hosts an impressive assemblage of permanent resident species, overwintering migrants, and other transient species that stop to rest and refuel enroute to more southerly wintering or northern breeding areas. The island of Hispaniola’s high level of endemism and its contribution to global biodiversity have earned it the highest ranking of biological importance in a worldwide assessment of bird protection priorities.
This diversity of bird species is, in part, a result of Hispaniola’s complex geologic history; the island is the most geographically diverse in the Caribbean. Ranging from Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Caribbean, to Lago Enriquillo which is more than 40 meters below sea level, key habitats include isolated cloud forests, extensive pine stands, classic dry forest, limestone karst regions, thorn woodlands of acacia and cactus, sand dunes, mudflats, and mangrove swamps.
Many of Hispaniola’s most distinctive birds are found only in the densely vegetated cloud forests where the rarest endemics include the White-fronted Quail-Dove (Geotrygon leucometopius), Hispaniolan Trogon (Priotelus roseigaster), La Selle Thrush (Turdus swalesi), Hispaniolan Highland-Tanager (Xenoligea montana) and both the Western Chat-Tanager (Calyptophilus tertius) and Eastern Chat-Tanager (Calyptophilus frugivorus). Here too is the rare and globally vulnerable Bicknell’s Thrush (Catharus bicknelli), an equally difficult species to find on either breeding or wintering grounds, but restricted almost entirely to Dominican forests in the winter months.
Other Dominican specialties can be found a bit lower in elevation in the beautiful pine forests. Endemics include the conspicuous Hispaniolan Pewee (Contopus hispaniolensis), as well as the Antillean Siskin (Carduelis dominicensis), Hispaniolan Palm Crow (Corvus palmarum), and the Hispaniolan Crossbill (Loxia megaplaga).
But many other, generally more common, island and regional endemics occur at lower elevations and in more anthropogenic habitats. These include the large number and variety of North American migrants, especially wood warblers, shorebirds and waterfowl.
And, of course, the birdwatcher in the Dominican Republic should look forward to getting to know a beautiful country with many outstanding natural features, a culture full of unique food, music and other artistic expressions, and a welcoming people eager to show off its historical and cultural heritage. Come birding in the Dominican Republic!
Special thanks to Steve Latta and Kate Wallace for the Dominican Republic text from their book Ruta Barrancoli: A Bird-Finding Guide to the Dominican Republic!