The Puerto Rico (PR) archipelago, also known as the Spanish Virgin Islands, is the easternmost of the group of large Caribbean islands known as the Greater Antilles. The archipelago consists of three inhabited islands: the Puerto Rico mainland, Vieques and Culebra; the uninhabited islands Mona and Desecheo; and numerous smaller isletas and cayos. The remaining Caribbean islands lying east of the Puerto Rico archipelago, and curving southward toward Venezuela, form the Lesser Antilles and divide the Caribbean Sea from the North Atlantic Ocean.
Puerto Rico spans an area of about 5,320 square miles, 3,420 square miles of which are land and the remainder water. The main island is bounded on the north by the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea bounds the rest of the land masses. A spine of mountains, the Cordillera Central, divides the main island into a northern, wetter region and a southern, drier region, due to a rain-shadow effect. Also, the coastal areas are notably drier with smaller temperature extremes than are the interior mountainous regions. Coupled with the trade winds blowing from NE to SW the geomorphology and tropical location combine to produce an area with a diversity of habitats.
High numbers of endemic species coupled with low taxonomic diversity is typical of island archipelago faunas, and Puerto Rico is no exception. A prime example is the mammalian fauna, with only one extant native terrestrial group, the bats. Bats in Puerto Rico belong to five families and include 13 species: seven insectivores, four frugivores, one nectarivore and one piscivore. All other land mammals have been introduced by humans, as have many species of birds and fish, due primarily to the pet trade (escapes) and mild climate (survivors).
Puerto Rico has 349 species of birds, approximately 120 of which are resident breeders. There are 18 endemic species, many accidentals, and 42 known introductions. According to the IUCN Red Data List, 14 of the endemic bird species are classified as LC, species of Least Concern. The remaining four are classified as Critically Endangered (Puerto Rican Parrot), Endangered (Yellow-shouldered Blackbird; Puerto Rican Nightjar) and Vulnerable (Elfin-woods Warbler). Contributor: Carol Skinner.
Island archipelago fauna is typified by high numbers of endemic species and low taxonomic diversity, and Puerto Rico is no exception. A prime example is the mammalian fauna, with only one extant native terrestrial group, the bats. Bats in Puerto Rico belong to five families and include 13 species: seven insectivores, four frugivores, one nectarivore and one piscivore. All other land mammals have been introduced by humans, as have many species of birds and fish, due primarily to the pet trade (escapes) and mild climate (survivors).
Maricao State Forest
In the mountains of western Puerto Rico is a small coffee trading center called Maricao. Nearby is one of the richer sites to bird, the Maricao State Forest. The area is cool and lush, with abundant rainfall, high tree species diversity, serpentine soils (look for the blue-green volcanic rock) and at least 44 bird species, including 13 endemics:
Additionally, you might see the Puerto Rican subspecies of Sharp-shinned Hawk, listed on the Federal Endangered Species List, as well as the striking Loggerhead Kingbird, and the colorful, musical Antillean Euphonia.
If you visit in late Febuary you can take in the Maricao Festival del Café, marking the end of the coffee harvest. Live music, dancing, artisan booths and really GREAT coffee. Be sure to take some home!
Bosque Seco UNESCO Biosphere Preserve
Dry southwest Puerto Rico offers a variety of coastal, forest, and wetland habitats. One of the best places to visit is outside Guánica, in the Bosque Seco (Dry Forest). Species found here include several endemics, such as:
You might also see the non-endemic Caribbean Elaenia, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Venezuelan Troupial, Mangrove Cuckoo, and the most numerous bird on the island, Bananaquit.
Check the wetlands and the beaches for
La Parguera, the southwest coast, wetlands and mangroves
This tiny fishing village is the easiest place to find the Endangered Yellow-shouldered Blackbird. Just follow the coastal road beside the mangroves, and look in puddles, or in the trees along the road edge. Buy a Medalla at Sammy’s Puerto Viejo convenience store and wander to the edge of the porch and around the sides of the building looking in the trees for them. You will hear them first!
At dusk and/or dawn in this area you may also hear the “que-re-que-qué” of the Antillean Nighthawk. This bird winters in South America but returns north to breed around mid-April. They raise their young here in the “north” before returning to their southern homes for the winter.
Other species to look for along the wetlands and mangrove edges are:
A drive around the open areas of Lajas and Cabo Rojo, and the Cartagena Lagoon, part of the Caribbean Islands National Wildlife Refuge System, may reward you with some interesting established exotics such as:
Cabo Rojo Salt Flats (Caribbean Islands National Wildlife Refuge System)
The salt flats were added to the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge in 1999, conserving and protecting the single most important stopover for migrants and shorebirds in the Eastern Caribbean.
The Cabo Rojo Salt Flats are considered unique and irreplaceable. The coastline, mangroves, seagrass beds, and offshore coral reefs next to the area, are prime fish habitat, and are considered special aquatic sites.
The salt flats are positioned in the Atlantic flyway and are a vital nesting ground and feeding area for the Snowy Plover, Least Tern, Wilson's Plover, Peregrine Falcon, Yellow-shouldered Blackbird, Brown Pelican, and several species of sea turtles. Indeed, no fewer than 118 bird species have been recorded for the area.
When you are finished scouting the shorebirds along the salt flats hike to El Faro, the lighthouse, and the adjacent cliffs. Look for
Wrap up your day in the stunning southwest by enjoying a refreshing beverage at the Bahia Salinas resort while enjoying another spectacular sunset in the Isla de Encanta.
Tropical birding can be challenging because of all the vegetation masking the often tiny, moving targets. We recommend a guide when birding in Maricao and El Yunque, where the forest is often closed. Guides know where and when to find the targets and are usually worth the money. You may wish to contact one or both of the following: