Entries Tagged 'Quick Guides' ↓

Butterflies of Trinidad: Forest Edge & Shade

This is the second in the series of Quick Guides to deal with Trinidad’s common butterfly species. The species listed below are usually found in shady, well vegetated areas including, but not limited to, the forest undergrowth and along forest trails. Some species may also be attracted to gardens if a similar moist and shady habitat is available.

Erato Longwing (Heliconius erato)

Erato Longwing Heliconius erato Butterflies of Trinidad and Tobago

Erato Longwing (Heliconius erato)

Commonly known as the “Postman”, this attractive member of the Heliconiinae family is common in suitable habitat and can sometimes be found in large numbers feeding at forest flowers. They are identified by their black wings which are crossed by a broad red band and by the four red spots at the base of their wings on the underside. They are weak fliers and avoid windy areas, preferring to keep to the undergrowth and forest edge. Members of the Heliconiinae family are some of the only species of butterflies known to ‘eat’ pollen. Intentional or not, this behavior provides the butterfly with amino acids that may extend their lifespan. (Note: There is another very similar species of “Postman” which can be found in Trinidad. It is H. melpommene and it is easily identified by three red spots at the base of the wing on the underside.)

Agnosia Clearwing (Ithomia agnosia)

Agnosia Clearwing (Ithomia agnosia)

Agnosia Clearwing (Ithomia agnosia)

Similar to the Heliconiinae, the “Blue Transparent”, as it is know locally, is actually a member of the Ithomiinae family. It has delicate glass-like wings which are tinged with blue when seen in the right light (and often in photos illuminated by flash). This butterfly is commonly seen along forest roads and favours moist areas, often in the vicinity of streams and usually in shady conditions.

Polymnia Tigerwing (Mechanitis polymnia kayei)

Polymnia Tigerwing (Mechanitis polymnia kayei)

Polymnia Tigerwing (Mechanitis polymnia kayei)

Known locally as the “Sweet Oil”, this common member of the Ithomiinae family is boldly marked with yellow, orange and dark brown. This pattern of colouration is utilized by several species of butterflies, both in an attempt to signal to potential predators that they (the butterflies) have a bad taste and should therefore be avoided or in an attempt by perfectly edible species to mimic the bad tasting species.

Molpe Metalmark (Juditha molpe)

Molpe Metalmark (Juditha molpe)

Molpe Metalmark (Juditha molpe)

This evasive butterfly is a member of the Riodinidae family and, like most members of this family, they have a habit of resting on the underside of leaves which can make observation rather tricky. Thankfully they will usually keep their wings outstretched allowing for easier identification. Juditha molpe appears to be a variable species in that the wing patterning can vary slightly between individuals. The basic pattern has a white internal area surrounded by brown with darker spots, which are themselves circled in white.

Electron Pixie (Melanis electron)

Electron pixie (Melanis electron)

Electron pixie (Melanis electron)

Another member of the Riodinidae, this species shares the habit of leaf hiding and gave rise to Malcom Barcant’s local name of “Underleaf”. It is attractively patterned being black with four orange orbs (resembling electrons in a traditional interpretation of an atom’s structure).

Common Morpho (Morpho helenor insularis)

Common Morpho (Morpho helenor insularis)

Common Morpho (Morpho helenor insularis)

The Morpho is an iconic resident of shady forests and woodland. This is the butterfly frequently encountered on forest trails and roads as it flutters by with iridescent blue wings and in a characteristic dipping motion. It is known locally as the “Emperor” and it is the symbol of the Emperor Valley Zoo, so named after this butterfly which frequents the valley behind the zoo.  It is not usually encountered at rest with its wings spread, instead it often keeps them closed, exposing the cryptically camouflaged underside.

Illioneus Giant-Owl (Caligo illioneus)

Illioneus Giant-Owl (Caligo illioneus)

Illioneus Giant-Owl (Caligo illioneus)

Locally known as the Cane Mort-Bleu, the Illioneus Giant-Owl is a large butterfly that emerges at dusk in search of ripe fruit. It may also be encountered at rest during the day in the deep shade of forest undergrowth. Widely distributed, it sometimes enters homes in the evening. The underside of this butterfly is cryptically marked with two large eyespots. The upper-side is purple with dark edges. There are three similar species of Giant-Owl butterfly found in Trinidad and Tobago.

Aetolus Lycid (Arawacus aetolus)

Aetolus Lycid (Arawacus aetolus)

Aetolus Lycid (Arawacus aetolus)

The “White Lycid” is a common member of the Lycaenidae family. It is usually encountered sitting on leaves in cool shady areas or as it flies off, briefly exposing its white upper-side. The underside of its wings is beautifully striped with dark brown, white and orange.

Members of the Lycaenidae family are usually found resting on leaves in cool, moist areas, often rubbing their hind-wings together. This is believed to draw attention to the antenna like projections on their lower wings, which superficially resembles antennae and thus presents a false head to would be predators, in order to draw attention away from its real head. To complete the act, when threatened they often rotate slowly and present their false head to the perceived threat. Alternatively, the wing rubbing may serve to disburse pheromones. Members of the Lycaenidae are almost always found with their wings held vertically and closed.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Monarchs are easily identified by their bright orange colour and black wing veins. They are found in a wide variety of habitats but are especially common is area where the Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) grows as this plant is the food-source of the Monarch’s caterpillars. The Monarch is a well known species. The spectacular migration of North American Monarchs is well documented, however our race of Monarch is non-migratory and are resident on the island throughout the entire year.

Hermes Satyr (Hermeuptychia hermes)

Hermes Satyr (Hermeuptychia hermes)

Hermes Satyr (Hermeuptychia hermes)

Any discussion on the butterflies of the cool shade would be incomplete without mentioning the Satyrinae. The members of the Satyrinae family are mostly drab brown and are found in cool areas, usually close to the ground. Hermeuptychia hermes is probably the most commonly encountered Satyrinae. It is identified by the sequence of eyespots on the underside of its lower wing – 2 large dark/2 small light/2 large dark. Like all members of this family, they are attracted to ripe fruit.

Birds of Tobago: Home and Garden 1

This is the first Quick Guide highlighting Tobago’s common garden bird species. The birds listed here are all well suited to life in residential and urban areas in addition to their natural habitat. Many are generalists, meaning that they can survive on a variety of foods (their diet) and live in a range of habitats, which allows them to thrive despite our modifications to the environment. This close association with humans has also led to some of these birds having common or vernacular names.

Rufous-vented Chachalaca (Local name : Cocorico)

Rufous-vented Chachalaca (Ortalis ruficauda)

The Cocorico is the national bird of Tobago. This large brown bird is found throughout the island but is not found anywhere in Trinidad. The name Cocorico is derived from their unusual cackling call which is most often heard at sunrise, often in chorus. Despite being the national bird of Tobago it is regarded as a pest and is hunted for food in some parts of the island. They will invade gardens and agricultural plots as they search for fruit and vegetable matter to eat. The Cocorico adorns the national coat of arms, alongside the Scarlet Ibis.

Trinidad Motmot

Trinidad Motmot (Momotus bahamensis)

The Trinidad Motmot is one of the more striking birds to be found on Tobago. While they are also found on Trinidad, the birds on Tobago differ radically in their behavior – Trinidad birds tend to be shy residents of deep forest while Tobago birds are much braver and are found just about anywhere, including gardens. Easily identified by their long raquet tipped tail feathers, the Motmot has blue green upper-parts and rich chestnut under-parts. It was formerly known as the Blue-crowned Motmot (distributed through much of South America) but was reclassified as a distinct species and renamed the Trinidad Motmot (found only in Trinidad and Tobago). Surprisingly, these birds nest in tunnels and favour exposed sandy hills and road embankments. Motmots feed mainly on insects but will eat any other invertebtrate or small reptile that they encounter. Motmots will also visit bird feeders where they feed on bread and table scraps.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Rufous-tailed Jacamar (Galbula ruficauda)

Jacamars are brightly coloured birds which bear a superficial resemblance to hummingbirds. Their larger size, sturdier bills and longer tails make this differentiation easier. Like hummingbirds they are iridescent, with green upperparts contrasting with chestnut underparts. They feed strictly on insects which they hunt from an exposed perch. While perched, you will often hear birds calling to one another with their shrill calls. Like the Motmot, Jamacars in Tobago tend to be more approachable than their Trinidadian counterparts. They also nest in tunnels and may compete with motmots for nest sites.

Caribbean Martin

Caribbean Martin (Progne dominicensis)

While it is common to see these birds perched on telephone wires or soaring through the skies of Tobago, Caribbean Martins are not usually found in Trinidad (where they are replaced by the similar Grey-breasted Martin). Adult male Caribbean Martins have a well defined V shaped demarcation between their blue throat and white under-parts. The upper-parts of an adult bird are blue as well. In immature birds and females the blue is replaced by brown and the V shaped demarcation may not be as defined. Nests are built in natural and man-made cavities. Martins feed entirely on insects caught while flying.

White-tipped Dove (Local name : Mountain Dove)

White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi)

White-tipped Doves are found on both Trinidad and Tobago. The Tobago birds are a unique subspecies, found nowhere else in the world and possess legs that are much brighter than their Trinidadian counterparts and are a bit easier to approach as well. The similar Gray-fronted Dove of Trinidad is not found on Tobago which makes identification much easier. They are brown with paler underparts and possess a blue ring around their eye. These birds will often be seen walking busily along clear garden paths as they look for seeds and small insects. Will also accept table scraps.

Eared Dove

Eared Dove (Zenaida auriculata)

The Eared Dove is another large dove commonly seen in Tobago. It is much commoner in Tobago where it is seen everywhere from gardens to city parks. In Trinidad the birds never stray far from their typical mangrove edge habitat. They are easily differentiated from White-tipped Doves by their darker brown coloration and iridescent ear patches which gives the bird its name. Like the White-tipped Dove it is commonly seen walking on the ground as it looks for food.

White-tailed Nightjar

White-tailed Nightjar (Caprilmulgus cayennensis)

Anyone traveling along the quieter back roads of Tobago will likely be familiar with this bird. As dusk approaches, this nightjar will often land on roadways where it will sit quietly, waiting for its insect prey to fly by. Often their presence is not noticed until they fly off the ground, their large eyes reflecting the headlights of the approaching car. Birds will also perch on boulders, branches or overhead wires. They are found in Trinidad as well but are much easier to find in Tobago.

Black-faced Grassquit

Black-faced Grassquit (Tiaris bicolor)

The Black-faced Grassquit is a small moss green bird often seen flitting about in well maintained gardens. Adult males have a dark face and throat while females are much drabber. Grassquits are not related to seedeaters (such as the now extirpated “Tobago Picoplat”) and do not have particularly attractive calls. As such, they are not caged for the pet trade. They feed primarily on seeds but will also take insects. The Black faced Grassquit is not found on mainland Trinidad but is found offshore on some of the Bocas islands.

Barred Antshrike

Barred Antshrike (Thamnophilus doliatus) – male

Barred Antshrike (Thamnophilus doliatus) – female

The Barred Antshrike is a small attractively coloured garden bird. Males are boldly striped with black and white while females are a rich chestnut colour with some streaking on their face. Male and female birds form a pair for life and spend most of their time searching the leaves and branches of vegetation for their insect prey. They can, however, learn to accept occasional table scraps. In order to keep track of one another while feeding they call frequently with their crow like “caw” or an accelerating series of notes. Barred Antshrikes are found on both Tobago and Trinidad.

In addition to the birds mentioned above, several other species can be found in gardens throughout Tobago. Some of these species were covered in a previous post outlining the common garden birds of Trinidad but their descriptions are reproduced here for completeness and convenience.

