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Puerto Rican Avifauna

Naimul Islam University of Pennsylvania May 2016


Puerto Rico’s diverse climate, geology, and topography set the stage for development of various ecological communities ranging from coral reefs offshore to elfin cloud forests atop the highest volcanic peaks. In “Field Study of Puerto Rico’s Ecology”, we explored the unique natural areas of the island to better understand the connection between the abiotic and biotic factors characteristic of the wet, moist, and dry environments on different bedrock. Birds with their specific habitat requirements indicated changing conditions as we moved from the northeast corner of the island where we explored the sweep of land from El Yunque National Forest to the Northeast Ecological Corridor to the southwest corner where we moved along a transect from seagrass bed and fringing mangrove swamp to dry tropical forest in Guanica. Naimul’s love of birds animated our trip. His photos and those of fellow classmates reveal the beauty of Puerto Rico’s avifauna from the tiny hummingbird to the elusive yellow-shouldered blackbird to the ubiquitous bananaquit. Awareness and appreciation of these spectacular creatures is the first step towards their preservation. Thank you, Naimul! Sally Willig, PhD Lecturer and Academic Advisor School of Arts and Science University of Pennsylvania The birds of Puerto Rico are captivating with their vibrant, tropical colors and their songs beautifully entrancing. March must be the most wonderful month to visit Puerto Rico, because everywhere you turn, at every moment there is bird activity; singing, dancing, flitting, chattering, foraging, and gathering. There's a constant thrill of finding an endemic and amazement of the beauty of the other tropical species. From the top of El Yunque to the cliffs of Cabo Rojo there are birds that have adapted to all the conditions the island has to offer and yet there are other birds that have secured a niche in just one. Even when most birds call it a night and the frog chorus begins to erupt, one can here the comical screech owls or enjoy the wonderfully monotonous trill of the nightjar, never to be seen. Always a bird to find, and always a song to be heard, Puerto Rico is a beautiful place to be. -Allison Fetterman

All photographs used in this publication are belongs to Naimul Islam. Feel free to copy and use. For more information or higher quality image contact through– naimul@sas.upenn.edu


Puerto Rico – incubator of evolution

Puerto Rico with an area of 5,320 square miles with its length east to west is 110 miles and width from north to south is 40 miles, is the smallest island of the Greater Antilles. A team of 14 people from the class “Field Study of Puerto’s Ecology” had visited the beautiful island over the Spring break from March 06 to March 13, 2016. Puerto Rico has enough interesting and spectacular looking avifauna to attract nature lovers from all over the world. The island is home to 276 bird species (Raffaele 1989). Around 80 bird species were counted by Alison Fetterman and Caitlin Welsh during the 8 days long field trip, including 13 of Puerto Rican’s 16 endemic species. Out of 141 breeding bird species (Raffaele 1989), 16 species are Puerto Rican endemics, while another 15 are endemic to the Caribbean basin (AOU 1998). 120 bird species regularly nest on the main island. Large number of species are introduced (around 35) by man and occurs accidentally (also known as straggler species). The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, located in the Northeast Caribbean, supports a wide range of avifauna. The subtropical condition of the Island, geographical history and location has had a significant effect on species diversity. Tropical rainforest, rocky shorelines, sandy beaches, coastal mangrove patches, dry deciduous forest, wetlands (coastal and inland swamp), thorn scrub, farmlands and plantations (coffee, banana and sugarcane) are common habitats for avifauna. Island bird communities are particularly susceptible to catastrophic declines due to their small population sizes and the fact that the species are often narrowly adapted to the conditions of their limited range (Temple 1985). According to the Birdlife International, the endemic Yellowshouldered Blackbird has a population of 1250 individuals.

Taxonomy:

Avifauna species presented in this magazine followed the taxonomy and the common names proposed by American Ornithologist’s Union (AOU). Conservation status: habitat loss is the number one threat for not only birds but also for other wildlife. Infrastructural development, rapid urban expansion and extraction of natural resources are main threats for conservation. However, reintroduction and restoration efforts are helping reestablish habitat for critically endangered species like endemic Puerto Rican Parrot (Amazona vittata). Besides anthropogenic causes, increased number of natural disasters (e.g. tropical hurricane) are also threatening biodiversity and conservation efforts. Birdlife International recognizes that conversion of land (agricultural and forest land) for housing projects, construction of roads and forest fragmentation are major concerns as it promotes negative impacts from exotic species, spread of diseases, illegal hunting, filling of wetland and pollution amongst other effects. This pictorial magazine reflect our observation and experiences from the field trip. The map below shows the important ecological spots we have visited in Puerto Rico, from March 06 to March 13 in the year 2016.


