Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean (110,860 km2) and only slightly smaller in land area (including all the offshore cays) than England. The population is just over 11 million people of which almost a third live in the capital, Havana. The political stability that has marked the years since the revolution in 1959 has not been matched by the economy which has suffered for a variety of reasons. The financial benefits of tourism have been widely embraced in the last 15 years or so which has resulted in improved facilities for visitors and many of these are near to popular birding hotspots. Cubans are a warm and friendly people and visting birders are unlikely to experience any problems. Crime, especially violent crime, is virtually unknown.
Cuba has a wide variety of habitats from coastal mangrove to montain cloud forest and including important man-made habitats such as rice fields. Four main mountain ranges dominate an otherwise lowland landscape of arid scrub, savanna, and forest, with extensive wetlands found on the Zapata peninsula and in the Cauto River delta. Forest can be divided into several different types including lowland and montane rain forest, cloud forest, and drier seasonal (deciduous) forest, which was once very widespread in the lowlands. Coniferous forest is restricted to the eastern and western ends of the island where it is the dominant vegetation type.
Recent survey work has revealed that, as well as being significant for restricted-range birds, Cuban forests are extremely important wintering areas for Nearctic breeding species, equal to the richest sites that have been surveyed elsewhere in the Caribbean and Mexico.
Cuba has developed a system of protected areas in a variety of habitats across the country. These have various designations and levels of protection - some 12% of the total land area falls within the 200 or so conservation units. The most important have international designations including six Ramsar sites and six Biosphere reserves. BirdLife recognises 28 Important Bird Areas (IBA) within the whole territory of Cuba, which is an Endemic Bird Area (EBA) in itself.
However, much of Cuba's native vegetation has been converted to cultivation and pasture for cattle over the past 200 years, with only 15-20% of land remaining in its natural state. Today, expansion of cacao, coffee and tobacco production are serious threats to rain forest, while logging, charcoal production and slash-and-burn agriculture are destroying dry forest. Tourist facilities have sometimes been located inappropriately and extensions to rice and bean growing areas have impinged on important wetlands, including mangrove fringes.
Birds and birding
Around 370 species have been reported from Cuba with a high level of endemism (28 species) and a number of Caribbean specialties. Six of the endemic species are listed as 'restricted range' by BirdLife whilst a further 14 are designated Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable or Near Threatened. A further 19 species under these criteria have been recorded from Cuba, such as the Piping Plover, which is a relatively uncommon winter visitor to the archipelago.
Having said that, it is not too difficult to plan a birding trip to see the majority of the endemic birds, the exceptions being Cuban Kite (far to the east, largely inaccessible and almost extinct) and Zapata Rail (Critically Endangered and largely invisible). To find Cuban Martin, which is known to breed only in Cuba, and Antillean Nighthawk, both of which presumably winter somewhere in South America, you need to visit in summer, preferably from mid March or even mid April, respectively. Note that most birders will probably also want to avoid the summer (after May) and the hurricane season, which ends in late November, although the latter month can be excellent for passage migrants. Winter is excellent to see the largest numbers of individual Nearctic migrants, although a visit during either spring or autumn passage has the potential to ‘net’ more species.
There are quite considerable distances to cover just to reach the four main sites starting from Havana – in general, there are more birds in the western half of the country, more of the endemics and more facilities for the tourist. A trip of nine or ten days is the minimum needed to ensure covering the main sites but even in this time you run the risk of missing out on some species, with two weeks being the ideal length of a trip and less taxing!
This is a cay off the north coast of Cuba, now linked to the mainland by a causeway some 17 km long. The island has been developed as an all-inclusive beach tourism destination but large areas are still unspoilt and home to some interesting species. Of the endemics, there is Cuban Gnatcatcher and Oriente Warbler that you must see. In addition there are some interesting species found nowhere else in Cuba such as Bahama Mockingbird and Thick-billed Vireo. There is a race of Cuban Sparrow here as well as Gundlach’s Hawk and its position means that migrant falls are relatively common.
Cuchillas del Toa - Guantanamo Province
Oriente - The last place that Ivory-billed Woodpecker and Cuban Kite were seen. Mountain and river birds.
