Birding in the Dominican Republic
The island of Hispaniola, including the Dominican Republic (know affectionately as "the DR") and Haiti, is the second largest and the most populous island in the Caribbean region. As part of an oceanic archipelago, Hispaniola’s bird fauna has a relatively high numbers of endemic and regional endemic species. In comparison with countries with similar sized landmasses on the American continent, like Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Suriname, Hispaniola has fewer species and fewer bird families represented, but it has many more endemics.
Hispaniola benefits from extremely varied geography and habitats, from lowland swamps and rainforest, to broad savannahs, to arid deserts, to montane rainforest, to highland pine forests. It has several unique geographical features, like Lago Enriquillo, a salt lake 40 meters below sea level, and Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the whole Caribbean 3,145 m.
Hispaniola also is an important stopover and wintering location for migrants from North America, including shorebirds, ducks, and warblers. In many cases these birds are much easier to see here in the winter than they are in North America in the summer, since they are concentrated in a much smaller area.
According to the Birds of the Dominican Republic and Haiti (See Useful Reading) approximately 306 bird species have been reported on Hispaniola (although this has since been superseded with new observations). About half of these are migrants, including vagrants and rare migrants. The rest are resident birds. Among the residents are 31 strict endemic species not found anywhere else in the world. They include such abundant birds as the Hispaniolan Woodpecker and the Palmchat, and other rare and spectacular treats as the Bay-breasted Cuckoo, Hispaniolan Crossbill, and La Selle's Thrush. Perhaps the rarest of all is the highly endangered Ridgway's Hawk. The only endemic Hispaniola bird species not seen (or very rarely seen) in the DR is the Grey-crowned Palm Tanager, restricted mainly to Southwestern Haiti.
In addition to the island endemics are about 20 regional endemic species, which are bird species only found in the Caribbean region. For example, the world's second smallest bird, the Vervain Hummingbird is very common here, and is also found in Jamaica, and the Red-legged Thrush is a very handsome species found on Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Bahamas, and several other small islands.
Another interesting group of birds are the nearly 50 resident sub-species on the island and the 10 adjacent offshore islands, of which some are endemic. For example, there are three resident endemic sub-species of the Yellow Warbler Setophaga petechia: albicollis, chlora, and solaris. Referred to by some as the ‘Hispaniolan Golden Warbler’ complex, they are restricted to coastal mangroves and scrub at different points around the island. The other resident warbler subspecies is the Setophaga pinus chyrsolueca, or Hispaniolan Pine Warbler, found in highland pine forests. Other resident endemic races include the Sharp-shinned Hawk, American Kestrel, Burrowing Owl and Northern Potoo.
The DR’s relative proximity to the United States and the rest of the Caribbean islands, and its abundant tourism infrastructure, make it an ideal destination for birders, include from Europe, due to abundant direct flight routes.
The capital city of Santo Domingo is a good place to start your birding trip with a visit to the National Botanical Gardens (Jardin Botanico Nacional Moscoso Puello), which provides many of the lowland endemics and some aquatic specialties, including the West Indian Whistling Duck, endangered and very elusive anywhere else.
An hour and a half west of Santo Domingo, Salinas de Bani, with its salt flats, mangroves, sand dunes, and thorn scrub, is a great place for waders and shorebirds, as well as for winter migrants, making it a favourite haunt of local birders. It is a good day trip from Santo Domingo.
The Central Mountain Range (Cordillera Central) is a good choice for several mountain endemics and specialties. Reserva Cientifica de Ebano Verde (closest to Santo Domingo); Reserva Cientifica Valle Nuevo, and Parque J. Armando Bermudez (La Cienaga entrance) is recommended.
Parque Nacional del Este in the eastern section of the island is close to a number of resorts and is a good choice if you are tied into a non-birding trip around this area.
However, the best birding in the whole country is concentrated in the southwest, in and around the Sierra de Bahoruco mountain range. This area includes a variety of habitats that range from dry thorn scrub to mountain pine forests. Bahoruco supports one of the highest bird densities in the Caribbean and it’s the only place where you have a chance at almost all endemics.
