North American Birds

West Indies & Bermuda2022-01-15T18:04:43-05:00

West Indies & Bermuda

Andrew Dobson and Anthony Levesque, Regional Report Compilers

The West Indies and Bermuda Region includes Bermuda and all the islands of three major archipelagos: the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, and the Lucayan Archipelago (The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos). In addition, the region encompasses a few outliers in the southwestern Caribbean Sea. Politically, the region comprises 12 independent nations, six U.K. overseas territories, four French territories, three Dutch territories, three U.S. territories, and one Colombian territory. The region’s total land area is approximately 3000 square km spread out over 7000 islands and islets. Myriad ecosystems have developed atop volcanoes, tectonic rifts, uplifted limestone seabed, and exposed continental crust.

Bond’s Line, popularized in his seminal field guide to birds of the region, separates the avifauna of this region from that of continental landforms. The avifauna within (James) Bond’s Line exhibits a high degree of isolation and endemism: Among the region’s 779 recorded species are 172 endemics. Half of the nonmigratory species are regional endemics, and of these, over 110 are found only on only one or two islands. Sixty-seven species are considered globally threatened. In the Greater Antilles, there are currently recognized seven endemic or near-endemic families: todies, Palmchat, chat-tanagers, Hispaniolan tanagers, Puerto Rican Tanager, Cuban warblers, and spindalises. The islands with highest number of endemic species are Jamaica (27), Hispaniola (26, with three endemic families), Cuba (21), and Puerto Rico (17, with one endemic family). Caribbean islands are therefore exceptionally important for global biodiversity conservation.

The only part of this region not included within Bond’s Line is Bermuda, which is isolated in the Western Atlantic about 1000 km east of Cape Hatteras (its closest landfall) and 1500 km north of the British Virgin Islands. Despite its remoteness, suburban landscape, and small (57 sq. km) size, Bermuda is ideally positioned to attract migrant and vagrant birds. A surprising number of North American species are found here during the winter months, largely due to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream. Bermuda has a rich avian history, within which the 1951 re-discovery of nesting Bermuda Petrels (Cahows) is of special importance. Bermuda boasts a bird list of about 400 species.

Of the two nearby continents, North America has had an outsized affect on the region’s avifauna. Resident birds include various thrashers, crows, vireos, gnatcatchers, orioles, wood-warblers, and even crossbills and nuthatches. Many boreal–neotropical migrants from North America spend the winter in the region; these include most or all of the global populations of Cape May, Prairie, Black-throated Blue, and Kirtland’s warblers. South America has had less but still important influence. Its presence nearby can be seen in resident species such as Rufous-breasted Hermit, Antillean Palm-Swift, Fernandina’s Flicker, Cocoa Thrush, Lesser Antillean Tanager, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, and Shiny Cowbird. Irregularly, a few Fork-tailed Flycatchers fly north from the Southern Cone to spend the austral winter in the southern Lesser Antilles. Europe and Africa—not so far away–contribute vagrants, especially in the Lesser Antilles; these include Little Egret, Gray Heron, Purple Heron, Wood Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, and Western Marsh-Harrier.

As only about 10% of the region’s natural habitat remains, population growth and tourism developments add further pressure to an already perilous existence for many of the region’s birds. Anthropomorphic climate change and its tendency to increase the intensity and frequency of hurricanes has had and portends major effects on bird populations. The importance of gathering bird-related data via citizen science cannot be overstated in order to assist governments and non-governmental organizations to implement conservation measures.

The ABA gratefully acknowledges the contributions of West Indies & Bermuda Regional Report Compilers Andrew Dobson and Anthony Levesque. and of the late Robert L. Norton, to promoting knowledge and understanding about the birdlife of the continent.

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