An area of open savannah and woodlands to the south-east of Camagüey city which encompasses the reserve at La Belen. There are 15 of the endemics to found here but it is the only place to find the Cuban Palm Crow and much the easiest place to see Giant Kingbird, Cuban Parakeet and the near-threatened Caribbean speciality, Plain Pigeon.
Topes de Collantes - Escambray-Sancti Spiritus Province.
Mountain birds. Endemic birds found here include Cuban Tody, Cuban Trogon and Cuban Emerald.
Viñales Valley-La Güira
This area to the west of Havana is largely pine-forested limestone hills interspersed with low-level agriculture. This is the place to find the Cuban Solitaire and now is also the easiest place to find Cuban Grassquit. Many other endemics are here and it is a good starting point for any birding trip to Cuba to get to grips with the commoner species.
Zapata Swamp - Matanzas Province
A huge area (over half a million hectares) this is the largest wetland in the Caribbean. It has extensive cave lake systems with spectacular blue holes, flooded caves and important water resources. There is also critical habitat in the form of forest, flooded palm savannas, open waterand salinas, reefs and mangroves. It is simply the best birding in Cuba and the following endemics can be found there: Gundlach's Hawk, Zapata Rail, Grey-fronted Quail-dove, Blue-headed Quail-dove, Cuban Parakeet, Bare-legged Owl, Cuban Pygmy-owl, Cuban Nightjar, Bee Hummingbird, Cuban Trogon, Cuban Tody, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Fernandina's Flicker, Giant Kingbird, Cuban Vireo, Cuban Crow, Zapata Wren, Yellow-headed Warbler, Cuban Blackbird, Red-shouldered Blackbird, Cuban Sparrow, Cuban Grassquit.
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 372
National Bird: Cuban Trogon Priotelus temnurus
Number of endemics: 28
Gundlachs Hawk Accipiter gundlachi, Cuban Black-Hawk Buteogallus gundlachii, Cuban Nightjar Caprimulgus cubanensis, Cuban Green Woodpecker Xiphidiopicus percussus, Fernandina's Flicker Colaptes fernandinae, Cuban Trogon Priotelus temnurus, Cuban Tody Todus multicolor, Cuban Parakeet Aratinga euops, Bee Hummingbird Mellisuga helenae, Cuban Screech Owl Otus lawrencii, Cuban Pygmy-Owl Glaucidium siju, Gray-fronted Quail-Dove Geotrygon caniceps, Blue-headed Quail-Dove Starnoenas cyanocephala, Zapata Rail Cyanolimnas cerverai, Giant Kingbird Tyrannus cubensis, Cuban Vireo Vireo gundlachii, Cuban Solitaire Myadestes elisabeth, Zapata Wren Ferminia cerverai, Cuban Gnatcatcher Polioptila lembeyei, Zapata Sparrow Torreornis inexpectata, Yellow-headed Warbler Teretistris fernandinae, Oriente Warbler Teretistris fornsi, Cuban Grassquit Tiaris canora, Cuban Palm Crow Corvus palmarum, Cuban Crow Corvus nasicus, Red-shouldered Blackbird Agelaius assimilis, Cuban Blackbird Dives atroviolacea, Cuban Oriole Icterus melanopsis
A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico & the Caymans
by Guy Kirwan, Arturo Kirkconnell & Mike Flieg - Prion 2010
ISBN: 9781871104127Buy this book from NHBS.com
Bird Songs in Cuba - CD
Cantos de las Aves de Cuba George B Raynard and Orlando H Garrido 2-CD set. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology 2006 ISBN: 166142
Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba
Orlando Garrido, Arturo Kirkconnell, Roman Company (Illustrator) Paperback (31 August, 2000) C Helm
ISBN: 0713657847Buy this book from NHBS.com
The Birds of the West Indies
By Herbert Raffaele, James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith & Janis Raffaele
Helm Field Guides Sept 2003 Paperback RRP ?16.99p
See Fatbirder Review
ISBN: 0713654198Buy this book from NHBS.com
R Dr Martin Acosta, Museo Historia Natural, Felipe Poey, Fac de Biologia,U.H, 25 e/J e I, Vedado, La Habana Cuba. +53 7 329000 firstname.lastname@example.org
National Museum of Natural History of Cuba
It contains unique pieces, such as fish preserved personally by Poey in the first half of the 19th century, the smallest bird in the world, a stuffed specimen of an extinct species of pigeon, and 18 endemic Cuban birds that are part of the country`s largest collection.