A thorough birding trip with an emphasis on the southwestern DR should set aside three to five days. The first place to go is the northern slope of the western Bahorucos. From the town of Duverge, turn up the mountain road towards Puerto Escondido, a small town in an intra-montane valley with excellent birding. It is valuable to spend time in the forest patches around the agricultural fields, on the Rabo de Gato trail, and then along the road west out of the valley where the thorn forests begins to transition into broadleaf, bird density tends to be high including scarce and much-sought-after species like Bay-breasted Cuckoo, Least Poorwill, and Flat-billed Vireo.
This is the road that heads up the mountain into high elevation broadleaf forest through prime birding habitat. On the way up the mountain, you will arrive at Aguacate, a military post right on the Haiti-Dominican Republic border. Stop and check in with the guards. Please take the time to look over into Haiti and you will be stunned to see the deforestation level. Afterwards, keep driving to Zapoten where you will start to approach mixed broadleaf and pines. This is a great area for La Selle`s Thrush, Western Chat Tanager, White-winged Warbler and other rare endemics. Back down to Duverge, the edge of Lago Enriquillo near Vengan a Ver and Baitoa provides an opportunity for aquatic species.
The southern slope is reached by picking up the coastal highway south of Barahona. The best place to start is on the Carretera ALCOA, which is a right turn on the Cabo Rojo intersection. This road is fully paved and starts in thorn scrub habitat and ends in pine forests, and birding can be productive along the road almost anywhere. However, the goal is to reach the higher elevations where the mid-and high elevation species start to be seen. Antillean Siskins, Narrow-billed Todies, Green-tailed Ground Warblers, Hispaniolan Parrots, and many others are found. These pine forests offer some of the best opportunities for the Hispaniolan Crossbill, Hispaniolan Palm Crow, and Stygian Owl. Along the southern coast are several good birding sites: the Oviedo lagoon and Cabo Rojo. These places are good for herons, ducks, Roseate Spoonbills, Flamingos, gulls, and shorebirds.
Botanical Gardens - Santo Domingo
The Botanical Gardens are a necessary stop on your first morning in Santo Domingo. Although the official opening hour is 9AM, birders may be able to enter at earlier hours by explaining to guards that they are bird watching and would pay the entrance fee when departing. La Gran Canada is a great place for West Indian Whistling Duck, Limpkin, and Least Grebe. Many low land endemics and specialties are present here as well, such as: Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Palmchat, Black-whiskered Vireo, Antillean Palm Swifts, Antillean Mango, and many others. In season, it’s a good place for migratory warblers.
Parque del Este (Guaraguao entrance)
This park is in the southeastern part of Dominican Republic, accessible by road through Bayahibe, within reach of the resorts of Bavaro, Punta Cana, and La Romana for a day trip. The Guaraguao entrance is just past the hotels (Dominicus) east of Bayahibe. Once you pass the park cabin there's a trail that winds through the coastal dry forest. Within the park we can find Antillean Piculets, Hisp. Parrots, Flat-billed Vireos, Black-whiskered Vireos, Brown Pelicans, gulls, terns, and others.
Reserva de Ebano Verde
For mountain birding close to Santo Domingo, the best place is Reserva Cientifica de Ebano Verde, about 1 hr. 30 minutes north. Take the Duarte Highway and exit on the Constanza ramp. Once you reach the highest point on the mountain of Casabito, there will be a sign to the right that indicates the entrance. You will find a 6-kilometer trail that descends to the second entrance. Along this trail Hispaniolan Trogons, Hisp. Pewees, Rufous-throated Solitaires, Golden Swallows, Red Tailed Hawks, Hisp. Spindalis, Hisp. Emeralds, and if lucky, the Eastern Chat Tanager. Prior permission from the Fundacion Progressio (google it) is required to enter. Transportation back up the road to your car can also be arranged, unless you are willing to hike 6 kilometers back up. Ebano Verde might be a good option for those visiting one of the northern shore resorts. In that case, it is about 1 hr. 30 minutes south of Santiago. Other places Central Mountain range locations include Parque Nacional Valle Nuevo at an altitude of 2,200 meters, and La Cienaga in Parque J. Armando Bermudez. These two places are accessible from the mountain city of Constanza.
Salinas de Bani
To get to Salinas from Santo Domingo, turn left upon entering the town of Bani. Signs are confusing so you should stop and ask frequently for directions. Once you are out of Bani and on your way south, the road will lead you directly to Salinas. If traveling from the west, the road south near Cruce de Ocoa, then a left turn at the first 'T', and a right turn at the second 'T'. The first birding location will be on the long straight stretch just after the town of Caldera, just before the naval base, where mudflats stretch a kilometer or so and mangroves are visible. Continuing on the road after the naval base, mangroves, thorn forest, and patches of wetlands are good as well. Then go straight through the town of Salinas to the salt flats and more wetlands. The peninsula can be crossed to the Derrumbado beach.
Sierra de Bahoruco and Neighboring Areas
Sierra de Bahoruco should be your number one choice for birding when you visit the DR. Unfortunately this area is one of the poorest in the country so you must keep an open mind when you visit. Regardless, the area is rich in natural beauty and the people are extremely friendly. Your should base your stay in the bustling town of Barahona where there are several hotels available that range from meager accommodations to the all-inclusive resorts. To access the closest spots in the southern and northern slopes of Bahoruco, you will need to drive about 1 hour and a half. Very early morning trips are essential if you want to get to these spots before dawn.
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 306
National Bird: Palm Chat Dulus dominicus (aka Cigua Palmera)
Number of endemics: 31
Whilst DR doesn't really have any endemics - the island of Hispaniola (DR is half of that island) has 31. All of them can be seen in DR although Grey-crowned Palm Tanager is mostly restricted to southwestern haiti. They are: White-fronted Quail Dove Geotrygon leucometopia Antillean Piculet Nesoctites micromegas Hispaniolan Woodpecker Melanerpes striatus Hispaniolan Trogon Priotelus roseigaster Narrow-billed Tody Todus angustirostris Broad-billed Tody Todus subulatus Bay-breasted Cuckoo Hyetornis rufigularis Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo Saurothera longirostris Hispaniolan Parakeet Aratinga chloroptera Hispaniolan Parrot Amazona ventralis Hispaniolan Emerald Chlorostilbon swainsonii Ashy-faced Owl Tyto glaucops Greater Antillean Nightjar Caprimulgus eckmani Least Pauraque Siphonorhis brewsteri Ridgway's Hawk Buteo ridgwayi Hispaniolan Pewee Contopus hispaniolensis Flat-billed Vireo Vireo nanus White-necked Crow Corvus leucognaphalus Hispaniolan Palm Crow Corvus palmarum Palmchat Dulus dominicus La Selle's Thrush Turdus swalesi Antillean Siskin Carduelis dominicensis Green-tailed Warbler Microligea palustris White-winged Warbler Xenoligea montana Black-crowned Palm-Tanager Phaenicophilus palmarum Grey-crowned Palm-Tanager Phaenicophilus poliocephalus Eastern Chat-Tanager Calyptophilus frugivorus Western Chat Tanager Calyptophilus tertius Hispaniolan Crossbill Loxia megaplaga Hispaniolan Oriole Icterus dominicensis
Fatbirder's very own checklists are now available through WebBirder
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
A Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies
(Peterson Field Guides) James Bond, Don R. Eckelberry (Illustrator); Arthur B. Singer (Illustrator) Paperback (September 1999) Houghton Mifflin Company
ISBN: 0618002103Buy this book from NHBS.com
Birds of the Dominican Republic & Haiti
by Steven Latta, Christopher Rimmer, Allan Keith, James Wiley, Herbert Raffaele, Kent McFarland & Eladio Fernandez Illustrated by Bary Kent MacKay, Tracy Pedersen & Kristin Williams Helm Field Guides 2006 ?24.99 See Fatbirder Review
ISBN: 0713679050Buy this book from NHBS.com
Ruta Barrancolí: A Bird-Finding Guide to the Dominican Republic
