Know, appreciate fine feathered friends

Know your Islands

Appreciating and caring for Cayman’s birds will help ensure that future generations will be able to experience the beauty of Cayman’s local and migratory populations.

It is important that we are able to recognise these beautiful creatures and understand when and how to become involved in their protection and care.

The following information was partially sourced from ‘Birds of the Cayman Islands’, written by Patricia Bradley and the photographs were provided by Frank Roulstone.

The Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) is the only entirely red bird in North America and it specializes in eating bees and wasps. Like most birds that migrate long distances, the Summer Tanager puts on large amounts of fat to fuel the long flight.

Tanagers arriving in Panama had enough fat to fly an estimated additional 890 km (553 mi). This is a medium-sized songbird. The male is completely red and the female is a dull yellow.

The bill is solid, long and pointed. The eyes are dark and their feet are yellowish brown. The immature birds look similar to the adult female.

The song of the Summer Tanager sounds like a series of strong notes combined with short pauses. The call is a harsh, clicking ‘pit-tuh put-i-tuh.’

Its range is North America; winters to Central and South America, casual in Cuba and the Bahamas. The Summer Tanager breeds in deciduous forests in eastern part of range, especially in open woods. While visiting Cayman it is seen in both urban area and along the shoreline.

It captures insects by plucking them from leaves while hovering and beating the prey against the branch to kill it. This is a species of Special Concern in California, but most populations are stable. The Summer Tanager is a rare passage migrant in our three islands, during September to November, sometimes becoming locally common in spring, from March to May. It is occasionally seen in winter.

The American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) is a boldly-patterned warbler.

The male has dramatic black plumage with brilliant orange red patches on its wings and the sides of the breast and tail.

This is a small songbird; the female and young males have a grey head and back, and yellow instead of orange patches. These birds also have a white belly and a small thin bill.

The male American Redstart occasionally is polygamous, having two mates at the same time. Unlike many other polygamous species of birds that have two females nesting in the same territory, the redstart holds two separate territories up to1, 640 feet apart.

The male starts to attract a second female after the first has completed her clutch and is incubating the eggs. The Song is variable; it is a series of high notes, some with accented ending notes, “zwe zee zee zee zee’ (rising). The summer range extends from southeastern Alaska to Newfoundland, southward to Utah, Louisiana, and Georgia. The winter range is from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, to northern South America. The Redstart may also be found in southern Florida, Texas, and California.

This bird eats insects and some small fruits. In Cayman the Redstart likes to visit mangroves, woodland, and both urban and shoreline areas. This bird is a fairly common winter visitor in the three Islands, during August to May. Female and immature birds predominate.

Grow Cayman Plants and encourage Cayman 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, www.caymanwildlife.org or call 949-0121. The weekly column from the National Trust is submitted by Marnie Laing, Education Programs Manager at the Trust.

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