Alejandro de Humboldt National Park
Alejandro de Humboldt National Park contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of terrestrial biological diversity in the entire insular Caribbean…
Desembarco del Granma National Park
The area, which is situated in and around Cabo Cruz in south-west Cuba, includes spectacular terraces and cliffs, as well as some of the most pristine and impressive coastal cliffs bordering the western Atlantic.
Cuba has an extensive network of protected areas and there are 274 listed on the website. Below are details of the 15 National Parks which all have IUCN Category: II designation:
Punta Francés National Park, Isle of Youth
La Mensura Pilotos National Park, Holguin province
Santa Maria Los Caimanes National Park, Sancti Spiritus province
Jardines de la Reina National Park, Camaguey province
Viñales National Park, Pinar del Rio province
La Bayamesa National Park, Granma province
Ciénaga De Zapata National Park, Matanzas province
Alejandro De Humboldt National Park, Holguin province
Desembarco Del Granma National Park, Granma province
Cayos De San Felipe National Park, Pinar del Rio province
Pico Cristal National Park, Holguin province
Turquino National Park, Santiago de Cuba province
Guanahacabibes National Park, Pinar del Rio province
Caguanes National Park, Sancti Spiritus province
Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve
Sierra del Rosario is mountain range in the Pinar del Río Province of Cuba. It is located in the western part of the Guaniguanico Range, in the north-central part of the province, between the municipalities of La Palma, Los Palacios and Consolación del…
CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.
2005 [March] - Jim Rose & Dave Ferguson
Having seen many of the European birds and some of those of The Gambia and Goa, we decided on a change of faunal region. We were limited to one week which cut out many of the far-flung places. First Choice Holidays operate charter flights to Cuba which were reasonably priced, JR had not been to the Caribbean while DF had once been to Tobago in 1978…
2005 [March] - Tony Murray
…The La Salina site is accessed from Playa Larga itself (past Chino’s house). You need to pay an entry here (10cuc), which goes towards the conservation fund on site. This is an excellent site for wetland birds. We seen many waders and herons here including Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, among many others. It’s a long drive down the track, about 22km and we had our only puncture here, fortunately at the start, so we went back. We also had many Cuban Crab Hawk/Common Black Hawk here…
2006 [April] - Derek Scott
The 2006 Birdquest excursion around the intriguing island of Cuba was so successful that we virtually ran out of birds to look for on our last full day in the field. The weather was especially kind to us this year, with no rain at all and relatively cool conditions until the last couple of days at Zapata. The birding was superb, and we recorded a total of 176 species…
2006 [April] - Wim Heylen & Cindy Van Den Broek
After an extensive search, we finally heard a Gray-headed Quail-Dove, and it didn’t take long to track down the calling perched individual. Again, excellent views. Chino then took us to a nest site of Gundlach’s Hawk…
2006 [August] - John Yates
This year we decided to spend our family summer holiday at the hotel Playa Pesquero in the Holguin province of Cuba. While the holiday was primarily a beach/snorkelling/relaxation holiday, I was able to take some pre breakfast and evening walks to a number of birding sites within 20 minutes of the resort…
2006 [June] - Eduard Sangster
Cuba holds 27+ endemics as well as 27+ Caribbean (near-)endemics. In 10 days of independent birding in March it is possible to see 25 of the Cuban endemics and at least 23 Caribbean (near-)endemics. This report aims at helping you planning your trip. I birded Cuba in June 2006 and visited all birding sites except Najasa. I saw 19 and 23 endemics respectively. Cuba is an easy and very safe destination and is excellent combined with a non-birding partner. Cuba also offers excellent photographic opportunities…
2009 [July] - Ian Hughes - You’re never very far from a Turkey Vulture
…My wife and son are not quite as enthusiastic about birds as myself but we were all pleased to find the layout of our hotel complex was spread around a highly vegetated area sloping down to the sea. By tea time I had already sorted out Red Legged Thrushes, Grey Kingbirds, Northern Mocking Birds and numerous Grackles when I was excited to see a “nightjarry” bird flying over our room. It turned out to be an Antillean Nighthawk which I was to see several more times during our stay…
2010 [February] - Mark Easterbrook
My wife and I travelled to Cuba with Boletas birdwatching holidays run by Josele J Sais of Spain. The group members had made their way to Cuba independently via a number of routes and finally met up on the morning of the 2nd Feb to start birding. Some members of the group had already had the chance to familiarise themselves with some of the commoner birds on the previous day and Richard added a Ring-billed Gull; a species that was subsequently not seen again…
2010 [July] - Ian Mills & Michael Baker
A brief report of a family holiday at Havana and Hotel Melia Las Antilles near Varadero with one full day’s birding with a guide at Zapata and early mornings round the hotel…
2010 [March] - Luis Segura
Our second Cuba tour commenced as we left Havana and headed westwards into the Province of Pinar del Río to the small village of Soroa. On the way, we stopped to scan a large flock of ducks at the reservoir in Seis Vías. There we found Ring-necked and Ruddy Duck and also some Brown Pelicans. We then continued to the next reservoir where we were lucky to find a good number of Snail Kites, offering great scope views…
2010 [March] - Luis Segura
Our Cuba tour commenced in the bustling metropolis of Havana (known locally as La Habana). After a general get-together at breakfast on our first day, we then left for Soroa. We stopped en route at a couple of lagoons, notching up several species of duck, including Canvasback and White- cheeked Pintail, as well as Snail Kite, Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot and Brown Pelican…
2011 [March] - Bob Biggs
…We found some of the birding to be hard work. We missed a few of the endemics but that is to be expected. There was little migration. I thought there would have been more. I presume we were too early. Cuba was something of an “eye opener”, with living conditions much worse than I had expected in some parts of the country. The people seem to make the most of a fairly poor existance. Other than in Havana, we received very little hassle…
2011 [March] - Luis Segura
Our tour commenced in Cuba’s capital city, Havana, from where we set off for Soroa. Upon arriving we did some birding in the grounds of our hotel, where we found some great birds including West Indian Woodpecker, Loggerhead Kingbird, Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler and our first Cuban Trogon of the trip…
2011 [March] - Luis Segura 2
Our tour commenced in the City of Havana before setting off for the Soroa area. On our way we made a birding stop at the Seis Vías reservoir, a great location for an introduction to Cuba’s water birds. Searching with our telescope and binoculars, some of the birds we found included….
2012 [August] - Diederik van der Molen
…We flew from Amsterdam to Varadero International Airport. It’s a 1 hour and 75 CUC drive by taxi to Havana. First bird was ‘our’ House sparrow and most numerous were Turkey Vultures – because of them I probably missed several hawks because I didn’t look up anymore. Cuban swallow and Antillean palm-swift were seen from the apartment and Magnificent frigatebird and Brown pelican over the sea…
2012 [March] - Forrest Rowland
Cuba offers some of the best birding in the Caribbean. With no fewer than 28 strict endemics, and another 18 near-endemics, birders have long been coming to this interesting country and enjoying dynamic, fun birds in a dynamic cultural landscape. Our goal with this tour was two-fold: to see as many of these endemics and near-endemics as possible, and to experience and learn more about the culture and history of this unique nation….