Tropical Mockingbird (Local name: Day clean)

Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus)

Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus)

The Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus)is a relatively recent arrival to Trinidad and Tobago. It was first seen in the early 1900’s in north Trinidad but has since spread throughout both islands. It is grey in colour and is often seen running along the ground where it regularly stops and briefly spreads its wings. It has been suggested that this flashing helps to flush its insects prey. They also feed on fruit and will accept ripe bananas at birdfeeders. They are very aggressive.

Bananaquit (Local name: Sucrier (often mispronounced as sik-ee-aye))

Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola)

Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola)

The Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) is an active little bird, frequently seen amongst flowers in a garden feeding on nectar. Because they have short bills they will often resort to piercing the base of flowers to access their otherwise unreachable nectaries. They have yellow undersides, a black back and a gray throat. Like some other birds, Bananaquits that live at higher altitudes are more brightly coloured than their lowland kin. Their call is a musical warble and there is much variation between the sounds of birds from different areas of the country. They are known to build a second nest for sleeping. Bananaquits will come to feed on any ripe fruit, sugar or even a shallow bowl of water to bathe in.

Carib Grackle (Local names: Blackbird or Boat-tail)

Carib Grackle (Quiscalus lugubris)

Carib Grackle (Quiscalus lugubris)

The well known Blackbird (Quiscalus lugubris) is often seen in small groups feeding near houses where they eat household scraps or feed on insects. The males are glossy black while females are a duller brown. In courtship, males raise their tails and sing, trying to attract the attention of a female. Their other local name of “Boat tail” comes from their habit of holding their tail in a deep “V” shape, when flying. Bread or rice will attract them.

Spectacled Thrush – formerly Bare-eyed Thrush (Local names: Big eye grieve)

Spectacled Thrush (Turdus nudigenis) - formerly Bare-eyed Thrush

Spectacled Thrush (Turdus nudigenis) – formerly Bare-eyed Thrush

The Spectacled Trush (Turdus nudigenis) is a drab brown bird with a bright orange eye-ring. Individual birds have a lot of character and can become rather tame. A bird in my yard would religiously bathe every evening before going to its nest. They are quite interesting to observe and are often seen feeding on soft dirt where they hop about and then suddenly dive to the ground, usually emerging with an earthworm. They have a cat like call, often made in the late evening from a favourite perch. Will take fruit from feeders.

House Wren (Local names: House Bird or God Bird)

House Wren (Troglodytes musculus)

House Wren (Troglodytes musculus)

The House Wren (Troglodytes musculus) gets its name from its habit of nesting in buildngs. It is also known by the local name of “God bird” by some because it may be seen in old churches. An insect eater, it dutifully searches gardens and fields for food, often in pairs, with the two birds calling regularly to maintain contact. Its nest is frequently parasitized by the Shiny Cowbird and it is not uncommon for one to see a house wren feeding a much larger cowbird fledgling. Its call is a lovely musical warble.

For information on more of Trinidad and Tobago’s bird species be sure to look at our other quick guides.

 

Birds of Trinidad: Home and Garden 2

This is the second Quick Guide highlighting Trinidad’s common garden bird species. The birds listed here are all well suited to life in residential and urban areas in addition to their natural habitat. Many are generalists, meaning that they can survive on a variety of foods (their diet) and live in a range of habitats, which allows them to thrive despite our modifications to the environment. This close association with humans has also led to some of these birds having common or vernacular names

Silver-beaked Tanager (Local name : Silver beak)

Silver-beaked Tanager (Ramphocelus carbo)

A common tanager in Trinidad (but not found in Tobago) is the beautiful Silver-beaked Tanager. Male birds are crimson red with a large pale blue lower beak which gives it its name. Female birds lack the flashy bill and have drab red plumage. They have a very sharp metallic call, quite unlike the calls of the other common tanager species. Like other garden tanagers, they are very fond of ripe fruit and will readily come to bird feeders. Unlike the next species, the Silver-beaked Tanager seems to prefer a fair amount of vegetation and is less likely to be seen in urban areas.

White-lined Tanager (Local name: Parson)

White-lined Tanager (Tachyphonus rufus)

The white lined tanager is a common garden and forest inhabitant. Males are black with the exception of a small patch of white feathers under the wing which is visible in brief flashes as the bird flies or flicks its wing. Females are brown and lack the white patch. This species can be found in a variety of habitats ranging from very urbanized environments to forests and are readily attracted to ripe fruit.

Shiny Cowbird (Local name: no widely popular name but sometimes called Lazy bird or Singing Angel)

Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis)

The Shiny Cowbird can be confused with a Carib Grackle but can be differentiated by its shiny iridescent feathers and dark iris (Compared to the white iris in a Grackle). It is also a much more streamlined bird in comparison to a Grackle. Male Shiny Cowbirds have a beautiful bubbling song which has given rise to one of their local names – “singing angel”. Shiny Cowbirds are brood parasites. They will lay their eggs in the nest of other birds, often House Wrens, and leave the care of the egg and chick to the surrogate parents (hence the other local name – Lazybird). Usually, the young Cowbird will get rid of other chicks or eggs in the nest by pushing them out. This way the young Shiny Cowbird reduces competition for food. It is not uncommon to see a House Wren feeding a begging Shiny Cowbird chick more than twice its size.

Yellow-bellied Elaenia (Local name: Top-knot)

Yellow-bellied Elaenia (Elaenia flavogaster)

This excitable flycatcher is best identified by its call, which can be likened to a musical wheezing. Other key features include a bushy crest, which is often erect, yellow-olive under-parts and olive brown upper-parts. This bird has a dirtier appearance when compared to the next species. They are usually found in pairs or small family groups. The “Top-knot” is noticeably larger than the other local elaenias which, together with the feature noted above, should help in identification. Elaenias feed primarily on insects but will occasionally take fruit in the form of small berries.

