Endemic Bird month is being celebrated throughout the Caribbean; endemic meaning species that have developed in one island or group of islands and occurs nowhere else.
While the Cayman Islands do not have any full species, there are 17 endemic subspecies recognised, several very defined.
When, in 2004, the Post Office decided to produce a set of bird stamps to be the definitive issues from 2006-2011, the committee asked Patricia Bradley to come up with suggestions. The proposed set of endemic birds, photographed by Yves-Jacques Rey-Millet, was chosen. The designs went back and forth to UK and, to much acclaim, released in 2006.
All species illustrated on the stamps suffered severely in Hurricane Ivan and its aftermath so this issue of stamps is especially welcome celebrating the successful return of Cayman’s special birds to the forests, woodlands and gardens.
One species on the issue, the Barn Owl, is not endemic, occurring throughout the world but it was preferred by the Committee to the Greater Antillean Grackle, an endemic on Grand Cayman and Little Cayman.
To celebrate the success of this issue and the agreement to proposed gift items carrying the bird images, the Post Office has generously donated $500 to the National Trust for use in their education outreach programme.
This celebration of Cayman’s land birds is especially welcome and timely as, over the five years, attention will be focused on the most visible of the nation’s fauna. The long term survival of resident and migrant birds depends on securing sufficient natural habitat to counteract the increasing pressures of urban development and hurricanes.
25c Vitelline Warbler Dendroica vitellina vitellina
A West Indian endemic is listed as near-threatened because of its very restricted range in the Cayman Islands and Swan Islands. It has only about 0.7 sq miles of suitable habitat on the Swan Islands, meaning that 97 per cent of its range is in the Cayman Islands where it is fairly common inland. There are two endemic races, vitellina on Grand Cayman and crawfordi on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. The warbler is very approachable while gleaning insects from shrubs and trees close to the ground. The nest is a tiny woven cup, often concealed between two bromeliads.
$1.50 West Indian Woodpecker Melenerpes superciliaris caymanensis
Found only in Cuba, Cayman Islands and a few islands in the Bahamas, this West Indian endemic is similar to its North American cousin. The endemic Cayman race caymanensis is confined to Grand Cayman and occurs in all habitats and, like the flicker, provides old nests for parrots. There are no resident woodpeckers on Cayman Brac or Little Cayman.
$4 Red-legged Thrush Turdus plumbeus coryi
The range is the Greater Antilles (except Jamaica), the northern Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Swan Islands and Dominica in the Lesser Antilles. The endemic Cayman race coryi is confined to Cayman Brac. It is conspicuous and territorial in the breeding season, nesting throughout the island, including in the porches of houses. It becomes almost invisible when not breeding, retreating to the forest floor on the Bluff. The only other resident thrush, the Grand Cayman Thrush, Turdus ravidus, is now almost certainly extinct, not having been seen since the 1930s.
Protect Cayman’s Wildlife! For more information, to share your knowledge or if you would like to get involved with the many activities in the National Trust’s Know Your Islands Program, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky or call 949-0121.
Last week’s answer: The two owl species recorded in the Cayman Islands are the Barn Owl and Short-Eared Owl. The Short-Eared Owl is a rare visitor to Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman.
Trivia question: What is the name of the only duck to breed in the Cayman Islands?
Look for the answer in next week’s feature!