2013 [April] - Mark Graham
The main birds which are in vast numbers are the herons, egrets and waders. There are always some Turkey Vultures hovering around and Common Black Hawk were seen very regulary. The three main Warblers were Common Yellowthroat, Prairie Warbler and Palm Warbler. All are easy to see amongst the vegetation. Cuban Emerald are everywhere. The Grackles are never far away and seldom stop calling out. There were 42 species in the hotel alone and I managed 31 lifers. This wasn't bad considering I've been to the Carribean and North America before…
2013 [December] - Petri Hottola
…here is good habitat for Cuban Grassquits right there, but I failed to see any, despite checking the site three times…
2013 [February] - Paul Davis
…I had a couple of hours of daylight to kill, so went for a quick stroll. I had close encounters with Cuban Blackbirds, a Greater Antillean Grackle, a Cuban Vireo and several Northern Mockingbirds. The next morning I got up at dawn and wondered down to the bridge that crosses the lagoon. The lagoon appears to be tidal, so at times was just mud, which smelt a bit unsavoury, but attracted a lot of birds…
2013 [March] - Chris Kehoe
…We recorded 170 species including all 26 of the practically accessible Cuban endemics including superb views of such stars as Bee Hummingbird, Cuban Grassquit, Blue-headed and Grey-fronted Quail-dove, Fernandina's Flicker, Cuban Nightjar, Cuban Black Hawk, Zapata Sparrow (of two subspecies), Oriente and Yellow- headed Warblers, Bare-legged Owl, Cuban Pygmy Owl and Giant Kingbird…
2013 [May] - Jaap Westra
Cuba is a great birding destination with 27 endemic bird species realistically possible (Cuban Kite and Zapata Rail are no longer expected on a trip to Cuba) and another 22 doable species that can only be found in the West Indies…
2014 [April] - Mark Graham
…A Least Bittern was reported one day. Other birds seen around the lagoon were the inevitable Turkey Vulture, White-winged Dove and Mourning Dove. The nearby population of Cuban Martins would often fly over but only in the morning. I recommend a scope for this area as it is a fair sized lagoon…
2014 [February] - Chris Lotz
…we enjoyed our first Antillean Palm Swift and Cuban Emerald hummingbird, both of them up close and personal (the former were flying around their roosts in the thatch above the lunch table, and the latter were all around the hedge in front of us as we enjoyed beers during our lunch-time “siesta”). After our lunch-time break, we checked our Cuban Grassquit spot, finding Gundlach’s Hawk nice and early in the trip – this is one of the toughest Cuban endemics to find and usually needs loads of time and effort (plus a large dose of luck) – finding the bird on the first day of the tour bought us time!…
2014 [March] - Clayton Burne
…Our first real birding started at the community-run Las Terrazas Biosphere Reserve. Cleared and terraced of all vegetation forty years ago, the entire property has been reforested to exacting standards, providing excellent trails and birding habitat. As expected, the habitat was rich in bird life, from the drab to obscenely colourful. Black-whiskered Vireos maintained a constant background audio to the stunning Cuban Today…
2014 [March] - Rich Lindie
…Stopping intermittently along our route to San Diego, we picked up some of the commoner Greater Antillean waterfowl at roadside lakes including Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot, Ringneck, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck and a vagrant Cinnamon Teal….
2014 [March] - Rob Gordijn & Helen Rijkes
…The site for Zapata wren en Zapata Sparrow. Key-West Quaildove (heard) and Grey-headed Quaildove (seen) occurs in the forest along the acces road and this road is a reliable site for nightjars. On our morning visit it had rained which was probably bad for activity, on our return visit we heard a Cuban Nightjar reasonable soon after dusk, but would not come into tape. The Gundlach’s Hawk nest had been in this areas as well, but had been cut down, appearantly the birds had left the site as well….
Guides & Tour Operators
The tour starts in Cuba’s famous Zapata Swamp, one of the richest single sites throughout the West Indies, and continues across much of the western two-thirds of this island – which is widely regarded as the last bastion of communism in the world but is now gradually becoming slightly more liberalized. We will have good chances of finding all of Cuba’s endemics with the exception of the near-mythical Zapata Rail, whose voice is still not definitely known, and the extremely rare Cuban Kite, which is restricted to the extreme east of the island and requires a trip of near-expedition proportions for any chance of seeing it… ..
Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…
Capitolio - Bird Watching tours to Cuba
13 day/14 night all inclusive packages available all year round. For groups of 4 upwards. Fully guided. Extensions available on request. Capitolio Travel is proud to announce the availability of three tours especially designed for birdwatchers.
These tours can be undertaken all-year round and have the advantage that as few as four passengers can go at any one time. Tours include Pinar del Rio, Zapata Peninsula and Villa Clara province.