The collection of photographed species includes following Order and Family of Puerto Rican avifauna Order: Suliformes; Family: Fregatidae, Sulidae Order: Pelecaniformes; Family: Pelecanidae, Ardeidae Order: Accipitriformes Family: Cathartidae, Pandionidae, Accipitridae Order: Gruiformes Family: Rallidae Order: Charadriiformes Family: Recurvirostridae , Haematopodisae, Charadridae, Scolopacidae, Laridae Order: Columbiformes; Family: Columbidae Order: Cuculiformes; Family: Cuculidae Order: Apodiformes; Family: Trochilidae Order: Coraciiformes; Family: Todidae Oder: Falconiformes; Family: Falconidae Order: Passeriformes; Family: Tyrannidae, Vireonidae, mimidae, Parulidae, Thaupidae, Emberizidae, Icteridae, Passeridae, Fringillidae

Sites visited:

Amazingly, it is possible to find great forest hike routes all over Puerto Rico, as we had uncovered many unfamiliar paths. We covered all three corners of the island and its ecologically important sites, from Luquillo to Isabela, Guanica to Cabo Rojo. El Yunque National Forest – the one and only rainforest under the US Fish and Wildlife Service Northest Ecological Corridor (NEC) and Laguna Grande – important nature reserve in the island Pterocarpus Swamp Forest – forest of native Bloodwood tree with buttressing roots Guanica State Forest/ dry forest – U.N Biosphere Reserve and world’s best managed dry forest Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge – where wildlife blend with history and of endangered Yellow shouldered Blackbird. Guajataca State Forest – the unique karst region in Puerto Rico with exceptional landscape and Tibes Indian Ceremonial Center. Photo: Great Egret on flight in NEC


Fregata magnificens (Magnificient Frigatebird)

New world champion bird; Large and unmistakable frigatebird; widespread; less pelagic than the other two (Greater Fregata minor, and Lesser Fregata ariel). Male breed in each year while female breed in every other year. Male has Gular sac, which it inflats to attract a mate. Indulge in Kleptoparasitism (parasitism by theft. Birds habitually rob or steal food from other animal for living). Frigatebirds even chase other birds for food and force them to disgorge their meals. Silent flier and never land on water. Common and local resident throughout the coastal areas.

Sula leucogaster (Brown Booby) Widespread breeder in the Caribbean. Feed on fish and squid; capable to seize prey from the surface. Like Frigatebirds, Booby has Kleptoparasitism behavior (habitually rob or steal food from other animal for living).

Pelecanus occidentalis (Brown Pelican) –

A spirited bird Polytypic 5 subspecies. Widespread in the western hemisphere; breed on island or remote coastal locations. Dive like kingfisher, bill-first. Occasional targets of Kleptoparasitism by other pelagic birds (e.g. frigatebirds).


Egretta caerulea (Little Blue Heron) – Loner bird

Widely Distributed heron. “Calico Heron” – (Calico Plumage) at 10-13 months of age, replace white plumage in the calico plumage. As it gets older, becomes loner. Habitat – mangrove, rocky stream, marshes and coastlines.

Cathartes aura (Turkey Vulture)

Widespread; has extraordinary sense of smell to locate food No voicebox, cant sing or call. Vocalization limited to hisses and grunts. It has the largest olfactory (smelling) system of all birds. Turkaey vultures can smell carrions which are about a day old. They prefer fresh meat. They have strong beak to tear off meat, whereas, feats are useless. Work hard to gain the flight and rarely needs to flap their wings

Pandion haliaetus (Osprey)

Polytypic 4 subspecies; paleheaded subspecies ridgwayi found in Puerto Rico. Widespread; cosmopolitan and highly migratory raptor. An excellent angler, successful hunter, has reversible toes like owl species. 99% diet includes fish, occasionally prey on other small birds, rodents and amphibians. Wide range of habitat, have to be near fish sources. Often nest on the readily useable man-made platform

Osprey - A cosmopolitan killer


Himantopus mexicanus - an elegant wader

Gallinula galeata Common Gallinule – A new world champion

Himantopus mexicanus (Black-necked Stilt ) Widespread; large shorebird with very long, thin re d legs. Wide variety of shallow wetlands including inland marshes , swamps, coastline and seasonally flooded wetlands. Tend to nes t near water, above the surface. Highly prote ctive and territorial during breeding season.

