Jamaica’s Endemic Birds Part 2

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by Rich Hoyer on April 24, 2012 · 2 comments

in Birding Neotropics

In this second installment featuring Jamaica’s endemic bird species, I’ll complete the non-passerines, which includes some of the most exciting species on the island. The following photos are mostly digiscoped, taken over the past 14 years I’ve led tours here.

The Jamaican Owl is surprisingly widespread and tolerant of a wide variety of habitats, though the presence of at least some large trees is probably a requirement. I’ve seen them at all four of the various hotels that I’ve used in the Port Antonio-San San area, as well as every year at Marshall’s Pen. It was formerly placed in its own genus, mango, until Striped Owl was moved into it, but some have contested that treatment. It was based on genetics, but given how different the two are otherwise in distribution, plumage, and voice, I’d like to see a more robust sampling revisited.

The Jamaican Mango is the original mango hummingbird – Anthracothorax mango. I’m not sure why it was given the name mango (a fruit from Asia), but from it’s general shape and proportions it does indeed seem related to the mainland members of that genus, the overall coloring being quite different.

The Streamertail is the Jamaican national bird, known in most parts as “Doctorbird.” The two forms, Black-billed and Red-billed, are almost certainly different species, despite what has been published about hybrids and an overlap zone. In reality, there have been no major changes or barriers erected or destroyed in the past centuries, and were there free interbreeding, one would have long ago swamped out the other into oblivion. The presence of hybrids means nothing, giving how easily hummingbirds of very different species (and even genera) will hybridize. So while common sense tells us that there are indeed two species of Streamertail on the island, the AOU continues to recognize only one. Both are easily found on the island, with the Black-billed restricted to the wetter, more forested eastern tip of the island, common around Port Antonio (especially if there are feeders) and on the Ecclesdown Road.

Red-billed Streamertail by Rich Hoyer

The Jamaican Tody usually garners the most number of votes as favorite bird of the tour each year. They are so adorable, colorful, easy to see, and somehow perfectly cute. There are only five species of today, all found in the Greater Antilles, but fossils from Wyoming, France, and other places hint at an interesting and quite possibly complex former biogeography of which we see only the final dribs and drabs.

The only woodpecker on the island is the Jamaican Woodpecker – from plumage as well as voice clearly related to the complex of species that now includes Red-bellied, Gila, and Golden-fronted, along with a few other Middle American species. This is one of the more conspicuous and widespread endemics on the island.

Next week I’ll cover the suboscine passerines.

Photo at top: Jamaican Tody is the only member of its small family on the island.

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