Southern Beardless Tyrannulet (Local name: none)

Southern Beardless Tyrannulet (Camptostoma obsoletum)

The Southern Beardless Tyrannulet looks very much like a miniature Yellow bellied Elaenia. A key difference, besides the obvious size difference, is the bird’s “neat” appearance with its yellow-olive coloured plumage advancing right up to the throat area. As with most flycatchers, sound is often the most precise method of identification and the Tyrannulet has a low whining call. It is a very lively bird and will often keep its tail cocked up at an angle as it flits about in the vegetation.

Grayish Saltator (Local name: Pitch-oil)

Grayish Saltator (Saltator coerulescens)

The “Pitch Oil” is unusual among our local garden birds. While it will eat fruit,  its diet also includes leaves and it can often be seen feeding on overgrown fence lines or vegetable gardens (they are fond of bodi leaves). Adult birds are grayish brown with a white streak above the eye while younger birds are mossy green. The local name is derived from their call which almost sounds like it is saying “pitch-oil”. This charming bird is not found in Tobago.

Yellow Warbler (Local name: none)

Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia)

The Yellow Warbler is our most common migrant warbler, appearing in great numbers between September and March before returning to their breeding grounds in North America. They inhabit a wide variety of habitats from home gardens to mangrove swamps to rain-forests where they search for their insect prey. Yellow Warblers rarely, if ever, sing while in Trinidad and Tobago. They do call occasionally while feeding, uttering a single “chip” note. Both sexes are yellow in colour with dirty yellow wings. Additionally, male birds may have dark reddish streaks on their chests.

Saffron Finch (Local name: none)

Saffron Finch (Sicalis flaveola)

The Saffron Finch is an attractive yellow bird with an orange forehead. Because of its preference for open areas and pastures it has readily adapted to urban gardens where well kept lawns provide an attractive substitute – so much so that nowadays they are found almost exclusively around houses (one wonders where they lived before human settlements developed on the island). Despite their resemblance to other local seedeaters (to whom they are not directly related), Saffron Finches have never been popular targets for the cage-bird trade thanks largely to their relatively poor singing abilities.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Local name: Jumbie bird)

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum)

This small owl is the familiar “Jumbie Bird” of local and regional folklore. It is perceived as an omen of death and to have one calling near a house was seen as a sure sign that someone would soon die.  The owl is, of course, completely harmless. It usually feeds at night but it is possible to find birds active in the late afternoon when it hunts for its typical prey – insects. They are found in a wide range of habitats, from deep forests to urban environments (there is at least one bird living on the Brian Lara Promenade). Pygmy-Owls are well known to bird-watchers in Trinidad who imitate the owl’s simple repeating “who-who-who” call in order to attract small birds which quickly congregate to chase the ‘owl’ away.

See also:

Birds of Trinidad: Home and Garden 1

Birds of Trinidad: Savanna & Grassland 1

Birds of Trinidad: Marshland and Waterways 1

Birds of Trinidad: Marshland and Waterways 2

 

 

 

 

 

Birds of Trinidad: Savanna and Grassland 1

This is the first Quick Guide highlighting Trinidad and Tobago’s common savanna and grassland bird species. It will deal with those species that frequent open grass fields, pastures, savannas and other similar environments.

Red-breasted Blackbird (Local Name: Soldier Bird):

Red-breasted Blackbird (Sturnella militaris)

This stunning member of the blackbird family is common in wet pastures and grassy fields. Male birds sport a brilliant red breast while females are streaked with brown and cream. Not found in Tobago. Males can sometimes be seen displaying, during which the bird flies up into the air and glides back to the ground while singing.

Blue-black Grassquit (Local Names: Grassie or Johnny-jump-up):

Blue-black Grassquit (Volatinia jacarina)

The grassquit is a very common inhabitant of grasslands and open habitats where they feed on seeds. Male birds are very dark blue in colour while females are brown with heavy chest streaking. Males are often seen displaying from an exposed perch during which the grassquit “leaps” into the air while calling. Despite their similar appearance, diet and choice of habitat, Grassquits are not members of the finch family.

Striped Cuckoo:

Striped Cuckoo (Tapera naevia)

The call of the Striped Cuckoo is a familiar sound in open areas and is usually the first clue that this species is nearby. It is heavily streaked with brown and cream and has a shaggy brown crest which it raises when it calls. This is the only local cuckoo species that practices nest-parasitism for which the cuckoo family is infamous. It usually targets the nests of Spinetails.

Gray Kingbird:

Gray Kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis)

This relative of the more commonly seen Tropical Kingbird can be identified by its larger bill and overall body size. It is gray in colour with darker upperparts.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher:

Fork-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus savana) Photograph © Fayard Mohammed

This graceful flycatcher is a common visitor to Trinidad and Tobago during the latter months of the year. The males are best known for their long tail feathers which can extend several inches from the body. Large flocks of these birds can be seen flying to their roosting sites in the late evening, often in mangrove swamps or isolated trees. They are very aggressive and will chase other bird species that happen to fly by.

Green-rumped Parrotlet (Local Name: Parakeet):

Green-rumped Parrotlet (Forpus passerinus)

This small member of the parrot family is common in many habitats in Trinidad and Tobago. Apparently unknown in Trinidad before 1916 which could indicate it was a recent arrival. Birds were then introduced to Tobago. Despite being commonly trapped for the pet trade, the local population does not appear to be in any danger as yet. Males and females are not easily distinguished from each other, both being generally green with blue feathers on the wing. A pair can sometimes be seen around a house searching for nesting sites, usually in pipe scaffolding or similar cavities.

Savanna Hawk:

Savannah Hawk (Buteogallus meridionalis)

The Savanna Hawk is a beautiful member of the raptor family that can often be seen in open cattle pastures and coconut estates, especially in areas such as Mayaro, Manzanilla, Icacos, Wallerfield and Piarco. Unlike most other hawks, the Savanna Hawk spends a lot of time on the ground in search of its prey which includes lizards and snakes. It is chestnut-brown with dark wings and can otherwise be identified by its upright posture and its long legs, which facilitates movement through the short grass. These hawks frequently perch on posts or tree stumps.

White winged Swallow:

White-winged Swallow (Tachycineta albiventer)

This small swallow is often seen flying swiftly low over savannas or waterways while hunting for their insect prey. It is white with an iridescent blue-green cap and upper back. Its name is derived from a patch of white feathers on its otherwise dark wings, visible when the bird is in flight. It nests in cavities and will take advantage of man-made structures such as pipe scaffolding in pavilions.

Yellow-headed Caracara:

Yellow-headed Caracara (Milvago chimachima)

While similar in appearance to hawks, Caracaras are actually members of the Falconidae, which includes kites and falcons. Unlike the other members of this family, caracaras have specialized in feeding on carrion. For this reason the yellow-headed caracara is able to inhabit a diverse range of habitats and can often be seen along roadways looking for road kill. They are often found in small groups and have a very loud screeching call. Adults have a creamy yellow-brown head and under-parts with dark brown wings that are crossed by a single pale bar. Immature birds are heavily streaked.

Ruddy-breasted Seedeater (Local Name: Robin):

Ruddy-breasted Seedeater (Sporophila minuta)

The Ruddy-breasted Seedeater was formerly an extremely common resident of grasslands in Trinidad and Tobago. Unfortunately the “Robin” is valued as a cage-bird because of its singing ability. Constant pressure by bird-catchers has almost driven this bird to extinction in Trinidad & Tobago and only a few scattered populations remain. Despite being illegal, many bird owners still keep “Robins”.

Other local finches, including the Gray Seedeater (Picoplat) and Chestnut-bellied Seed Finch (Bullfinch), have not been so lucky and all local populations of these species have been wiped out. Occasionally birds are seen in the wild but these are usually escaped cage-birds or birds that have been rescued from bird-smugglers and released by the Forestry Division. Unfortunately as these birds are likely to all be males, no breeding population can be established. While it is legal to keep both the “Bullfinch” and “Picoplat” in cages, large numbers of these birds are illegally smuggled into the country via the south-western peninsular and these birds account for almost all finches currently being kept in Trinidad and Tobago.

Birds of Trinidad: Marshland and Waterways 2

This is the second Quick Guide highlighting Trinidad and Tobago’s common wetland bird species. Like the first guide, it will deal with those species that frequent open marsh and river environments. Mangrove dwelling species will be dealt with separately. The species listed below can also be found in habitats that mimic their traditional wetland habitat such as temporarily flooded fields and artificial ponds (including rice fields).

Masked Yellowthroat (Local Name: Manicou Bird)

Masked Yellowthroat (Geothlypis aequinoctialis)

The Masked Yellowthroat is a small active bird that frequents grass fields and marshlands. It is one of our three resident Wood Warblers. Both the male and female are yellowish-green in colour but male birds have a black mask. They spend most of their time skulking in the vegetation but males will occasionally appear on an exposed perch to sing. The song of the Masked Yellowthroat is a musical series of notes. It is not found on Tobago.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Local names: Wi-chi-chi)

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks are our commonest resident duck species and are found in marshes on both islands. They can be identified by their black bellies and brown upperparts and their bright red bills. Black-bellied Whistling Ducks are partially nocturnal and can often be heard calling as they fly overhead at night. These ducks are frequently hunted but have been the subject of breeding and reintroduction programmes at the Pointe a Pierre Wildfowl Trust.

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors) – Photograph by Tarran Maharaj

The Blue-winged Teal is by far the commonest of Trinidad and Tobago’s migrant ducks. They breed in considerable numbers in North America but migrate south during the northern winter and are present between September and May. At this time, the drakes are in their drabber non-breeding plumage but they can be distinguished from the females by a faint white crescent between its eye and beak. They have light blue patches on their wings that are visible when in flight. Blue-winged Teal are found in mangrove swamps, marshes and even on the coast. They are commonly hunted during the open season.

Pinnated Bittern

Pinnated Bittern (Botaurus pinnatus)

The Pinnated Bittern is a large cryptically coloured bird that favours reed beds and wet pastures in Trinidad. It is not found on Tobago. It will often raise its neck with its bill pointed towards the sky when alarmed (as seen in the photograph above). This offers the bittern some protection from predators as this posture helps the bird to blend in with the reed and grass environment. As a result, the Pinnated Bittern is easily overlooked or mistaken for a stick or clump of dry leaves.

Limpkin (Local name: Craow)

Limpkin (Aramus guarauna) – Photograph © Dave Smith

The Limpkin is a resident of freshwater marshes in Trinidad. It is generally dark brown with white markings on its neck. In shape, it resembles an Ibis but has a relatively straight bill which is used to crack open the snails on which it feeds. When feeding, a Limpkin will pick-up a snail and take it somewhere nearby where the ground is firm. Placing the snail on the ground, it will strike the snail’s shell repeatedly until it is able to extract the flesh inside. The loud mournful call of this bird is often heard at night and gives rise to its local name of Craow.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

The Cattle Egret is Trinidad and Tobago’s commonest egret. They are usually seen in pastures and savannas but less often in water like other egrets. Cattle Egrets frequently follow cattle and other large animals in order to feed on the insects that are disturb by the animals. They will also follow ploughs and lawnmowers for the same reason. Cattle Egrets were originally found only in Africa and Asia but some managed to make the journey across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World and were first reported in Guiana and Suriname in 1877. By 1951 they had spread to Trinidad and by the 1960’s they had arrived in Tobago.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)

The Snowy Egret is a beautiful resident of Trinidad and Tobago wetlands. They have prominent yellow toes that contrast prominently with their black legs. Similarly, they have a contrasting yellow patch of skin (lore) around their eyes and at the base of their black bill. While feeding, snowy egrets will shuffle one foot in the water in order to disturb the small fish and invertebrates that it feeds on.