For full details: Call Capitolio Travel for details 0207 359 9995 or contact email@example.com
The London arm of Rumbos - contact Dr Stephen Wilkinson firstname.lastname@example.org
Cuba Birding Tours
Andy Mitchell, Cuba tours arranged - I can arrange every aspect of your trip including driving instructions and directions to birds. Contact me on email@example.com
Tours within Cuba
Cuba Travel USA
Cuba Travel U.S.A. took our first birdwatchers to Cuba in 1977. Cuba offers a vast quantity of bird life for our clients. Cuba is the home for more than 350 different species of birds. The experts we took to Cuba had their best days ever…
Bird Watching Tour in Cuba - 8 days - Cuba`s birds include 22 endemic species to the island as well as several Greater Antillean endemics mixed with some North American and seasonal migration species.
Cuba is one of the most interesting Caribbean islands due to its rich avifauna comprising of 24 endemics and many Caribbean endemics, which are also found here. North American migrants also pass through the island or spend the winter in large numbers. Almost 350 bird species have been recorded in Cuba…
If you are a nature and bird enthusiastic, and that taking photographs in our warm and enchanting Cuba sounds like an exciting experience to you, then you have come to the right place…
Guide - Arturo Kirkconnell
…author of ‘A field Guide to the Birds of Cuba’ and has published 60 scientific papers about Cuban birds, including the forthcoming ‘Check-list of Cuban Birds’. He works at the Cuban National Museum of Natural History and has researched globally endangered Cuban bird species for the last 14 years. He has considerable experience as a tour leader throughout the whole of Cuba and has been guiding for the last 20 years with Sunbird, Birdwatching breaks, Birdfinder, Birdquest, Eagle-eyed Tours etc. Ave 17 # 7618, entre 76 y 78, Playa, La Habana, Cuba.
Orestes Martinez El Chino
Located at Zapata Swamp but he also guides all around Cuba…
recommended by a Fatbirder user
Cuba Beyond the Beaches Birding in Eastern Cuba takes you to two of the most prolific areas for birds in this part of the island. Our daily outings take you to varied habitat ensuring that you have the chance to add to your life list, see birds which are new to you, or visit with summer friends. Our knowledgeable ornithologist will add to your understanding of the birds of this part of the island…
Rockjumper Birding Tours
What with 28 endemics and a further 23 Caribbean specials, Cuba is an essential addition to any serious twitcher’s agenda, and our comprehensive tour targets every one of these species. With the relaxation of travel restrictions, this fantastic destination will soon be open to everyone.
Places to Stay
The alternative to staying in hotels is private guest houses or casa particulares…
Club Amigo Atlantico Guardalavaca Resort - Holguin Province
Only a few meters from one of the most beautiful beaches of fine and white sand to the eastern part of the island, stands Club Amigo Atlantico - Guardalavaca Complex surrounded by impressive cliffs and exotic vegetation…
Hotel Playa Giron - Zapata
Hotel Playa Larga - Zapata
Notes, pictures, etc…
Birdwatching in Western Cuba
Travelling through National Parks, Wildlife Refuge`s and the famous Sierra del Rosario Biosphere brings the experienced birdwatcher in touch with bird species of all types…
Checklist - Birds of Cuba
Cuba - A Safe Haven for Birds
The Cuban fauna is very diverse, with more than 350 species of birds on the islands and keys that make up the Cuban archipelago, where there exists a large degree of endemism among marine and forest birds…
Winter Surveys of Birds in Cuba
Cuba comprises approximately half of all the land in the Caribbean. It is a tropical island with a rich avifauna and diverse flora. Although it has a growing network of reserves and national parks, ranching, logging, and agriculture have contributed greatly to deforestation and forest fragmentation over the past 100 years. In spite of this, Cuba has one of the lowest rates of deforestation in the Caribbean and current forest area is approximately 16.0%…
Photographers & Artists
Photographer - Dan McIntosh
Excellent gallery of shots taken in Cuba…
Photographer - David Cahlander
Mixed quality gallery
Photographer - Ernesto Reyes
If you are a nature and bird enthusiastic, and that taking photographs in our warm and enchanting Cuba sounds like an exciting experience to you, then you have come to the right place…
Photographer - Tyler Hicks
All pictures were taken on the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay…