Republic of Barbados
The island of Barbados is a holiday destination better known for its sun, sea, sugarcane and beautiful white sand beaches rather than its birding, but even so there is much to interest a birder accidentally stranded here. Over 230 species have been recorded - more than any other Lesser Antillean island. The island offers relaxed birding and most of its 25 or so resident breeders can be seen in just one morning's birding, or if preferred spread leisurely over a week between swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing. Unlike most of its neighbours the island has no compelling endemics so is rarely included on a Lesser Antillean birding itinerary, but it has been argued that Barbados's unique form of Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (where the males resemble the females) might justify separation.
Barbados is a coral island that was pushed up between 600,000-700,000 years ago. Lying 150km east of its much older volcanic neighbours; its isolation, youth and non-mountainous topography are the main reasons for its limited avifauna.
The island has been well-watched for several decades and has scored some notable firsts for the Americas e.g. Garganey, Black-headed Gull, Little Bittern, Alpine Swift, Collared Pratincole, Whiskered Tern, Common Cuckoo, Little Egret. Currently Barbados is the only place in Western Hemisphere where Little Egret is known to breed. Many vagrants turn up annually, but it is the trans-Atlantic vagrants that are of the greatest regional significance.
Most of the resident species are widespread and common and can be seen virtually anywhere e.g. Carib Grackle, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Green-throated Carib, Scaly-naped Pigeon, Zenaida Dove, Common Ground Dove, Gray Kingbird, Caribbean Elaenia, Shiny Cowbird, Bananaquit, Black-faced Grassquit and Yellow Warbler. Caribbean Martin and Black-whiskered Vireo are mainly summer visitors. Audubon's Shearwaters breed at one locality. Other more local breeders include Eared Dove and Grassland Yellow-Finch, which was introduced from South America in about 1900.
The island has limited natural wetland habitats, but the most important site is Graeme Hall Swamp, a natural mangrove swamp that has recently become a Ramsar site. Be warned however that most of the other wetlands are small artificial swamps, created for the sole purpose of shooting migrant shorebirds from mid-July to mid-October though this fact is little known outside of Barbados. The main species shot are yellowlegs, dowitchers, plovers, pectoral, whimbrels and stilt sandpipers. This custom dates back to the time of slavery, when the plantation owners had nothing else to do after the sugarcane was cut than sit in their swamps, drink fine Barbados rum and shoot. On the plus side, some of these swamps provide good habitat for birds year-round and some owners are interested in nature, and actively discourage shooting of rare or protected species. During the shooting season when these swamps are strictly off-limits, there are still good opportunities to see shorebirds at Chancery Lane Swamp, near south point and at virtually any other grassy field after rain. A walk along the north coast can be particularly productive. Common shorebirds include White-rumped, Pectoral, Stilt and Solitary Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Yellowleg, American Golden Plover, Whimbrel, and Hudsonian Godwits that pass directly over the island, but rarely land.
Bayfield Pond, St. Philip: A roadside pond which often allows very close views of Masked Duck.
Chancery Lane Swamp
This swamp on the south coast is accessible year round but conditions vary depending on rainfall. It can be a dustbowl for much of the year. In autumn this is one of the best places to study migrant shorebirds. Rarities have included: Eurasian Whimbrel, Collared Plover, Hooded Merganser. Chancery Lane Swamp can be accessed from east and west. Leaving Oistin on H7 bear right towards Enterprise and Silver sands. At a sort of round-about straight on towards Surfers Point. Follow this road East to Chancery Lane and the sea at dead end. Walk back along coast to track inland and the swamp. OR after 1.8km from round-about take second sign right to Ealing Park South and first left into Sea View Road. In about 800m at junction with Teal turn left on tarmac for 300m and then on dirt track at No Dumping sign then left to swamp. Saloon car friendly with care when dry.
Congo Road Swamp
An artifical swamp. Inacessible during shooting season. Recent rarities in Spring have included: Little Stint, Terek Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper and Whiskered Tern.
Flower Forest: A good site for observing humingbirds.
Graeme Hall Nature Reserve
This is easily the top birdwatching site in Barbados and the western half is a privately owned nature sanctuary. This is the best place to see the nominate race of the Yellow (Golden) Warbler, Little Egrets (breeding); and a variety of herons and shorebirds. The main pond is a reliable place to find the uncommon Caribbean Coot. In winter waterthrushes, Prothonotary Warbler and belted Kingfisher, Recent rarities have included: Grey Heron, Little Bittern, Western-Reef Egret, Purple Heron, White-winged Black Tern, European Black Tern. It is easily accessed on the south coast road.