Great Egret

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

The Great Egret is the largest of our white egrets. It frequents the same area as the smaller Snowy Egret and both will sometimes associate in mixed flocks when feeding. Great Egrets are easily distinguishable by their size. They have yellow bills and black legs.

Tricoloured Heron

Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)

The Tricoloured Heron is an attractive member of the Heron and Egret family. They are most commonly seen in brackish water wetlands but will feed in freshwater marshes as well. They are also commonly seen feeding along the coast. Birds are slate blue with a contrasting white underside. Tricoloured Herons are very active when feeding, frantically chasing prey in shallow water.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

The Little Blue Heron was already mentioned in our previous guide on wetland birds, but it should be noted that immature birds can be mistaken for one of the mentioned white egrets. Immature Little Blue Herons can be identified by their dark heavy bill which is tipped with black. Depending on the age of the bird there can be varying amounts of slate blue appearing in the immature bird’s plumage.

See also:

Birds of Trinidad: Home and Garden 1

Birds of Trinidad: Home and Garden 2

Birds of Trinidad: Savanna & Grassland 1

Birds of Trinidad: Marshland and Waterways 1

Birds of Trinidad: Marshland and Waterways 2

 

Birds of Trinidad: Marshland and Waterways 1

The wetlands of Trinidad and Tobago are inhabited by several bird species, many of which are easy to observe. This summary will highlight those common species that frequent wetlands, specifically open marsh and river environments. Mangrove dwelling species will be dealt with separately. The species listed below can also be found in habitats that mimic their traditional wetland habitat such as temporarily flooded fields and artificial ponds (including rice fields).

Striated Heron (Local name: Chuck)

Striated Heron (Butorides striata)

This is the commonest of the non-white herons in Trinidad. It is often seen quietly waiting to ambush its fish and insect prey from the water’s edge or atop submerged vegetation. Some birds at the Pointe a Pierre Wildfowl Trust have even learnt to use bird feed as bait for attracting fish within striking range. The Striated Heron is closely related to the Green-backed Heron and some consider the two birds to be the same species (con-specific). While common in Trinidad, the Striated Heron is replaced by the Green-backed Heron in Tobago.

Little Blue Heron (Local name: Gaulin)

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

Another common member of the Heron family is the sombre looking Little Blue Heron. It is dark slate blue in colour with a slight rufous tint on its head and neck. Unlike the Striated Heron, the Little Blue Heron usually does not perch on vegetation to ambush prey, preferring to slowly stalk its food in shallow water. Immature birds can be mistaken for one of the white plumaged egrets but they will usually be dis-coloured with patches of grey.

Yellow-chinned Spinetail

Yellow-chinned Spinetail (Certhiaxis cinnamomeus)

This active little bird is a common sight in marshes and other wetland environments. Its rattling call is a familiar wetland sound. The Yellow-chinned Spinetail is easily identified by its cinnamon upperparts and creamy white underparts. True to its name, it has a yellow spot just below the base of its bill. The Spinetail builds a large nest which is a favourite target for brood parasites like the Striped Cuckoo.

Yellow-hooded Blackbird (Local name: Yellow head)

Yellow-hooded Blackbird (Chrysomus icterocephalus): Male (left) and female (right)

Another common resident of our marshlands, the yellow-headed Blackbird is related to the well known Carib Grackle (See Garden Birds of Trinidad 1). Adult males are unmistakable with their contrasting yellow heads and black bodies. Females and immature birds have less contrasting yellow markings. They often assemble in large flocks, both when feeding and at roost.

Purple Gallinule: (Local name: Waterman)

Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinica)

The Purple Gallinule is one of the more colourful birds to be found in Trinidad and Tobago. Resembling a small chicken, its plumage is a mixture of dark blue with greenish blue wings. It has a prominent red bill with a yellow tip. Despite being commonly hunted, it remains an abundant species in Trinidad, though less so in Tobago. It is considered to be a pest by some farmers because of its preference for grain and other vegetable crops.

Common Gallinule

Common Gallinule (Gallinula chloropus)

Another member of the Gallinule family, the Common Gallinule seems to prefer the clearer waterways to the dense vegetation habitat of the Purple Gallinule. It is dark gray with a prominent red frontal shield. Often seen swimming, alarmed birds will sometimes run along the surface of the water and take flight.

Wattled Jacana: (Local name: Tek-Teky or Spur-wing)

Wattled Jacana (Jacana jacana): Adult (left) and immature (right)

The widespread Wattled Jacana is found throughout Trinidad and Tobago (although it is less common in Tobago). It is a common inhabitant of open marsh where it can be seen walking on submerged vegetation, assisted by its long toes. Its call is a noisy rattle which has given rise to one of its local names – “Tek Teky”. Adult birds are black with rufous wings, the outer feathers of which are yellow while immature birds have cream under-parts and a dark stripe behind the eye. There is a small spur on the bend of the wing. Wattled Jacanas get their name from their red facial wattles.

Southern Lapwing

Southern Lapwing (Vanellus chilenis) – Photograph © Dave Smith

This excitable member of the Plover family is often seen in dry marshland or savannas. It is easily identified by its relatively large size and bold black chest. It is even easier to identify by its raucous call which is uttered when alarmed or in flight, even at night. Despite its widespread distribution on both islands, the Southern Lapwing is a relatively recent arrival, first recorded on Trinidad in 1961 and on Tobago in 1974. It is the national bird of Uruguay.

White-headed Marsh Tyrant: Local Name: Nun

White-headed Marsh Tyrant (Arundinicola leucocephala): Male (left) and female (right) – Photograph © Dave Smith

This handsome wetland resident is easily identified by its white head and dark body. The coloration in male birds is very contrasting while females and immature birds have more extensive white markings throughout the body. They are often observed hunting small insects from an exposed perch (referred to as “hawking”).

