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.



#1 timmaz24s on 12.01.12 at 7:46 pm

Hey Kris great work but don’t take so long for an update of your article next time lol. Does Tobago have the Yellow Oriole? If so I am realizing alot of species that thought to be just Trinidad resident are being found in Tobago now.

#2 Administrator on 12.01.12 at 7:57 pm

No you’re right. I copied that one over from the other article without thinking about it (just corrected it). Thanks!
I’ll try to be on time for the next one 🙂

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