The popularity of birding has taken flight in recent years.
It’s one of the fastest-growing recreational activities in the United States, second only to gardening, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Birding is also the top-drawing sector for ecotourism across the globe.
In the Cayman Islands, there are some unique opportunities for this popular pastime. Cayman is home to more than 230 resident and migratory species – and a great variety can be spotted right in the gardens of island residences.
Thanks to the foresight and efforts of individuals here, as well as the nonprofit National Trust for the Cayman Islands, there are a number of protected bird sanctuaries on all three islands, where birds can often be viewed remarkably close up.
The country’s national bird, the Grand Cayman parrot and the Cayman Brac parrot are endemic to the Cayman Islands – which means they are found nowhere else in the world. Both are protected species.
They are among 17 unique subspecies of birds in the Cayman Islands, with 13 of those found in Grand Cayman and the remaining four in the Sister Islands. Among them are the Caribbean dove, West Indian woodpecker, red-legged thrush, bananaquit, the Greater Antillean grackle (known as the “ching-ching”) and the vitelline warbler.
Cayman boasts the largest world population of the vitelline warbler, which is found only here and on the Swan Islands in Honduras. It is also home to the largest population of the West Indian whistling duck in the Caribbean.
Cayman’s colonies of seabirds are big attractions. These include the brown booby, red-footed booby, least tern, magnificent frigate and the white-tailed tropicbird, among others.
Little Cayman is home to the largest breeding colony of red-footed boobies in the Western Hemisphere. They can be viewed at the National Trust’s Booby Pond Nature Reserve, a brackish mangrove pond that is also home to Cayman’s only breeding colony of magnificent frigate birds. West Indian whistling ducks are commonly spotted here as well. The pond has been designated as a Wetland of International Significance under the terms of the Ramsar Convention (an international treaty on the conservation of wetlands).
In Cayman Brac, the dramatic bluff rising through the middle of the island is the favorite haunt of the brown booby, which nests in its caves and ledges. It’s possible to observe the boobies up close, as they have a curious nature. A sight to behold is the adorable pure-white fuzzy chicks, best spotted in spring.
A good spot to observe the Cayman Brac parrot in its natural environment is at the Brac Parrot Reserve, where many other birds can be observed.
There are several prime birding destinations on Grand Cayman, with Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park and the Governor Michael Gore Bird Sanctuary two favorites.
The botanic park in North Side is a 65-acre garden and woodland preserve. It’s home to some 700 species of trees and plants, both native and exotic, that attract an abundance of bird life. Its floral gardens are prime spots for scenic photography, while the buttonwood swamp along the trail is home to numerous waterfowl such as the West Indian whistling duck, green heron, blue-winged teal duck, American coot and common moorhen.
The brilliantly colored purple gallinule can also be spotted. Among the other birds that frequent the park are the Caribbean dove, cattle egret, Cuban bullfinch and the Grand Cayman parrot, which feasts on berries and seeds of native trees.
The Governor Michael Gore Bird Sanctuary – known locally as Governor’s Pond – is in Spotts Newlands, just before Bodden Town. Some 60 species of land and water birds have been observed here, one of only a few fresh water ponds on island. A wooden boardwalk leads to an observation blind where you can commonly see moorhens, herons, sandpipers, terns, warblers, grebes, plovers, egrets, ducks, kingfishers and woodpeckers, as well as such rare species as the purple gallinule and least bittern.
The sanctuary was named after Michael Gore in recognition of his conservation efforts during his tenure as governor from 1992 to 1995. An avid birder and photographer, he was instrumental in the establishment of the National Trust house in Little Cayman, and for getting the designation of the Booby Pond as a Ramsar site.
Other prime locales for bird-watching include the Mastic Reserve and Trail in North Side, Meagre Bay Pond in Pease Bay and Colliers Pond in East End.
The field guides “Birds of the Cayman Islands” and “A Photographic Guide to the Birds of the Cayman Islands,” a collaborative effort of Patricia E. Bradley and Yves-Jacques Rey-Millet, are considered to be the best sources of information on the islands’ avifauna.