Pied Water Tyrant: Local Name: Washerwoman

Pied Water Tyrant (Fluvicola pica)

Often found in the same habitat as the previous species, the Pied Water Tyrant is identified by its white plumage which contrasts sharply with black wings and black cap. In my experience it is a more active hunter than the White-headed Marsh Tyrant, often searching for invertebrate prey in low vegetation rather than hawking from a perch.

See also:

Birds of Trinidad: Home and Garden 1

Birds of Trinidad: Home and Garden 2

Birds of Trinidad: Savanna & Grassland 1

Birds of Trinidad: Marshland and Waterways 1

Birds of Trinidad: Marshland and Waterways 2

Butterflies of Trinidad: Home and Garden

Several of Trinidad’s common butterfly species can be found in open gardens and scrubland. They have fewer environmental requirements than other specialised species and this allow them to thrive almost anywhere flowering plants are found. Many common butterflies have acquired local names, some as colourful as the butterflies they represent.

Scarlet Peacock (Anartia amathea amathea)

Scarlet Peacock Anartia amathea Butterflies Trinidad Tobago

Scarlet Peacock (Anartia amathea)

The Scarlet Peacock is perhaps the commonest of Trinidad’s butterflies and is easily identified by its bold red markings and white spots. It can be seen in a wide variety of habitats, ranging from open wasteland to forest edges. The females, while larger, are paler than the males. This butterfly also goes by the name of Red Anartia and by the local name of “Coolie”.

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae jatrophae)

White Peacock Anartia jatrophae jatrophae Butterflies Trinidad Tobago

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae jatrophae)

A close relative to the Scarlet Peacock, the White Peacock can be found in similar environments. Additionally, it can be seen in marshland where Scarlet Peacocks tend to be relatively less common. They are pale white with brown markings and have several black spots distributed over the wing. The White Peacock is known locally as the “Biscuit”.

Mangrove Buckeye (Junonia genoveva genoveva)

Mangrove Buckeye Junonia genoveva Butterflies Trinidad Tobago

Mangrove Buckeye (Junonia genoveva)

The Mangrove or Caribbean Buckeye is an attractive inhabitant of open areas, forest edges and mangroves. It is generally brown in colour with shades of orange. A striking feature of this butterfly is the large eyespot on the upper side of its wing. This has led to its local name of “Donkey’s Eye”.

White Crescent (Janatella leucodesma)

White Crescent (Janatella leucodesma)

The White Crescent is often seen flying in open areas seeking both flowers and sunlight. Bold white and black markings allow for this butterfly to be easily identified in flight. It is also know by the local name of “Handkerchief”.

Ruby-spotted Swallowtail (Heraclides anchisiades idaeus)

Ruby-spotted Swallowtail (Heraclides anchisiades idaeus)

This large butterfly is commonly seen feeding at the flowers of Hibiscus and Ixora. Due to its rapid movement in flight, it is difficult to appreciate the jet black wings and large pink spot on the lower wing. Occasionally one might be found resting with its wings held open (as pictured).

Dirce Beauty (Colobura dirce dirce)

Dirce Beauty (Colobura dirce)

The Zebra is most often encountered resting on a tree trunk in a characteristic head down position. The underside of its wing has a cryptic pattern which provides a measure of camouflage. When open, the upper side of its wings reveal a very different pattern, consisting of a creamy yellow band crossing its otherwise plain brown wing. It is fond of ripe fruit. It goes by several names including the Zebra, White Admiral and the Mosaic.

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

This large butterfly has a stunning green and dark brown pattern on its wings. It feeds both on the nectar of flowers and the juices of ripe fruit. It is more likely to be seen in well vegetated areas than in open land.

Variable Cracker (Hamadryas feronia farinulenta)

Variable Cracker (Hamadryas feronia farinulenta)

The Cracker is often found resting on tree trunks with its wings opened, where its white and grey mottled colouring serves as camouflage. It gets its name from the snapping sound that it makes when in flight, usually when in the presence of another Cracker. This often occurs when the butterflies congregate to feed at ripe fruit.

Banded Banner (Pyrrhogyra neaerea neaerea)

Banded Banner (Pyrrhogyra neaerea)

The Banded Banner is a common inhabitant of well vegetated areas. It is often difficult to observe as it is quite wary and often rests on the underside of leaves. It is black with white blotches. It is also known as the “Pyrrhogyra”.

Birds of Trinidad: Home and Garden 1

People in Trinidad routinely come into contact with several of our common birds but few actually take the time to learn more about them. The birds listed here are all well suited to life in residential and urban areas in addition to their natural habitat. Many are generalists, meaning that they can survive on a variety of foods (their diet) and live in a range of habitats, which allows them to thrive despite our modifications to the environment. This close association with humans has also led to these birds having common or vernacular names (NOTE: Tobago’s common birds will be treated with separately).

Great Kiskadee (Local names: Kiskadee)

Great Kiskadee Garden Birds Trinidad

Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus)

While it is probably the best known bird in Trinidad, it is perhaps surprising that the Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) is not normally found in Tobago. It is easily identified thanks to its black and white streaked face, bold yellow under-parts and brown back. They are also well known thanks to their loud vocalizations and fearless behaviour. The Kiskadee’s diet is extremely varied and includes large insects, fish, small reptiles, fruit and cooked foods. They are not fond of mangoes but will readily accept ripe bananas at birdfeeders. Additionally they are very aggressive and these two factors (diet and behaviour) are largely responsible for their widespread distribution in cultivated lands and residential areas. They are less common in heavily forested areas.

Tropical Kingbird (Local name: Kiskadee)

Tropical Kingbird Garden Birds Trinidad

Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)

Often mistaken for a Kiskadee because of its yellow belly, the Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus) can easily be distinguished by the lack of black and white facial markings as found on the Kiskadee. Primarily an insect eater, it is often seen perched on suitable vantage points (like electricity wires or branches) from which it chases after flying insects. They regularly chase after and attack hawks and other large birds which wander too close to its territory. Its call is an excited trill, usually accompanied by rapid wing flapping

Blue-grey Tanager and Palm Tanager (Local names: Blue Jean and Palmiste)

Blue grey Tanager Garden Birds Trinidad

Blue-grey Tanager (Thraupis episcopus)

Both of these tanagers (tan-a-jers) are very closely related and shall be dealt with as a group. The Blue-grey Tanager (Thraupis episcopus) or Blue Jean is a lovely shade of light blue with darker blue wings. There is a patch of violet on the wing which is visible when seen in good light conditions.