Habitat includes well-vegetated marshes, emergent vegetation where they can easily hide and/or forage. This secretive birds are able to walk on the lilypads. Despite of rapid habitat loss, moorhen population is thriving.

Haematopus palliatus (American Oystercatcher )

Large conspicuous shorebird. Specialized in feeding on marine invertebrates or bivalves (oysters, clams and mussels). Salt marshes, rocky coastlines, mudflats, dunes are common habitat. Commonly found in pairs.

Buteo jamaicensis (Red-tailed Hawk)

Polytypic, 14 recognized Subspecies. Caribbean subspecies are fairly pale. Sexually dimorphic. Feed on small mammals, small birds, reptiles and carrion. Wide range of habitats over wide range of altitude – scrublands, deserts, rainforest, woodlands and urban areas. Highly adaptive to adverse and rapid changing conditions. Unlike other hawks, pairs remain together for years. Highly territorial (depends on food availability); female are more aggressive around the nest, whereas, male shows aggressive behavior when breeds.


Charadrius semipalmatus (Semipalmated Plover)

‘Semipalmated’ refer to its we bbed fee t. Widespread ne otropical shore bird. Distributed all over North and South America. Common on beaches, lakeshores, tidal flats and near mangroves. Found in large, mixed g roup of shore birds. Feed on small insects, crustaceans and worms

Charadrius vociferous (Killdeer)

Tringa solitaria (Solitary Sandpiper) A beach bopper. Boreal and medium-sized shorebird; widespread species forage alone along the beaches, coastal marshes, mudflats, mangroves and forest edges. This boreal sandpiper lays its eggs in the nests of Robin, Blackbirds or Kingbirds

Killdee r: Distinguishable double-breasted band. Habitat includes meadows, gravelly substrate, coastal wetlands, grasslands and human-modified landscapes. Chicks are precocial – able to feed themselves shortly after birth. Feed on insects, fruits and crustaceans.

Arenaria interpres (Ruddy Turnstone)

Found almost all over the world. Wide-range of habitat – rocky beaches, mudflats, mangrove, coastlines, swamps and coastal wetlands. Feed on insects and crustaceans or gastropod mollusks. Able to flicks stones with its bill. Specialized in routing (manipulate piles of seaweeds through pecking or flicking to unearth preys), turning stones, digging, probing, hammer-probing and surface-pecking.


Tringa flavipes (Lesser Yellowlegs): Mixes with other common shorebirds, in small groups. Tamer than

its larger relative, typically confuse birdwatchers. Habitat includes salt flats, mud flats, mangrove, marshes and shore. Nest in open boreal forest, near open water. Common non-breeding resident in Puerto Rico.

Spotted Sandpiper

Actitis macularius (Spotte d Sandpiper): most widespread sandpiper and one of the climate threatened shorebirds (Audubon). Characterized as ‘Pionee ring species’, capable to colonize quickly and frequently in ne w sites. Due to chronic shortage of male species, female produce less than number of eggs than the ir physiological capacity. Female follows unique ‘Polyandry’ strategy, mates with up to four males. Often solitary sandpiper, mostly feed on insects and small fishes, commonly found along the bank of ponds, river and shore. Also called teete r-peer, teete r-snipe and jerk bird because of their teetering appearances.

Calidris himantopus – another climate threatened sandpiper. Medium-sized sandpiper prefer to live away from own kind but close to other shorebirds. Ground nester, feed mostly on seeds, insects and small fishes. Forage in mangrove, marshes and shorebanks.

Calidris minutilla (Least Sandpiper ) –

Calidris himantopus (Stilt Sandpiper)

widespread tiny bird, also known as peeps. Distinguishable by its yellowish-green legs. Often found in large flocks of hundreds. Tend to forage in small group at the upper edge of salt flats or mudflats and in drier side of the marshes. Feed on invertebrates. Both sexes are similar.


Thalasseus maximus (Royal Tern): A delightful Social shorebird. Flagship species

among the crested terns in the Western Hemisphere. Habitat includes coastal wetlands; found only near salt water bodies. Feed on small fishes in the open water along the coastal lagoon, mangrove and salt marshes. Able to catch fish on flight, steal food from other and sometimes feeds at night. Colonial nester; built by both sexes.