Located near Chancery Lane this stretch of rocky shoreline can be a good viewpoint out to sea, though sea-watching in Barbados is usually only productive during adverse conditions. Roseate Terns visit the shoreline in summer and one or two pairs of Grassland Yellow Finches are usually present.
Melvin's Hill Lookout
Melvin's Hill Lookout, St. Joseph: The only reliable site for Black Swift in summer.
North Coast: Good for shorebirds and migrants. Recent Rarities include Kelp Gull, Northern Wheatear.
Turner's Hall Woods, St Andrew
A small woodland site good for Black-whiskered Vireos and occasional wintering warblers. Recent Rarities have included Worm-eating Warbler and Kentucky Warbler.
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 272
(As at September 2018)
Number of endemics: 1
Barbados Bullfinch Loxigilla barbadensis
Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web
The Birds of Barbados
By PA Buckley, EB Massiah, MB Hutt, FG Buckley & HF Hutt | BPU | 2009 | Hardback | 295 pages, colour plates, figs, tables |
ISBN: 9780907446293Buy this book from NHBS.com
The Birds of the West Indies
By Herbert Raffaele, James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith & Janis Raffaele | Christopher Helm | 2003 Paperback | 216 pages, 92 colour plates, 181 colour distribution maps |
ISBN: 0713654198Buy this book from NHBS.com
Some brief notes…
IBA Chancery Lane Swamp
This protected area is home to migrant shorebirds and there is usually a presence of heron and egrets. Many North American birds rest here during their migration to South America. Chancery Lane is a seasonal wetland, so be sure to visit during the wet season as the area can dry up significantly at other times of the year.
NR Graeme Hall Swamp & Nature Sanctuary
There are more than 40 bird species resident in the swamp ranging from the small Sandpiper to the graceful white Cattle Egrets…
WR Barbados Wildlife Reserve
The Barbados Wildlife Reserve occupies four acres of mahogany forest with meandering brick paths. It is a community devoted to man's love and respect for nature, as well as to research and conservation. However, its more of an open zoo than a nature reserve.
Guides & Tour Operators
Barbados Birdwatching Holidays
Birdwatching and travel make a perfect combination and an excellent way to visit exciting destinations. Barbados is no exception to the rule. Birding holidays generally allocate the mornings to birding and the afternoon to other activities. We understand that some partners are not twitchers and that there are some folks whose primary objective is observing birds, but are interested in other natural and cultural history and photography as well.
We will show you the sights and share with you the many stories behind them and by the end of your tour you will not only see why we love this little Island Barbados so much but you will love it to. So come along and join us on a tour of Beautiful Barbados…
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2010 [10 October] - Mike Powell
We settled on Dominica & Barbados. Dominica has 2 endemic parrots (Red-necked & Imperial) plus an endemic race of House Wren which some authorities recognise as a full species.
2015 [07 July] - Petri Hottola
I required a ride to the accommodation and back, in the next morning. Most importantly, the accommodation had to be in an area, where a short morning walk was likely to produce a Barbados Bullfinch. Fortunately, the island endemic is not very selective in regard to its habitats but could be expected to be seen just about anywhere where grass and bushes existed.
2016 [04 April] - Jesse Fagan
Annotated list of Lesser Antilles trip
2017 [06 June] - Mark Van Beirs
Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Santa Lucia, Saint Vincent, Barbados and Grenada were the ten islands we visited on our recent Lesser Antilles tour. Some are independent countries in their own right, while others are Overseas Territories. All these islands exude a quite different flavour, as some are rich and well developed and some are obviously quite poor with pothole-riddled roads and limited infrastructure.
2018 [03 March] - Victor Emanuel
From the first day in Barbados to the last day in St Vincent, our cruise to the Lesser Antilles aboard the Sea Cloud was one of the best trips that VENT has ever operated for the Lab. Blending birding and natural history with doses of history and culture, we visited six islands (Barbados, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), each characterized by unique history, ambience, and, of course, endemic birds.
Places to Stay
Sea-U! Guest House
Take a walk on the endless unspoiled East Coast beach just 200 yards away, enjoy the dramatic scenery, cool down in one of the natural pools. Mingle with locals in our small community, dance to Soca and Reggae at night. Spend a remarkable evening dining in one of the many fine restaurants in Barbados. Look out for birds, lizards and the tricky monkeys, tropical plants and fruit trees. Dream into the rising sun or admire the spectacular sky at nights.