Web guide to endemic and near-endemic birds of Cuba
Discover Cuba’s endemic and rare birds
On this site you’ll learn about 27 birds that are endemic to Cuba and exist nowhere else. We profile another 14 near-endemic species, two of which are candidates for endemic status thanks to advances in genetics and new evolutionary insights.
Cuban bird basics by island naturalists and ornithologists
Cuba is the largest, and most bird-diverse, island in the West Indies. Cuba is a designated World Biodiversity Hotspot due to its richness of unique species, which are also endangered. Many Cuban animal and plant species have evolved in isolation and over time become distinct or endemic. They are not found anywhere else on Earth.
Cuba’s geographical position between two continents makes it an ideal pitstop for transitory birds. The Cuban archipelago is home to 397 bird species, representing 62% of the total bird species found in the Caribbean islands. Seventy percent of Cuban bird species are migratory. Of these, 90 species make food and rest stops, while 142 species are winter residents.
Shrinking habitat, trapping, and other factors have resulted in 30 Cuban bird species to be listed as vulerable to critically endangered. Cuban conservationists work for greater protections to ensure bird survival. This exclusive inventory featuring the 41 endemic and near-endemic island birds was prepared with help from Cuban naturalists and ornithologists Xochitl Ayón Güemes and Edwin Ruiz Rojas.
Click common name to learn more about each Cuban bird
Endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Sijú Cotunto. The Bare-Legged Owl, also known as the Cuban Screech Owl, is a species of the Strigidae family. It is the only species in the endemic genus Margarobyas. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, and heavily degraded former forest. It is nocturnal, and nests in holes abandoned by woodpeckers, natural apertures in trees and palms, and cavities in the rocks. Its Cuban common name Sijú is the Taíno aboriginal word for owls.
Endemic. Status Near threatened. Local name Zunzuncito. The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world – only 1.2 inches from the bill to the tail. It weighs less than a dime. Male and females are quite distinct from each other. They are not easy to spot. Its wings beat 80 times per second, and up to 200 times per second during courtship displays. Its heart rate is the second-fastest of all animals. Its body temperature is 104°F, the highest of all birds. Zunzuncitos migrate locally based on availability of flowers. Learn more about the delightful Bee Hummingbird.
Endemic. Status Endangered. Local name Paloma Perdiz. The Blue-Headed Quail-Dove is a species of bird in the Columbidae family. Starnoenas is an endemic genus of Cuba. The species has fragmented distribution throughout the best conserved vegetation areas of Cuba. Its natural habitats are wet semideciduous and evergreen forests of low and medium altitudes. It is common in some areas like in Guanahacabibes and Zapata Peninsula.
Endemic. Status Endangered. Local name Gavilán Batista. The Cuban Black Hawk, also known as a Cuban Crab Hawk, is now recognized as endemic to Cuba based on differences in size, coloration patterns, and vocalizations from the North American species Common Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus). It resides along the coasts of Cuba and adjacent islets, but is absent in the eastern provinces. It prefers marshes, coastal forests, swamps, and beaches.
Endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Totí. The Cuban Blackbird is a species of the Icteridae family. Formerly placed in the genus Dives, new genetic data indicates Ptiloxena atroviolacea is sister to the Euphagus-Quiscalus clade rather than to Dives. It is a common bird in Cuban forests, cultivated fields, and city gardens. It is not present on Isla de la Juventud, nor on the bigger islets surrounding Cuba. It appears in small flocks, often traveling with the Greater Antillean Grackle (Quiscalus niger).
Endemic. Status Near threatened. Local name Negrito. The Cuban Bullfinch was recently declared an endemic species by International Union for Conservation of Nature and BirdLife International. It was formerly regarded as conspecific with P. taylori, the form that lives in the Cayman Islands. This species near threatened, its decline due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and capture for the caged-bird trade. Recent studies have shown it to be part of the tanager family (Thraupidae).