Columbina passerine (Common Ground-Dove): forms permanent pair-bonds (tend not to form a flocks). Most often hold permanent territory. One of the smallest doves; widespread habitat; Nest on the ground and feed on grasses and seeds.

Columba squamosal (Scaly-naped Pegion): Common and Widespread in PR. Arboreal bird frequently seen in the mountain rainforest (El Yunque National Forest) . Primary food source includes fruits, seeds and buds.

Geotrygon mystacea – Forest Ghost

Geotrygon mystacea (Bridled Quail-Dove): Beautiful, Shy, secretive and inconspicuous ground dwelling dove. Inhabit in dense mountain forests, woodland areas and lowlands. When forage, they walk through tree branches close to ground and feed on fruits, seeds and buds. population declining fast because of tropical storm and habitat loss (structural development). Extremely rare and local in Puerto Rico.


Zenaida asiatica (White-winged Dove)

Native, common resident and widespread; well adapte d to alte red environment and human presence across Pue rto Rico. Forage on ground and feeds on seeds, fruits , be rries and occasionally nectar. Habitat includes dry forest, s crublands, mangrove, urban and suburban garde ns and coastal areas. Nest in colonies.

Zenaida aurita (Zenaida Dove)

Medium sized brown dove. Common resident. Habitat includes mangrove, woodland and coastal areas. Feeds on seeds and fruits. Forage on both trees and ground.

Seiurus noveboracensis (Northern Waterthrush)

Common non-breeding resident. Terrestrial teetering warbler species. Winters in Puerto Rico, particularly rainfores t and mangrove. Feeds on insects and crustaceans from leaf litter.

Tiaris bicolor (Black-faced Grassquit)

Common in scrubland, brushy fields and coastal areas. Conical black bill adapted to feed on seeds and fruits.

Euphonia musica (Antillean Euphonia)

Puerto Rican sub-speciez has bright yellow rump and underparts. Locally common, forage on trees and small bushes in dry scrub forests and coffee plantation. Travel and colonize in small groups.


Butorides virescens (Green Heron)

Small and stocky, common wetland heron. Adults are colorful and perches on waterside overhang to catch fish and amphibians with their spear-like bill. Often use bait to attract prey. Stand motionless and noiseless on prop roots and along the edge of ponds, river and marshes. Habitat includes coastal mangrove forests, wetlands and pterocarpus swamp forests. Nest close to wet areas.


Coccyzus vieilloti (Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo): Endemic to Puerto Rican species. Feed on different lizards found in bushes and lowland forests. Inhabit in medium-sized trees and shrubs including mangrove species. Common habitat range cover coastal mangrove patches to the mountainous forests in the Guanica dry forest and Guajataca State Forest, coffee plantation and other parts of the island. Also found in the coffee plantations. Slowly forage into the understory and feed on different lizards species, insects and spiders. Unlike other avifauna, cuckoos fly in a direct line.

Coccyzus minor (Mangrove Cuckoo):

Silent and Widespread; sometimes difficult to detect in bushes. not restricted to the mangroves but to other forest and lowlands along the tropics. Common resident in Puerto Rico. Forage in the trees, shrubs and small bushes; sometimes found in the rocky coastal bushes in pairs. Usually nest 2-3 meter above water in a mangrove tree or in a fork of a local tree. Diet similar to other Coccyzus species. Both sexes are similar. A group of cuckoos are collectively known as “Cooch”.

Crotophaga ani (Smoothbilled Ani) – A social lowlands

bird. Widespread and common resident in Puerto Rico. Distinctive bill, adapted to feed on invertebrates, fruit and insects. Forage through the middle tier and sometimes bush canopy and walk on the ground to search for prey. Feeds on arthropods, lizards and frog. Many female group member lays egg together in the same nest, as many as 36 eggs may be found in a single nest


Falco sparverius (American Kestrel)

Agelaius xanthomus (Yellow-shouldered Blackbird

Widespread and common; smallest falcon. Prey on small rodents , birds, insects and invertebrates. Cavity nester.

