Birds with their songs and colors make Cuba beautiful
BY NEISA MESA DEL TORO, PHOTOS: KAREN AGUILAR MUGICA, JULIO LARRAMENDI AND ASLAM I. CASTELLÓN MAURE
Wild birds, one of the main natural treasures of land and marine ecosystems, enrich the environment with their songs and colors. A great variety of them inhabit savannas and forests in the province of Ciego de Ávila, located more than 420 kilometers east of Havana.
Approximately 200 species gather there, including most of the endemic and migratory species during their winter residence.
The freshwater and swamp ecosystems are also the habitat of feathered birds and, according to studies carried out in these fragile places, about 160 species of bird have been reported.
Meanwhile, a significant proportion reside in coastal areas , particularly mangrove swamps, areas that offer shelter and food to these species, especially those that arrive in the Cuban archipelago to live during the winter or use it as a transit point in their migrations. The northern keys of the central province of Ciego de Ávila are an ideal place for the life of many varieties of birds, because they are places with all the conditions for feeding and reproduction.
This group, called Jardines del Rey (King’s Gardens), is the largest of the four archipelagos that surround Cuba and stands out for the diversity of its flora and fauna, the beauty of its landscapes and seascapes, as well as the conservation of its coastal ecosystems.
Covered by forests, containing mainly small trees and mangrove, and with more than 40 kilometers of beaches, the Coco, Guillermo, Paredón Grande, Antón Chico and Media Luna keys are part of the Buenavista Biosphere Reserve.
Bathed by the waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, the islets are home to more than 200 species of birds of 14 genera, including migratory, terrestrial and endemic, so they represent a great potential for nature tourism in the area.
The keys provide permanent or temporary shelter for birdlife, both for species native to the Cuban territory and for others that come from distant lands in search of a warm climate.
Some 230 varieties of feathered birds have been inventoried in that environment, more than 60 percent of those registered on the island and a significant number of migratory birds, due to the existence of an important international corridor in the area.
Thanks to its position in the Gulf of Mexico, such natural landscapes are considered a vital point for the winter residence of nomadic birds, not only for permanent stays at that time, but also for those who prefer to make a brief stay and then continue on their way to the south of the continent.
However, there are other traveling birds that formed permanent communities in Cayo Paredón Grande, when they found conditions for reproduction and feeding, such as the Piping Plover and the Thick-billed Vireo, both threatened species due to the restriction of their habitat in their places of origin.
According to biologist Antonio García, this is the only place in Cuba where these two species of Caribbean birds exist, while to the north of the Coco, Guillermo and Paredón Grande keys is the nesting site of the most important gulls in the Caribbean, especially of the Herring Gull and the Sooty Tern.
Cayo Coco, one of the sites with the highest diversity of birds, stands out for having a large colony of pink flamingos, a bird that was described by writer Ernest Hemingway as “ugly in detail and at the same time persistently beautiful.”
The West Indian Whistling-Duck, a highly threatened endemic Caribbean bird and considered an important target from a conservation point of view, also has its habitat in that island, where some of the island’s native jewels coexist as the Zapata sparrow, the Cuban tody, the mockingbird, the green woodpecker, the Oriente warbler, the Bahama mockingbird and the Cuban black hawk, among others.
Living within the Great Northern Wetland of Ciego de Ávila are populations of White Ibis, whose abundance give a name to the islet; the Cuban bullfinch, the Greater Antillean grackle, the Cuban emerald and many more.
However, the West Indian, Cuban green and Northern Flicker woodpeckers have only 16 specimens of royal palm (Cuba’s national tree) to make their nests, holes that also serve as dens for 12 other types of feathered birds, including the Pygmy and Stygian owls.
In that environment, there is also a large number of cormorant, a bird that lives in the Bahía de Perros, an area that was used for the construction of the causeway (road over the sea) that connects the key with the mainland.
Currently, specialists from the Cayo Coco Coastal Ecosystems Research Center (CIEC) are focusing their studies on the Thick-billed Vireo, the Zapata sparrow and the Bahama mockingbird because they are very likely to disappear if their natural habitat is not preserved.
Within this setting is the Jardines del Rey tourist destination, one of the most important sun and beach destinations in the country, with 25 hotels containing 9,700 rooms and a wide network of recreational facilities. This is one of the reasons for preserving biodiversity in the region through monitoring and implementing management plans, with a view to observing the reaction of birds to tourist constructions.
Every year, thousands of visitors from all over the world come to the Cuban resort, who find bird watching a special way to spend a few hours in a natural environment, in the open air, among birdsong and colorful plumage.