the unique Barbuda Warbler

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The Barbuda Warbler, Dendroica subita, is an endemic species of the island and was originally described in 1905 by Mr. J.H. Riley. A genetic study was published in 1998 in “The Auk” by Irby Lovette and colleagues, and this compared the DNA from warblers found in Barbuda, Puerto Rico and St. Lucia. This evidence confirmed that the three are separate species and in 2000 the American Ornithologists’ Union officially split them into three species. Although not endangered, a study has never been done to date on the Barbuda Warbler so numbers and habitat requirements are unknown. Such a study has been considered by ornithologist Dr. Cindy Staicer from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and John Mussington, Barbuda, which would document these unique birds and their numbers for the first time. It is envisaged that this bird can be used as the focus for encouraging further conservation efforts on Barbuda.

Magnificent Frigate Bird – Man O’ War

bird sanctuary
Frigatebird display

Barbuda is best known for our enormous nesting colony of Magnificent Frigate Birds Fregata magnificens, one of the most fascinating bird species anywhere in the world – an aerial pirate of supreme daring and a flyer of consummate skill.

Frigate Birds cannot walk or swim, having very short legs and small feet. They spend their time in the air or perched on a mangrove bush limb. With an eight-foot wingspread and only an average of three-pound body weight, the Frigates have a wingspan-to-weight ratio that allows them to soar effortlessly on ocean breezes for days at a time.

man o war
frigate birds group

Barbudans call this bird the Man O’ War for good reason. When hunting for food, two or more Frigate birds will gang up and cruise until they find a slower-flying bird that has just caught a fish. One Frigate peels off to chase the quarry, matching manoeuvre zig for zag and sometimes capsizing the victim in flight. When the terrorised bird drops its prize – or disgorges the partly digested morsel from its gullet – one of the other Frigates snares the second-hand titbit even before it hits the water.

Second only to a Frigate Bird’s concern for food is its interest in the opposite sex. Barbuda’s amorous pirates start mating in September, when the males make it their business to find new mates and set up home. Groups of posturing males inflate their huge scarlet neck pouches and sit on their chosen nest site until an unattached female passes by. Then the males all go into action, quivering their outstretched wings, waving their heads back and forth, and drumming their beaks to attract attention, a noise you will hear from your boat ride to see them.

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birds

The chicks are hatched onto a nest of twigs balanced precariously on the mangrove and they must learn to fly from there. Barbudan fishermen tell stories of lifting a bird up out of the water into the air to save it from drowning, but once they are up there is no stopping them. Look up almost anywhere in Barbuda and you will see these beautiful and prehistoric looking birds soaring above you. Note – this area is a protected conservation area of special interest and as such all visitors must comply with local regulations and must use a Barbudan boat to visit the birds.

It is an offense to use your own dinghy or boat to go into the sanctuary at any time and no one should visit the bird sanctuary after 6pm (ie in the dark) or enter the roped off areas which protect the nesting birds. Anyone found breaching these regulations will be immediately reported to the police, removed from the sanctuary and is likely to be prosecuted.

The local cost of a visit in a Barbudan boat is currently ony US$50 per boat of four people, plus US$12 for each person above that number and the information you will receive from the best local guides is second to none.

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frigate birds male and chick

other birds

The West Indian Whistling Duck is an endangered species found on the island in the various ponds and mangroves, they can be heard calling at dusk as they fly low over the village. There are many coastal and salt pond birds here. The Tropic Bird with its long tail streamer is found in large numbers in the cliffs and caves of Two Foot Bay.

There are some lovely accounts online of visitors’ birding experiences in Barbuda and here you can read two adapted for this site. In Antigua and Barbuda as a whole there are one hundred and eighty-one different species listed – you will see many of these easily in Barbuda.

where to watch birds on Barbuda

For tour guides go to our tours page for their phone and contact numbers. Some of our guides can only be contacted once you are in Barbuda but they will be happy to take you bird watching once you are here. Most of these birds can be seen at close quarters and over a period of a few days. There are many others of course – pelicans on the beach, ground doves in the village, various types of gulls, herons and wading birds, small hawks and the occasional osprey. There are also hummingbirds, mockingbirds and grackles to be seen in every village garden. Go to www.birdforum.net for a comprehensive list and pictures of Caribbean-wide birds.