Vireo altiloquus (Black-whiskered Vireo)

Endangered species; endemic to Puerto Rico. Conspicuous songbird, inhabits in coastal dry forests, mangrove and adjacent pastures. Brood parasitism caused significant damage along with anthropogenic disturbances. Since 1976, various conservation efforts improving its population. Feeds mainly on insects. Sedentary. Often mobs against predator in a group. Black-whiskered Vireo: Common breeding resident in Puerto Rico. Widespread in west-indies. Mostly found in tropical and sub0tropical forests and coastal forests. Compete with warblers for food, feeds on fruits and insects. Nests in the fork of tree branches. Forage in higher canopy.

Vireo latimeri (Puerto Rican Vireo)

Endemic to Puerto Rico. Distinctive grey head and twotoned yellowish belly. Common throughout the main island, mainly in forestlands. Forage into the midstory vegetation for insects. Locally known as bien-te-veo.


Anthracothorax dominicus (Antillean Mango)

Common and widespread tropical and subtropical forest resident. Endemic to the West Indies. This large and solitary hummingbirds mostly feed on nectar taken from flowers. Also feeds on insects. Female built the cup-like nest on small plants.

Nesospingus speculiferus (Puerto Rican Tanager) Puerto Rican Tanager – specialized in anting. Endemic to Puerto Rico. Common resident in mountain forest such as El Yunque Rainforest. Master of controlling insects population. Besides insects, diet includes fruits and small amphibians. Adapted to higher elevations and dense vegetation. Mostly chattering and engaged foraging in small groups. Population expanding to other suitable locations, particularly where there are palm and bamboo plant species are available.

Dendroica adelaidae (Adelaide’s Warbler) Adelaide’s Warbler is one of the endemic species to the archipelago of Puerto Rico. Also known as ‘butterfly-eating warbler’. Yellowish breast, grey upperpart, yellow lines over both eyes and white ‘half-moon’ crescent below the eye are special identification features. Non-migratory common resident in dry forests such as Guanica State Forest, limestone forests and thickets. Very distinctive call hearable all day long in the medium and small sized trees and shrubs. Feeds on insects (typically prefers caterpillars). Found them in pairs along with Puerto Rican todies.


Icterus icterus (Venezuelan Troupial) Large oriole, common in southwest Puerto Rico. Found in dry forest, scrubland and coastal areas. Unmistakable bright orange underpart and black head and tail. Feeds on insects, fruits and nectar. This Venezuelan national bird was successfully introduced in Puerto Rico.

Tyrannus dominicensis (Gray Kingbird) “I just think that they (birds) appear gentle, modest and alerted. And, one general thing I always wonder about birds is that their little bodies could make such deep-lunged and sonorous voice, and that the night in Puerto Rico was louder/lively than the daytime because of their presence and other insects’ calls” - Xin Wang Mimus polyglottos (Northern Mockingbird)

Nifty Singer

Distributed almost all over North America and Puerto Rico. Highly adaptive to disturbed and altered environment. Prefers open and sparse grassland and forages in small bushes and plantation areas for earthworms, lizards, seeds, fruits and berries (omnivorous).


Coereba flaveola (Bananaquit) Bananaquits are brilliant, bold and busy bird. Common resident in the island. Found all over Puerto Rico, in almost all types of habitats. Forage in rainforest, dry forest, swamp forest and plantations in a small group. Feeds on insects and nectar.

Todus mexicanus (Puerto Rican Tody) An adorable bird. The most magnificent and enthralling endemic bird species of our trip. This tiny bird has the most spectacular combination of classic elegance green, red and white colors. Widespread, common resident throughout Puerto Rico .

“One thing I noticed about the Puerto Rican Tody was its ability to adapt to various climates. We observed them in the wet conditions of the rainforest and saw evidence of them burrowing into the thick clay ridges to build nests. W e also saw them in the dry conditions of the Guanica Dry Forest, wher e they burrow into the dry, limestone cliffs. Adaptation equals success!” – Joe Durrance


A flock of serious bird watchers at Sabana field station, Puerto Rico.


References • American Ornithologist’s Union. 1998. Check-list of North American Birds. 7th edition. Washington, DC: American Ornithologist’s Union. • Temple, S. A. 1985. Why endemic island birds are so vulnerable to extinction. In: S. A. Temple, editor. Bird Conservation 2. International Council on Bird Preservation, U.S. Section. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press; 3-6. • Raffaele, H. A. 1989. A guide to the birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. • Information retrieved from following online sources (as of May 2016) – • http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/home • http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species /tree • http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species /overview?p_p_spp=107676 • https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/royaltern • https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Ruddy_Turns tone/id

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