Exceptional Birding in Cuba

The Republic of Cuba is an archipelago of islands in the Caribbean Sea. Consisting of the main island (named Cuba) surrounded by four main groups of islands, Cuba has about 350 species of birds, including more than 30 endemic species. Add to this the temperate climate and friendly people and it is easy to see why Cuba is a popular birding destination. There are numerous prime birding locations and many tour operators offering birding tours.

Playa Larga is a key birding area in Cuba, containing the largest number of the country’s endemic species. It is situated on the Bay of Pigs about 180 kilometers south-east of the capital city of Havana. Experienced birders suggest making use of the services of a local guide as the area is vast and the best bird watching spots are along unmarked forest tracks around the villages of Pálpite and Soplillar. Birders can plan to spend up to three days in this area in order to see the majority of its feathered inhabitants, including the Bee Hummingbird, Fernandina’s Flicker, Stygian Owl, Bare-legged Owl, Gundlach’s Hawk, Gray-headed Quail-Dove, Cuban Red-shouldered Blackbird, Zapata Rail and Cuban Nightjar.

Another prime birding area is Soroa, situated about an hour’s drive west of Havana. There is a hotel situated about 100 meters from the forest walking trail that leads to a magnificent look-out point. Bird watchers can expect to see Ruddy Duck, Great Lizard-cuckoo, Cuban Trogon, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Cuban Woodpecker, Cuban Solitaire and Blue-headed Quail-dove. The lookout point at Soroa can also be reached on horse back, which is an adventure in itself.

The island of Cayo Coco is linked by a long causeway to the north coast mainland of Cuba and was previously only visited by fishermen – including Ernest Hemingway. Nowadays, Cayo Coco is being developed for tourism and it is a good birding spot, especially during migration seasons, although there is plenty to see all year round. An endemic subspecies of the Thick-billed Vireo is found exclusively on Cayo Coco. Other rarities to look out for include Mangrove Cuckoo, Bahama Mockingbird, Clapper Rail, Key West Quail-dove, Zapata Sparrow and Red-breasted Merganser. There are also large flocks of Caribbean Flamingos and various herons and waders that enjoy the waters of the area.

Other excellent birding spots in Cuba include the La Guira National Park, Sierra de Najasa, Zapata Swamp and Playa Giron. There is little doubt that Cuba has much to offer, especially in the way of natural beauty and can truly be considered as a bird watcher’s paradise.