For the bird lover visiting the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago’s flora and fauna has contributed to an exotic array of birds, which come to the islands for nesting and retreat. Due to its location at the southern end of the Caribbean Archipelago, about ten miles off the northern coast of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago’s vegetation makes a unique climate for birds.
There are over 425 species from 65 families of birds recorded in Trinidad, and there are over 230 species known in Tobago. Over 250 species breed in Trinidad and about 100 in Tobago. Altogether, there are more than 450 species listed in both islands. Many of the Antillean islands have moderately few species but because of their small size, their remoteness and constrained environment, these tend to include a high proportion of endemic species. By contrast, Trinidad has only one endemic species and Tobago has none.
In the remote parts of the northern range forest one can hear the whining series of whistles and the loud rattling of the black iridescent feathers on the solid white wings of the Trinidad Piping Guan. Commonly called the Pawi, this blackish brown, turkey like bird is Trinidad’s only endemic species.
This unique spectacular bird has chest and wing coverts that are tipped with white and an elongated tail. The eye-ring and bare skin around the bill are blue, so to is the wattle that leads to his white crown. Elevated by long red legs, this bird is approximately 24 inches long. These rare birds feed on a variety of small fruits from nutmegs to coffee and move around like most guans in small groups. Although no one has found a nest, the authorities of Trinidad are trying to influence local people to protect this important species, but the numbers are still low.
Another of Trinidad’s rare beauties is the 18-inch long oilbird. Locally known as the Guacharo or Diablotin this rich brown bird, with a great hooked bill and extended tail is a somewhat cross between an owl and nightjar. The adult oilbird has a wingspan of over a meter wide, which allows him to forage through the remote caves of Trinidad.
The Statornis caripensis as it scientifically called is a curious species. It is the only nocturnal bird, which feeds on fruit favouring the high-energy palm fruit. These birds have a very peculiar feeding habit. They first swallow the palm fruit completely and regurgitate the seed later. Because of its high fat content indigenous inhabitants and early settlers harvested their chicks and extracted high quality oil for cooking and lighting, hence the name oilbird.
Not only do these birds have a strange way of eating, their breeding season is also unique. Oilbirds breed in underground caves and nest on mounds built from the regurgitated remains of the fruit they feed on. The cold atmosphere of these caves makes the eggs and young mature slowly so the breeding season is exceedingly long.
Oilbirds navigate in complete darkness by echolocation, by emitting a series of sounds, which we hear as clicking and a ghoulish scream. Their sound has earned the species the name Guacharo.
These are just two of the many magnificent birds that grace the skies and forests of Trinidad, making the island the prime location for the enjoyment of the natural world. One can take a tour down the Caroni Swamp and see the National Scarlet Ibis in full flight or cruise down the Nariva Swamp on the opposite side of the island and experience the captivating view of the evening flight of the Red-billed Macaws as they come home.
Author: Kyna Rampersad