Despite its sometimes roguish image Jamaica is a beautiful, accessible and safe [yes safe!] birding country, with a range of locations as inebriating as our rum, and thirty great endemic birds.
The total number of recorded species is approximately 300, many of which are winter migrants from North America, 100 plus local breeding birds and 26-30 [depending on what you split] endemics. Finding the endemics can be dead easy - the Red-billed Streamertail is present in virtually every flower-laden garden - to very difficult - the Jamaican Blackbird feeds exclusively on the creatures living in bromeliads. But with reasonable luck all can be found in a few days, visiting half-a-dozen easily accessible sites.
Good local guides are available – but try to make arrangements ahead of your visit - local transport is available at reasonable cost [from a 4-seater car up to a 25-seater bus] and a wide range of accommodation choices can be provided.
A few suggestions:
Roads are not always well signposted and driving habits may be different to what you are used to, so if possible use a driver.
Be prepared for sun, rain, and high humidity - hats, sun block, light rain gear and a change of shirt are recommended.
In general - and especially out of the city - people, though initially reserved, will respond positively to your friendliness. Don't be shy to ask for directions, but be prepared for some vague answers with distances often given in chains!
Local food and drink can be one more facet of your adventure, but take it easy especially with the 'Jerked' pork and chicken which is very very hot!
Because of the weather birding can be done all year, but bear in mind that May and October are the rainy months and June to August are the hottest so the most comfortable time is likely to be December to April.
Black River Morass - wetland
This is a large wetland containing a variety of habitats. The northern part is probably the best place to find the endangered West Indian Whistling Duck. The southern area is open riverine country with herons, bitterns, rails and some friendly crocodiles.
Drive north out of Kingston up,up,up, through Newcastle and Hardwar Gap, and stop on the roadside almost anywhere. Look for all three hummingbirds, Blue Mountain and Jamaican Vireos, various Flycatchers, Todies, Orioles, Stripe-headed Tanagers and many more. This is prime Blue Mountain coffee territory, and much of the limited accommodation is connected with coffee interests. A comfortable and attractive base is Forres Park Guest House at Mavis Bank, one hour's drive from Kingston's airport.
Castleton Botanical Gardens
One hour's drive out of Kingston on the Junction Road. About 20 acres of open rolling country with a variety of exotic trees that attract an interesting range of birds.
Cockpit Country - Barbecue Bottom/ Burnt Hill road
This fabled area contains some of the richest birding in the island, but it is mostly trackless and inaccessible. The Barbecue Bottom road is the best area close to the Cockpit Country that can be reached by car. Look for both Parrots, Jamaican Blackbirds, Crested and Ruddy Quail Doves and both Chestnut-bellied and Jamaican Lizard Cuckoos. The choice of lodging is limited- beach hotels and villas on the north coast or rustic but clean and friendly, B&B's in Albert Town, which is a useful base for any foray into the Cockpit area.
Hope Botanical Gardens - Kingston
A possible site to visit en route from Kingston to the Blue Mountains. A flock of about 40 Yellow-Billed Parrots live in the Gardens and are easily seen; plus warblers and water birds in the ponds.
John Crow Mountains (Ecclesdown)
The Eastern face of the John Crow Mountains are best accessed from the narrow but good road through Ecclesdown. Look for Black-billed Streamertails, both Amazon parrots [Yellow-billed and Black-billed] Jamaican Blackbird, Jamaican Crow, Crested Quail-Dove, Arrow-marked Warbler etc. etc.
Marshall's Pen - near Mandeville
One of the best-documented and oldest birding sites in Jamaica, home of Robert and Ann Sutton - two of the country's premier birders - and the oldest active banding centre in Jamaica. Robert birded this area all his life and knew every nest and roost on it. He recorded over 100 species there. Since his tragic murder some years ago his widow, Ann Haynes-Sutton has continued there work. Accommodation is available on site and there are alternatives in Mandeville.
Mockingbird Hill Hotel Gardens
Undoubtedly one of the best birding sites in Jamaica… a stay at the hotel just for its sumptuous breakfasts and wonderful dinners is highly recommended but the gardens have hosted all but a few endemic species and sub-species. In a few days even the Fatbirder managed more than a dozen endemics - most from the restaurant!
Royal Palm Reserve - near Negril
A managed but little-visited wetland on the Negril/ Savannah-la-Mar road, with a good selection of birds in an attractive setting. Boardwalk and viewing tower to add to one's convenience. The Great Morass in Negril, Jamaica is a large nature preserve for birds and animals. It is located off of the land side of Norman Manley Boulevard, stretching along for 7 miles parallel to Long Bay and Bloody Bay. The morass lies on the coastal flood plain of the Black River and attracts over 300 animal species including birds, butterflies and reptiles.
This small preserve behind the police station turns up may of the same species as Ecclesdown. It is much smaller and has a few open areas where houses give breaks in the forest. Great for Ring-tailed Dove, Sad Flycatcher, Jamaican Peewee etc.
Yallahs Salt Ponds
25 miles east of Kingston on the coast road - strictly shorebirds and some migrant warblers. No lodging nearby, but can be a worthwhile stop on the drive between Kingston and the Port Antonio area.
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 293
National Bird: Red-billed Streamertail [Doctor Bird] Troclilus polytmus
Number of endemics: 28
Jamaican Woodpecker Melanerpes radiolatus Jamaican Tody Todus todus Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo Hyetornis pluvialis Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo Saurothera vetula Yellow-billed Parrot Amazona collaria Black-billed Parrot Amazona agilis Jamaican Mango Anthracothorax mango Black-billed Streamertail Trochilus polytmus Red-billed Streamertail Trochilus scitulus Jamaican Owl Pseudoscops grammicus Ring-tailed Pigeon Columba caribaea Crested Quail-Dove Geotrygon versicolor Jamaican Spindalis Spindalis nigricephela Jamaican Pewee Contopus pallidus Jamaican Elaenia Myiopagis cotta Sad Flycatcher Myiarchus barbirostris Rufous-tailed Flycatcher Myiarchus validus Jamaican Becard Pachyramphus niger Jamaican Vireo Vireo modestus Blue Mountain Vireo Vireo osburni Jamaican Crow Corvus jamaicensis White-chinned Thrush Turdus aurantius White-eyed Thrush Turdus jamaicensis Arrowhead Warbler Dendroica pharetra Jamaican Euphonia Euphonia jamaica Yellow-shouldered Grassquit Loxipasser anoxanthus Orangequit Euneornis campestris Jamaican Blackbird Nesopsar nigerrimus (plus c. 18 endemic races)
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
A Photographic Guide to Birds of Jamaica and the West Indies
G Michael Flieg and Allan Sander Series: PHOTOGRAPHIC GUIDES SERIES (NEW HOLLAND NATURAL HISTORY) 144 pages, 300 col photos. New Holland Publishers 2006 Out of Print
ISBN: 1845375912Buy this book from NHBS.com
A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamaica
By Audrey Downer, Ann Haynes Sutton, Robert Sutton and YJ Rey-Millet | 304 pages, colour photos, maps ~ Christopher Helm Softcover | 2009 | RRP: £24.99
See Fatbirder Review
ISBN: 9781408107430Buy this book from NHBS.com
Bird Songs in Jamaica
George B Reynard and Robert L Sutton Series: MACAULAY LIBRARY OF NATURAL SOUNDS 2 CD set. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology 2000
ISBN: 123199Buy 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
Guides & Tour Operators
Attractions Link Ltd
Attractions Link Limited is currently promoting three (3) Major bird watching group and individual tours to Jamaica each year. These tours afford birdwatchers the opportunity to see all of Jamaica's twenty eight (28) species of endemic birds. They are also full packaged holidays, inclusive of all what is highlighted in the vacation packages…
With 28 endemics, it shares the same number of unique species as the much larger island of Dominica, and has more than the 24 of the largest Caribbean island, Cuba. Despite bad press over the years, Jamaica is a very safe and friendly country to visit and most of the endemic birds are very easy to see…
Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…
Black River Safaris
Discover the beauty of the South Coast with a 1/12 hour boat tour by motor launch up Jamaica's largest navigable river and through what is Jamaica's largest wetland area, the Black River lower morass…
Focus on Nature
…In Jamaica the Doctorbird, Mountain Witch, Old Woman Bird, Hopping Dick, Mountain Judy, Little Tom Fool, Big Tom Fool, just plain Tom Fool, Sarah Bird, Banana Katie, Shine-eye, & Ants Picker…
Jamaica is an island where you may find 265 different species of birds with 30 or so endemic to the island at the last count!
Mark Smith Nature Tours
Jamaica is biologically one of the richest islands in all the Indies and presents a relaxed introduction to the diverse natural and cultural history of the Indies. In addition to rainforest walks…
Rockjumper Birding Tours
Best known as a tropical paradise, Jamaica is also blessed with 30 mouth-watering endemics. Our tour explores habitats from evergreen mountain forests to beaches and ultramarine coastal waters in our quest to notch up all of Jamaica’s endemics, while simultaneously soaking up the unique atmosphere of the island.
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours
Next trip March 2003…
…With at least 27 endemic bird species - more than any other Caribbean island - as well as a host of Antillean and Neotropical specialties, Jamaica offers some of the most exciting birdwatching in the West Indies…
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.
2007 [01 January] - Keith Grant - Travelling Naturalist
…We gathered at 6am to walk up the hill before breakfast. With the sun just up, the hill slope was alive with small birds, most notably we had excellent views of two Jamaican Pewees and four Jamaican Euphonias. Six Olive-throated Parakeets flew over but alighted out of sight, and various pigeons and doves included Band-tailed Pigeons, again flying over without stopping. We returned down the hill for breakfast at 8:30am and awaited Wayne’s arrival in the bus. Two further Jamaican Euphonias were in the bushes out front, as was the female Cape May Warbler from yesterday…
2008 [04 April] - Gary & Marlene Babic
This week-long trip was arranged through Ann Sutton and guided by Brandon Hay. For several days we were fortunate that Ann joined us as well. Others had reported that three or four days are all that is necessary to see all of the endemics, and Ann had suggested that our seven days would give us plenty of time to see all of the Jamaican endemics and specialties, with time for sightseeing…
2008 [04 April] - Mark Finn
This tour to Jamaica was the first by Birdwatching Breaks and was an immediate success for the company recording all the endemic species (28) including the scarce Jamaican Blackbird and the beautiful Crested Quail-dove. The tour covered all the important bird areas of this unique island situated on the western extremity of the West Indies. In addition to these areas visits were made to a selection of wetlands and lagoons for migrant waders and ducks…
2009 [04 April] - Mark Finn
This tour to Jamaica was the first by Birdwatching Breaks and was an immediate success for the company recording all the endemic species (28) including the scarce Jamaican Blackbird and the beautiful Crested Quail-dove…
2012 [12 December] - Gina Nichol & Steve Bird
….At first light we had Cattle Egrets flying over dispersing from their night roosts and Greater Antillean Nighthawks were flying past in numbers. The trees right in front of the lodge held Prairie Warbler, Northern Parula, more Northern Mockingbirds, and a White-crowned Pigeon…
2013 [03 March] - Brian Gibbons
Jamaica, a green gem in the Caribbean, is home to the doctor bird, the rasta bird, and 26 other endemics. We saw them all during our week on this island of amazing sights and sounds, like patois and blaring car horns. Our first real birding was at the famous Rocklands Bird Sanctuary where we fed hummingbirds by hand. We glimpsed the mango and drooled over the abundant Red- billed Streamertails, shutters clicking away. Also on hand were dozens of Bananaquits and Orangequits; perhaps the latter should be known more widely by its local name, Bluequit, which is more descriptive. A jabbering crow came by to add to our growing list of Jamaican endemics seen on our first morning…