by Steven C Latta (Author), Kate J Wallace (Author), Dana Gardner (Illustrator), Dax Román E (Illustrator) | Paperback | Dec 2012 | National Aviary, USA | 241 pages, 32 plates with colour illustrations; colour photos, 33 colour maps
ISBN: 9780615625683Buy this book from NHBS.com
The Birds of Hispaniola
by A. R. Keith, J. Wiley, S. Latta & J. Ottenwalder. £30 from British Ornithologists' Union | PO Box 417, Peterborough PE7 3FX, UK Tel & Fax +44 (0) 1 733 844 820
The birds of Hispaniola - Haiti and the Dominican Republic
by Allan Keith, James Wiley, Steven Latta and Jos? Ottenwalder, BOU 2003
ISBN: 0907446264Buy 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
Palm Chat Dulus dominicus
Guides & Tour Operators
Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…
Focus on Nature
…the Chat-Tanager, White-necked Crow, White-winged Warbler, Rufous-breasted Cuckoo, and Hispaniolan Parakeet. Even the more common birds of the island are interesting: the Palmchat not only is an endemic species, but is the only species in its family…
La Cua Birding & Wildlife Tours
La Cua tours are designed to cover the most beautiful regions of the island. The varied terrain, rich biodiversity, and one of the highest bird populations of the Caribbean allows guests to experience phenomenal birding from sea level up to 2,250m
Tody Tours specializes in tropical birding tours in the Dominican Republic. Kate Wallace, owner and local guide, was the first bird specialist to lead birding tours based out of Santo Domingo…
This tour is an optional three-night pre-trip to the northeastern part of the Dominican Republic. We added this pre-trip in order to increase our chances of viewing more island endemics. The Ridgway's Hawk is one of the world's rarest birds, with probably no more than a handful of pairs remaining…
Site of the oldest European city in the New World, the Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola, second largest of the Greater Antilles. Dominated by the highest mountains in the Caribbean and ringed by a startlingly beautiful coastline, this varied landscape is home to more than 20 endemic bird species including an endemic family, the Palm-Chats…
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.
2006 [03 March] - Mike Tanis
…As the sky began to lighten we stepped out of the van into the crisp, chill morning air, and quickly munched some breakfast snacks as we began birding. A Chuck-will's-widow was calling, and we saw the bird fly out through the trees. Soon other birds began to vocalize: Red-legged Thrush, Bicknell's Thrush, some unidentified warblers, and Hispaniolan Euphonia all began vocalizing amid the constant wine-glass-rim tones of the Rufous-throated Solitaire. We spent the next two hours slowing birding our way about a mile up the road. While the activity was never overwhelming, there were very few dull moments. Birds seemed to always be moving around us, and we enjoyed a lot of good sightings…
2006 [03 March] - Paul Prevett & Candy McManiman
The sought after endemics and birding sites are for the most part well known, logistics generally quite straightforward and costs reasonable. Most islands are readily amenable to determined do-it-yourself birding, but knowledgeable guides are also available for somewhat more relaxed approaches. In addition, the various islands’ close proximity to each other invites convenient island-hopping itineraries…
2008 [11 November] - Steve Baines
After a European break to Southern Spain last year it was decided that a more exotic family holiday was due for 2008. I have always fancied the Dominican Republic as a destination and the family were up for it so we booked for 2 weeks all inclusive at the Clubhotel Riu Merengue about 15 km north west of Puerto Plata near Bahia Maimon…
2012 [12 December] - Petri Hottola