The other tanager is the Palm Tanager (Thraupis palmarum) or Palmiste.

Palm Tanager (Thraupis palmarum)

Palm Tanager (Thraupis palmarum)

This bird is a combination of different shades of olive/dark green, very beautiful on its own when viewed up close. The name of ‘Palmiste’ comes from their habit of frequenting palm trees as they search for insects. It is also often seen around houses as they favour nesting under roof eaves. Both birds have similar diets of fruit and some insects and are found in forests, swamp and scrubland. They also have identical voices consisting of a series of twittering and chirps and live in identical habitats. So similar are the two that the birds may sometimes hybridize. They will accept any ripe soft fruit.

Tropical Mockingbird (Local name: Day clean)

Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus)

Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus)

The Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus)is a relatively recent arrival to Trinidad and Tobago. It was first seen in the early 1900’s in north Trinidad but has since spread throughout the island. It is grey in colour and is often seen running along the ground where it regularly stops and briefly spreads its wings. It has been suggested that this flashing helps to flush its insects prey. They also feed on fruit and will accept ripe bananas at birdfeeders. They are very aggressive.

Bananaquit (Local name: Sucrier (often mispronounced as sik-ee-aye))

Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola)

Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola)

The Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) is an active little bird, frequently seen amongst flowers in a garden feeding on nectar. Because they have short bills they will often resort to piercing the base of flowers to access their otherwise unreachable nectaries. They have yellow undersides, a black back and a gray throat. Like some other birds, Bananaquits that live at higher altitudes are more brightly coloured than their lowland kin. Their call is a musical warble and there is much variation between the sounds of birds from different areas of the country. They are known to build a second nest for sleeping. Bananaquits will come to feed on any ripe fruit, sugar or even a shallow bowl of water to bathe in.

Yellow Oriole (Local name: Plantain bird)

Yellow Oriole (Icterus nigrogularis)

Yellow Oriole (Icterus nigrogularis)

The yellow oriole (Icterus nigrogularis) is handsome golden-yellow and black bird that is hard to miss. They feed on a range of soft fruits, insects and kitchen scraps (I have even seen a pair eating leftovers from a discarded KFC box) and are very fond of over-ripe bananas and mangoes at the birdfeeder. They inhabit a range of environments and like to build their hanging nests near water.

Carib Grackle (Local names: Blackbird or Boat-tail)

Carib Grackle (Quiscalus lugubris)

Carib Grackle (Quiscalus lugubris)

The well known Blackbird (Quiscalus lugubris) is often seen in small groups feeding near houses where they eat household scraps or feed on insects. The males are glossy black while females are a duller brown. In courtship, males raise their tails and sing, trying to attract the attention of a female. Their other local name of “Boat tail” comes from their habit of holding their tail in a deep “V” shape, when flying. Bread or rice will attract them.

Spectacled Thrush – formerly Bare-eyed Thrush (Local names: Big eye grieve)

Spectacled Thrush (Turdus nudigenis) - formerly Bare-eyed Thrush

Spectacled Thrush (Turdus nudigenis) – formerly Bare-eyed Thrush

The Spectacled Trush (Turdus nudigenis) is a drab brown bird with a bright orange eye-ring. Individual birds have a lot of character and can become rather tame. A bird in my yard would religiously bathe every evening before going to its nest. They are quite interesting to observe and are often seen feeding on soft dirt where they hop about and then suddenly dive to the ground, usually emerging with an earthworm. They have a cat like call, often made in the late evening from a favourite perch. Will take fruit from feeders.

House Wren (Local names: House Bird or God Bird)

House Wren (Troglodytes musculus)

House Wren (Troglodytes musculus) – Photography by Tarran Maharaj

The House Wren (Troglodytes musculus) gets its name from its habit of nesting in buildngs. It is also known by the local name of “God bird” by some because it may be seen in old churches. An insect eater, it dutifully searches gardens and fields for food, often in pairs, with the two birds calling regularly to maintain contact. Its nest is frequently parasitized by the Shiny Cowbird and it is not uncommon for one to see a house wren feeding a much larger cowbird fledgling. Its call is a lovely musical warble.

Ruddy Ground-Dove

Ruddy Ground-Dove (Columbina talpacoti)

Ruddy Ground-Dove (Columbina talpacoti) – Photography by Tarran Maharaj

This is the common brown dove often seen nervously feeding on the ground. Males have a rich reddish brown colour with a lighter grey head. The smaller females are duller in colour. Birds commonly fall prey to cats and other predators while on the ground and when not feeding may often perch in small trees and call. Their voice is a soft cooing. Ruddy Ground-Doves (Columbina talpacoti) build very fragile nests in dense vegetation throughout the year. They may visit birdfeeders to feed on grains and bread.

Smooth-billed Ani (Local names: Merle Corbeau)

Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani)

Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani)

While they are locally know as “Merle Corbeau”, these birds have no relation to the New World Vultures and are in fact a member if the New World Cuckoo family. Smooth-billed Anis (Crotophaga ani) are black birds are almost always found in groups and these family birds even nest in a single large communal nest. Their most striking feature is the unusual raised keel of their bills as well as a “mew”ing call. Feeding on insects and other invertebrates the feeding groups will slowly work their way through the vegetation searching for prey.

See also:

Birds of Trinidad: Home and Garden 2

Birds of Trinidad: Savanna & Grassland 1

Birds of Trinidad: Marshland and Waterways 1

Birds of Trinidad: Marshland and Waterways 2