2013 [03 March] - Mark Van Beirs
The smashing Red-billed Streamertail, that most delicious endemic hummingbird, together with the 29 other endemics made our all too short visit to sun-drenched Jamaica a real delight. Jamaica exudes an unique flavour, totally unlike most of the other Caribbean islands and is widely known for Bob Marley’s music, for James Bond’s early adventures (the real James Bond was the author of the first field guide to the Birds of the West Indies and a friend of Ian Fleming) and for its fiery rhum, expensive Blue Mountain coffee and dreadlocked rastafaris…
2014 [02 February] - Per-Eric Betzholtz
2014 [03 March] - Brian Gibbons
…Our final morning found us in the John Crow Mountains, home to nearly every endemic Jamaican bird. While we got close to our target, the Crested Quail-Dove, it decided to remain hidden, calling in the forest. Blackbirds, todies, orioles, grassquits, and others all made our final morning in the Jamaican forest a great finale to a wonderful trip…
2014 [03 March] - Rob Gordijn & Helen Rijkes
…We had planned a 2 week trip to Cuba late February 2014. While making the itinerary it turned out we had some days left and decided to spend these on an extra trip to Jamaica. A Birdwatchers guide to Cuba, Jamaica etc. mentioned that all 29 endemics should be possible to see in just a couple of days so we booked a long weekend from Cuba arriving Friday afternoon…
2015 [02 February] - Clayton Burne
Vervain Hummingbirds were equally common, allowing for much better scoped views. A flock of Olive-throated Parakeet (soon to be split, probably as another endemic - Jamaican Parakeet), perched in a nearby fruiting tree, pairs of Orangequits foraged close by, and a single White-chinned Thrush finally took to sitting on an exposed perch so we could all see it.
2015 [03 March] - Brian Gibbons
...While waiting in vain at the Black River Morass for the West Indian Whistling-Ducks to come out of hiding, Brandon espied a Spotted Rail as it was getting dark. We all caught up with this great bird as the light waned. Limpkins, Least Bitterns, Purple Gallinules, and Soras livened up the marsh as well.
2015 [03 March] - Eric Hynes with Dwayne Swaby
...Both Black-billed and Yellow-billed parrots were joined by Olive-throated Parakeets, White-crowned Pigeons, Ring-tailed Pigeons, and Jamaican Crows at our breakfast stop at the base of Ecclesdown Road. While walking up we spotted the Black-billed subspecies of Streamertail, White-eyed Thrush, Ruddy Quail-Dove, and our best look at Black-billed Parrot. A foraging Jamaican Blackbird barely above our heads trumped the fine look we had the day before.
2015 [04 April] - Eustace Barnes
Jamaica is truly a gem and staying at Marshall’s Pen a real pleasure with Jamaican Owls in the grounds and Red-billed Streamertails buzzing about. High above Kingston, Crested Quail Doves before breakfast followed by Blue Mountain Coffee takes some beating as does watching Black-billed Streamertails at a lek
2015 [04 March] - Sam Woods
...we also added some Caribbean specialties too, like Bahama Mockingbird, Plain Pigeon, Antillean Palm Swift, Vervain Hummingbird, Greater Antillean Elaenia, Loggerhead Kingbird, Stolid Flycatcher, Rufous-throated Solitaire, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, and Jamaican Oriole.
2015 [06 June] - Mike Powell
We eventually decided on Jamaica, a new destination for everyone, with trip reports indicating that the 29 endemics could be comfortably seen within a week without the need for too much travelling. Having birded extensively in North America, we were not too bothered about bumping the trip numbers up with wintering warblers so MCP set about organising a mid-June trip...
2015 [11 November] - Rosemary Royal
This trip was organised at fairly short notice as a chance to get away for a week for a relaxing time and some good birds. It was not a hard-core birding trip though we did hope to pick up most of the Jamaican endemics and other Caribbean endemics...
2016 [02 February] - Lars Olausson
...Our final day in Jamaica. Started the journey to Kingston airport after breakfast. We made a planned stop at Hector’s river but no tropicbirds around. Continued to Hope Botanical Garden in the outskirts of Kingston, where we walked around an hour and a half before we drove the last bit to the airport...
2016 [03 March] - Eric Hynes
We completed the clean sweep of all 27 endemics and tallied a number of the regional endemics as well. We enjoyed comfortable accommodations, easy transportation, quality food, agreeable weather, and excellent camaraderie. There is no such thing as the perfect tour, but a lot of things fell into place nicely for us on this run. Our local guide, Dwayne Swaby, performed admirably for us and showed us all a good time. Thanks again to the wonderful staff at Green Castle Estate...
2016 [03 March] - Megan Edwards Crewe
...Our time in the field was spent largely in the island's less trammelled (and more forested) northeast, principally in the John Crow and Blue Mountains. With the exception of our first soggy day and a half, we had delightful weather -- including a few days warm enough to make our lodge's pool seem awfully inviting! And we found plenty to watch and enjoy during our six days of birding. The endemics cooperated wonderfully -- with one notable exception (we're talking to you, Crested Quail-Dove!!) everybody saw all of them very well....
2016 [03 March] - Sam Woods
While seeing the “full house” of Jamaican endemic birds was normal and expected, we also saw some other less predictable birds, like Caribbean Coot, West Indian Whistling-Duck, and a very popular American Flamingo near Kingston, which outranked all of the endemics for choice of top bird of the tour...
2016 [07 July] - Colin Manville
I opted for Jamaica as it had been recommended by friends and it had 28 endemics for me to try for. As usual, in consideration of my non-birding wife I always choose the resort before doing any analysis of the local avifauna. I opted for the Bahia Principe hotel at Runaway Bay in the north of the country.
2017 [02 February] - Chris Sharpe
...a Sad Flycatcher landed in a nearby bush, and Jamaican Spindalis and Jamaican Orioles came in to join it. After we had taken our fill, it was time for breakfast and our introductory talk by the estate owner and our local guide, Dwayne Swaby. Once this was over, we took a stroll down the Waterfall Trail with Dwayne. More showy endemics awaited, starting with Red-billed Streamertails: six males, as well as a female, on the nest! Rufous-tailed Flycatchers, Orangequits and White-chinned Thrushes were next, together with a suite of birds bearing the epithet “Jamaican”: Vireo, Becard, Elaenia, Woodpecker and Tody....
Places to Stay
Forres Park Resort 60 acre coffee plantation is the ideal base for exploring the Blue Mountains, Bird Watching, Coffee Farm Tours and biking around the Village of Mavis Bank or just plain do-nothing but stare into Nature…
Great Huts is excellent accommodation for birders as it located 15 minutes drive from one of the best birding opportunities in the island, at Ecclesdown Road, where the 28 endemics are fairly common sights in a natural environment. The resort itself consists of African-style huts and tree houses within a natural landscape perched on cliffs overlooking Boston Bay. The resort respects and preserves the natural environment in a rustic village theme, and is particularly suited for nature lovers, artists, and other independent minded travellers…
Great Huts: Paradise on the Edge - Aboriginal yet modern, minimalist yet complex, off the beaten path but near the night life and happenings of Boston Bay and Port Antonio. Of our little village-resort, many a guest has said: "At Great Huts, spirituality, nature, heritage and technology converge!"..
Green Castle Estate
If you are looking for a Jamaica villa for rent, jamaican eco resort, or a unique Jamaica vacation, Green Castle Estate, Jamaica is a perfect solution. Green Castle has an intimate guest house or villa rental on a historic plantation set among the lush green beauty of the Jamaican countryside. Our 1600 acres make it a true caribbean eco retreat and a perfect Jamaica family vacation or Jamaican holiday where you can have an authentic experience as well as a relaxing get-away…
Mocking Bird Hill Hotel
…an ideal base for exploring the various natural attractions in the area. The natural, tropical gardens with a multitude of birds and flowers are a paradise for nature lovers. Guests can also enjoy the range of lovely beaches and coves close by. The romantic Frenchman`s Cove beach is just 5 minutes away…
Starlight Chalet & Health Spa
The Blue Mountains provides sanctuary for 95% of Jamaica's endemic birds. Starlight Chalet is serene, and we are surrounded by a mature rain forest and at an elevation of 4000 ft., panoramic view. 17 comfortable rooms with private bath, guided tours and transportation available. Reasonable rates, include breakfast, trail lunch and dinner.
Strawberry Hill is a modern-day classic - a mountainside retreat with harmonious proportions on a former tea estate. Designed by Ann Hodges, its 12 airy cottages are based on 19th century buildings. It`s the perfect choice for guests who value luxury, privacy, romance and verdant beauty…
Tamarind Great House
English family run. Elegant Modern Great House in 12 acres of Lush Vegetation, Tranquil surroundings - Panoramic Views. Exotic fruits, flowers & birds.
2 Starlight Avenue, Kingston 6. + 1 876 9278444 birdlifeja@yahoo
Jamaica has a rich heritage in birds: over 290 species have been observed on the island. This figure includes 47 species and subspecies which are endemic (found here and nowhere else in the world). The diverse landscape ranges from dry plains in the south to wet rainforest in the east and wet and dry limestone forests in the north and west. The map shows the breakdown of different habitat types. Birders are encouraged to communicate any notes or trip reports (or links to their site) to BirdLife Jamaica.
Blue and John Crow Mountains
Although the two mountain ranges - the Blue and the John Crow - are geographically side by side, their geology, soil and vegetation are vastly different. The Río Grande Valley separates the two ranges…
Fonthill Wildlife Sanctuary
The Fonthill Wildlife Sanctuary includes a coastal mangrove preserve to protect the locally endangered American crocodile. They are best viewed early in the morning and a warden is available to accompany visitors to their favorite sunning spots. Birds are plentiful here…
You will not find this exquisite park in most of the guide books because it is primarily a cattle and dairy farm that has been owned and operated by the same family for over a hundred years…
Wetland of International Importance
Jamaica currently has four sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites), with a surface area of 37,847 hectares.
Birdwatching in Jamaica
Jamaica is one of the most beautiful islands in the world! The bird life there is extremely varied and interesting. With approximately 200 native species that include a whopping 25 endemic species, Jamaica has much to offer the bird watcher!
Checklist - Birds of Jamaica
Birds represent the most conspicuous terrestrial vertebrates on Jamaica. At least 64 of Jamaica`s 67 resident breeding land birds have been reported from the Cockpit Country, including 27 of the island`s 28 endemic species. Several other human-introduced species and those species extending their geographic ranges naturally have become established along the periphery. The majority of Jamaica`s resident birds occur across the island in suitable habitats and no species is endemic to the Cockpit Country. It is, however, the stronghold of the endemic Black-billed Parrot (Amazona agilis) and is the only region on the island where both species of endemic Amazona parrots occur sympatrically in significant numbers.
Jamaica Parrot Project
The Jamaica Parrot Project was established in 1995 by BirdLife Jamaica (formerly Gosse Bird Club) with the assistance of the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica and Wildlife Preservation Trust International (Philadelphia, PA). The project represented the first systematic study of Jamaica`s two endemic Amazona parrots - the Black-billed Parrot Amazona agilis and the Yellow-billed Parrot Amazona collaria…