Jamaica is an ideal birding destination with a friendly, vibrant culture and a diverse range of bird species. Birders considering a visit to this Caribbean island for the first time, however, should take its uniqueness into account when planning a birding trip.
Jamaica's Climate and Geography
Jamaica is the third-largest island in the Caribbean and is located 95 miles south of Cuba. With a tropical maritime climate, the island is moderate year-round but the driest months are from December through February. The wettest months in Jamaica occur during the summer season from May through October, and the best birding is either in March and April or from late October through November when the country is neither at its wettest or driest and more migrating birds are visiting.
Geographically, Jamaica has a diverse range of habitats that encourage a large number of bird species. The island is home to coastal lowlands, wetland marshes, grasslands and mountain ranges with both wet and dry limestone forests. Tropical coffee plantations, urban areas and coastal cays add to the geographic variety, which in turn adds to the country's bird variety.
More than 300 different bird species have been recorded on Jamaica, and the island is home to 28 endemic birds. In addition to resident birds and migrants, vagrant birds are always a possibility, particularly in coastal areas. Birders who plan to visit during spring or fall migration will be treated to the most diverse avifauna and can reasonably expect to see all of the country's endemic birds as well as dozens of other species in a trip of just a few days, provided a variety of habitats are included on the itinerary.
Equipment for Birding in Jamaica
A well-equipped birder visiting Jamaica will have…
- Tropical Clothing: Long sleeves and pants in breathable fabrics and light colors are best for Jamaica's climate and to help prevent sunburn or excessive insect bites. A wide-brimmed hat is also recommended for sun protection, and a rain coat or poncho is necessary for the sudden showers that can occur at any time of year. Sturdy sneakers or hiking boots are also essential.
- Optics: While a birder's preferred binoculars will be the most useful in Jamaica, waterproof construction and suitable covers or protective cases are recommended to keep expensive optics safe. A spotting scope is only necessary for birding in the coastal areas or on the outlying cays, and it would not be much use for birding in the forest habitats.
- Field Guide: A field guide focused on Caribbean species or West Indies birds will be most useful in Jamaica, or guides specialized to the country such as A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamaica are ideal. Field guides for North America do not typically include Caribbean birding destinations and will not be useful in Jamaica.
- Food and Water: Jamaica has a wide range of roadside eateries and gourmet restaurants, but the best birding locations are often far from these establishments. Bringing snacks or picnic meals is recommended, and birders should always bring along water. The tap water in Jamaica is filtered and safe for refilling bottles.
- Protective Sprays: Sunscreen is essential for birding in wetlands, grasslands and coastal areas, but birders who plan to spend most of their time in the island's forests will be shielded from the sun's harshest glare by the thick canopy. Insect sprays are highly recommended, however, to protect from mosquitoes and ticks, and should be applied liberally.
Where to Go
Despite its relatively compact size, Jamaica has an abundance of ideal birding locations. Ecclesdown Road, Cockpit Country and Hardwar Gap are some of the most popular of Jamaica's birding hotspots, but good birds are sure to be seen nearly anywhere. When planning a birding trip, the best strategy is to incorporate time at a range of different habitats and in different locations around the island to ensure the greatest diversity of birds to be seen. Specialized birding tours can be arranged through eco-friendly lodges such as the Hotel Mocking Bird Hill or Forres Park, and individual guides and drivers can be hired for different locations. A popular type of tour is to arrange an itinerary that has opportunities to see all of the country's endemic birds in just a few stops.
Birding in Jamaica can be an exciting and enriching experience for any birder. With so many species to see and a unique variety of habitats to enjoy, a visit to this Caribbean nation can be a birder's ideal getaway.
Photo – Yellow-Billed Parrot © Wayne Sutherland