Over two hundred different bird species have been logged in the Cayman Islands, though many of these are, like their human counterparts, short-staying visitors that have flown in to escape the winter further north. About fifty species are all year-round residents, including significant populations of seabirds, waders and some interesting endemic birds that can be seen on all three islands.
Accessible bird watching areas in the islands include seven bird sanctuaries as well as mangrove margins, brackish and freshwater ponds and several areas of old growth forest.
On Grand Cayman the sixty-five acres of the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is a good place to start. Not far from George Town heading east you’ll find the Governor Michael Gore Bird Sanctuary, just under two acres in all but important because it acts as a reliable watering hole even in the dry season.
The sanctuary was created by Michael Gore who was Cayman Islands Governor from 1992-95. Birds seen here include Plovers, Terns, Kingfishers, Fly-Catchers, Vireos, Herons and Egrets as well as ducks and Purple Gallinules. Access to the pond is across a purpose-built boardwalk and there is a hide for viewing. Grand Cayman is also home to the Salina Reserve which has limited public access but covers over six-hundred acres of virtually untouched natural forest in the north-east of the island. This is an undisturbed wild habitat for the island’s breeding birds.
A large area inland of South Sound (about 1,500 acres) of mangrove wetlands is also protected on Grand Cayman. The wetlands are an important sanctuary for resident birds and a crucial source of water for the island, contributing significantly to agricultural and natural irrigation resources. More accessible to the visitor is Meagre Bay Pond, a saltwater lagoon close to Bodden Town and another birding site popular with waders, including Snowy Egrets.
Grand Cayman is not alone in providing sanctuaries for the islands’ bird population. On Little Cayman – which is just ten miles long and about a mile wide - the 203 acre Booby Pond Nature Reserve has been officially recognised as a RAMSAR site and a wetland of significant international importance. There is a visitor’s centre at one end of the pond, with a raised observation deck to allow an unobstructed view of the habitat. You’ll usually see West Indian Whistling Ducks here, but the main attraction is the Red-Footed Booby Bird (Sula sula).
The Booby Pond is the Western Hemisphere’s largest nesting site for the species with over 5,000 pairs breeding here from November to May. They share the pond with numerous other birds including Herons, and magnificent Frigate Birds (Fregata magnificens). Situated within walking distance or a short bicycle ride from Blossom Village and most of the island’s hotels the reserve has a hide and fixed binoculars to allow visitors to watch the colony. Red-footed boobies are the smallest of the booby family, and they fly out to sea for long periods of time to catch fish for their young.
Returning to Little Cayman at the end of a day’s hunting they are mobbed by the larger frigate birds which often steal their catch. Other areas to explore for birding on Little Cayman are Tarpon Lake on the southern side, Jackson’s Pond on the north side and the Westerly Ponds at the other end of the island.
On neighbouring Cayman Brac, which is only separated from Little Cayman by a sea channel just over six miles wide, both Red-Footed and Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) birds may also be seen nesting on the Bluff, the island’s highest point – about 43 metres above the ocean. Other seabirds on the island include White Tailed Tropic Birds (Phaeton lepturus) and in summer, least terns (Sternula antillarum) with their distinctive black caps. Cayman Brac also has its own endemic parrot (Amazona leucocephala hesterna), a bright green bird with a white eye-ring and a patch of dark red on the tummy.
Although it’s a secretive species they can generally be heard, if not always seen, in groups at the 180 acre Brac Parrot Reserve. A number of trails and boardwalks cross the reserve making the rocky ironshore landscape more accessible to visitors. The Brac parrot is a separate species from the parrot found on Grand Cayman (Amazona leucocephala caymanensis), both of them distant relatives of the Cuban parrot. Both types of Cayman parrot are especially vulnerable to habitat loss, and on Grand Cayman the damage done by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 resulted in the loss of many of the birds. Grand Cayman’s parrots can be seen commonly at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. Winter (October – May) is the best time to look out for visiting birds in Cayman with some notable exotic visitors recorded including the Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers, Black-Whiskered Vireos, Vitelline Warblers, Indigo Buntings and Rose-Breasted Grosbeak.
In recent years populations of West Indian whistling ducks have increased in Cayman, an elegant bird with a long neck and legs. They breed here in the early summer, from May to June, and are one of the species known to benefit from the central mangrove wetlands on Grand Cayman, although they have also been assisted by supplementary feeding. Visitors to Cayman who are prepared to do a little walking and take a pair of binoculars with them will find that bird watching may give them a new perspective on these relatively small islands, which have their own unique and fascinating natural history.
Cayman Islands marine life