Animals of Cuba: Snowbirds

On Exhibit posts

Cuba is considered the crossroads of the Caribbean, and the designation is especially true when it comes to migratory birds. Many species use the archipelago’s varied habitats—wetlands, forests, mountains, and even human-dominated areas—as a place to stop, eat, and rest on their long annual journeys between North and South Americas.

“Cuba has long loomed large in the consciousness of bird conservationists,” says ornithologist Leo Douglas, president of BirdsCaribbean, a group dedicated to protecting avian wildlife throughout the region. “The whole of the archipelago is important to migratory birds.” Here are just a few of the many bird species that call Cuba their home away from home.

 

Black-throated Blue Warbler

A blue warbler perches on a thin branch, a blurred background of leaves in view behind it.

A Black-throated Blue Warbler (Setophaga caerulescens) like those that migrate to Cuba during winter.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Males and females of this North American songbird look so different, they were initially thought to be separate species. Both sexes, though, make their homes in Cuba all winter long.

 

Gray Kingbird

Gray Kingbird perches on a leafy branch.

A Gray Kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis) photographed in Puerto Rico. 

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


During the spring and summer, when North American migrating birds are absent from Cuba, Gray Kingbirds make their way from Central and South America to the island to breed. “Birds that migrate to Cuba in the winter aren’t in their breeding ground, so they don’t sing,” says Douglas. “Gray Kingbirds, though, are very vocal and hard to miss!”

 

Wood Thrush

Wood thrush perches on a branch in front of a leafy background.

The Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) is a common summer sight throughout eastern North America.

Image courtesy of K.C. Azar


Wood Thrushes migrate south from North America to spend their winters in the warmer climes of Central America. During this long trip, many make a last-minute pit stop in Cuba before crossing the Gulf of Mexico to their ultimate destination. 

 

Osprey

Osprey flies through the sky with wings completely extended.

Cuba is a key habitat for migrating Osprey (Pandion haliaetus).

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Ospreys migrate from North America’s east coast to South America. For some, Cuba is a stopover; others stay for the winter. Researchers learned this because more than 100 birds have been fitted with tiny backpacks containing lightweight, solar-powered radio transmitters, which track their movements using satellites and cell phone towers. You can even watch them yourself courtesy of an interactive map.

 

See more amazing Cuban wildlife in ¡Cuba!, which is open to the public now and free for Members.

A version of this story originally appeared in the winter 2017 issue of Rotunda, the Member magazine.