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







#1 lisa on 07.13.12 at 11:49 pm

I often see a little black bird that keeps jumping up and down on some bushes near my house. I assume its a mating ritual. Can someone name that bird please?

#2 Timmaz24s on 07.15.12 at 10:37 am

Hi Lisa the you are talking about is the blue-black grassquit. The local name is Johnny jump up. Very beautiful bird that is black with a blue hue and some white under its wing . yes the jumping up it’s a mating ritual. Very beautiful to watch.

#3 Gregory Farmer on 10.17.14 at 7:59 am

This was great reading and I really loved the local names…

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