…These included at least eight pairs of White-necked Crows, visible and vocal mainly early in the morning, in addition to the tame one at the lodge, and a total of seven Hispaniolan Orioles, mostly in the far left valley. Other notable birds included a White-crowned Pigeon, Broad-billed Todies, Antillean Piculets, Hispaniolan Lizard Cuckoos, Black-crowned Palm-Tanagers, Stolid Flycatchers and the ubiquitous Palm Chats and Hispaniolan Woodpeckers…
2013 [01 January] - Joelle Buffa
…We encountered all but two of the 32 endemic species listed in Ruta Barrancoli: A Bird-Finding Guide to the Dominican Republic by Steve Latta and Kate Wallace. Exceptions were Ridgway’s Hawk, which we did not try for, and La Selle Thrush, which only our guide and driver glimpsed briefly…
2013 [03 March] - Hans-Åke & Karin Gustavsson
The main purpose of our trip was to combine a visit to relatives, living in the Dominican Republic since many years, with some relaxed Caribbean birding away from the Scandinavian winter. The main part of our stay was spent in Higuey, about 40 km’s from the main tourist areas in the east. From Higuey a number of day trips were made, mainly to the nice beaches in Bayahibe and Punta Cana…
2013 [03 March] - Jesse Fagan
…This year we managed quite well with good looks at Least Pauraque and an exceptional Ashy-faced Owl; unfortunately, it was a heard only for the nightjar. In years past, we have missed seeing Hispaniolan Crossbill or the siskin, but this year we persisted and had especially nice looks at both: the crossbill (at Aceitillar) and several siskins at Zapoten. The owl was the group's favorite, but other top honors included the crossbill (thanks to Tonya and Mike!), the Bay-breasted Cuckoo (just another 100 meters!), the tiny Broad-billed Tody (that lime green color is something else), the rare and threatened, Ridgway's Hawk, and Bicknell's Thrush (Karen especially wanted to see this species on its wintering grounds)…
2013 [04 April] - Mark Van Beirs
The glorious, mysterious La Selle Thrush that posed so very, very well on its track in the remote mountains of the southwestern Dominican Republic was without a doubt the star bird of our latest Caribbean extravaganza. But other contenders for long living memories were the very rare Ridgway’s Hawks (a pair at their eyrie with two downy chicks), the delectable Elfin Woods Warblers, the fabulous Puerto Rican Screech Owls (emitting their haunting calls), the smart Puerto Rican Woodpeckers, the very showy Antillean Piculets, the lovely Ashy-faced Owl…
2014 [02 February] - Clayton Burne
…We enjoyed a particularly successful morning, getting very good views of a handful of the island’s endemics; Hispaniolan Lizard Cuckoo, Hispaniolan Woodpecker, the ubiquitous Palmchat and Black-crowned Tanager…
2014 [06 June] - Brent Steury
I just returned from Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. We stayed at the Melia Caribe and it turned out to be a great location to find lowland coastal Dominican birds. I did one hour walks every morning from 6:00 to around 7:00am between June 16 and 21 and found 36 species without leaving the resort grounds. Many species were nesting and I observed chicks of West Indian Whistling-duck and Common Moorhen. The grounds are extensive and include large trees, ponds, and mangrove wetlands. The south side of the resort is especially productive as it seems to border an undeveloped scruby wetland area. Below is the total list of species observed and numbers of each species.
2015 [01 January]
Very brief list
2015 [01 January] - Anonymous
Although this was not strictly a birding holiday, we took our binoculars and were surprised how many birds we managed to find in the hotel grounds, from the beach and walking a short circuit each day around the hotel perimeter....
2015 [02 February] - Clayton Burne
A short session of birding in the car park turned up some distant Hispaniolan Parakeets, a Grey Kingbird, Black-crowned Tanagers and a number of Hispaniolan Woodpeckers, as well as the monotypic, ubiquitous Palmchat.
2015 [03 March] - Jesse Fagan & Tom Johnson
Our final full day in the Dominican Republic was designed to give us the best possible chance to see one of Hispaniola's rarest birds, Ridgway's Hawk. After we stopped for stunning views of displaying White-tailed Tropicbirds on the way east out of Santo Domingo, we headed to the outskirts of Los Haitises National Park. Timoteo, a local man who helps to keep an eye on the critically endangered hawks, helped us find a perched female Ridgway's Hawk, and we also saw and heard a male displaying high overhead.
2015 [04 April] - Eustace Barnes
The Dominican Republic was more demanding but gave us some great moments including La Selle Thrush, Hispaniolan Trogon and a singing White-fronted Quail Dove within the space of a few minutes of one another. Our forest camp gave us another White-fronted Quail Dove and Key West Quail Dove running about in front of us just before we found a Least Poorwill!
2015 [11 November] - David Ousey
...An early morning walk up the beach (west) and into the palm "jungle" was, having forgot to apply liberal amounts of insect repellent, I was duly well bitten by the local insect population!! Be warned or start scratching. A few waders on the coral edge of the sea were:-6 Wilson`s Plover, 5 Solitary Sandpiper (rather defying their name) & 18 Ruddy Turnstone. A strange sight for myself was 2 American Kestrels chasing an Osprey along the beach....
2016 [02 February] - Dusan M Brinkhuizen
We managed to see all the possible 30 Hispaniolan endemics and 8 near-endemics, missing only Hispaniolan Nightjar, which unfortunately remained heard-only.
2016 [03 March] - Ross Gallardy - Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Dominican Republic
2016 [03 March] - Tom Johnson & Jesse Fagan
...we saw the incredible deforestation along the Haitian border and (in intact forest on the DR side of the border) picked up such key species as La Selle Thrush, Western Chat-Tanager, Greater Antillean Nightjar, Least Pauraque, Flat-billed Vireo, White-fronted Quail-Dove, White-necked Crow, and so much more. Our only "heard only" endemic was the Hispaniolan Crossbill that called a few times (presumably as it flew over) from the pine forest at Zapoten. However, we made up for it with the gigantic, gurgling, cooing Bay-breasted Cuckoos in the scrub forest in the foothills -- this rare species was a tour headliner for us this year with such incredible views...
Places to Stay
Villa La Perla Negra
we are a unique property (a 10 bedroom private villa able to accommodate parties of 2 to 20 persons in total comfort) our private experienced staff is on call to cater to the ever need of your clients. We are unique in that our original design was for a Hotel so we are structured to accommodate larger groups more efficient that say a large house…
National Zoo of the Dominican Republic
news from the bird house…
Los Haitises National Park
Guided tours are the only way to explore the many small islands and caves of the park…
Brief entries on all the parks…
Parque Nacional del Este
As one of the Caribbean's largest marine parks, the park is a nursery for 112 of the Dominican Republic's 303 bird species. Eight species of birds are found only on Hispaniola, including the ashy-faced owl and the Hispaniolan lizard-cuckoo…
Wetland of International Importance
The Dominican Republic currently has 4 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites), with a surface area of 135,097 hectares.
Aves Endemicas de la Republica Dominicana
31 endemics of Hispaniola…
The considerable bird population in the Dominican Republic is made up of indigenous species and wintering birds from the North American mainland. Look out for species such as the Hispaniolan parrot, the Hispaniolan woodpecker, the rarer Hispaniolan trogon and Hispaniolan parakeet, the palmchat (which nests in the royal palms on the coastal plains) and several types of owl and pigeon, including the endangered white-crowned pigeon…
Birds of the Dominican Republic by Eladio Fernandez
These photos were taken in the Dominican Republic. All these pictures were taken using a 35 mm Canon AE2, a Canon 300mm f 4.0 IS lens, and in some instances a Canon 1.4X telextender. Clicking on each photo will take you to the web page of one of the other countries where this bird can also be found.
Checklist - Birds of the Dominican Republic
Photographers & Artists
Adrian Braidotti - Aves de Dominicanas
Fotografias de Aves - Bird Photographs from Dominican Republic