Near-endemic. Status Near threatened. Local name Negrito. The Cuban Bullfinch was recently declared an endemic species by International Union for Conservation of Nature and BirdLife International. It was formerly regarded as conspecific with P. taylori, the form that lives in the Cayman Islands. This species near threatened, its decline due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and capture for the caged-bird trade. Recent studies have shown it to be part of the tanager family (Thraupidae).
Near-endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Zunzún. The Cuban Emerald hummingbird lives in Cuba and the Bahamas. It resides in a variety of habitats, from forests to gardens. It feeds on nectar and insects. The male has a short bill with a black upper mandible and a red lower mandible with a black tip. Its upper body is dark green and under body shiny green with a hint of metallic blue. The undertail coverts are white, and the tail is deeply forked. The female is similar, but the underparts are brownish-grey with green flanks, and the tail is slightly less forked. Both sexes have a whitish spot behind the eye.
Potential endemic awaiting species reclassification. Status Not threatened. Local name Carpintero Escapulario. The Cuban Flicker is treated as a subspecies of the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). In the West Indies, there are two subspecies: Colaptes auratus chrysocaulosus for Cuba and C. a. gundlachi for Grand Cayman. The Cuban form is a common permanent resident on the main island and the larger islets of Archipielago Sabana-Camagüey north of Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey, and Cayo Saetía to the north of Holguín province. The Cuban subspecies is smaller than the continental form and has a larger black breast patch as well as more elongate spots below. The malar stripe, or “mustache,” is the only markedly dimorphic trait distinguishing the sexes.
Endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Sinsontillo. The Cuban Gnatcatcher is a species in the Polioptilidae family. It is a regional endemic, and its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical dry shrubland on the north coast of Ciego de Avila and Camaguey and the south coast from Cienfuegos to Maisí. It feeds on insects and nests from March to June. In spite of the small size, it has a high and melodious song that is more evident in the breeding season.
Endemic. Status Least concern. Local name Tomeguín del Pinar, and Pechilinga. The Cuban Grassquit is a small species of finch. It is present across Cuba, but absent on Isla de la Juventud. It inhabits in semi-arid areas, forests edges, and pine groves. They frequent rural areas and bushy savannas. The island population is not quantified, but this species is uncommon, and its population in decline. It is a popular caged bird in rural areas.
Endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Carpintero Verde. The Cuban Green Woodpecker is a species in the Picidae family. It is monotypical within the genus Xiphidiopicus. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, and heavily degraded former forest. Its superior parts are mostly green, its most distinguishable character in the field.
Cuban Kite Chondrohierax wilsonii
Photo source unknown. Few photos of the rare Cuban Kite exist.
Endemic. Status Critically endangered. Local name Gavilán Caguarero. The Cuban name “Caguarero” comes from a native Caribe word for snail. The Cuban Kite is a bird of prey in the raptor family Accipitridae. It is related to the Hook-billed Kite (Chondrohierax uncinatus) of Central and South America and was considered a subspecies (Chondrohierax uncinatus wilsonii). Many aspects of the ecology of this species remain unknown. It inhabits low altitude evergreen and rain forests. It feeds on mollusks and fruits. It’s habitat is limited to 1,583 square miles in Holguín and Guantánamo provinces. Its range within this area is fragmented, and the population size is declining. Only a few individuals have been observed in recent decades. It is the rarest of the Cuban raptors. Its population is estimated between 50 and 249 individuals.
Endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Guabairo Cubano. The Cuban Nightjar is a species in the Caprimulgidae family. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical moist montane forests. The species was believed to be conspecific with Hispaniola’s Caprimulgus ekmani, but in now considered endemic. Before the split, it was named Greater Antillean Nightjar, found on the island of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti).
Endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Solibio. The Cuban Oriole was reclassified and separated from the species of Hispaniola (Icterus dominicensis), Bahamas (Icterus northropi), and Puerto Rico (Icterus portoricensis) in 2010. It is a black bird with yellow patches in the shoulders, rump and under covers. It is common in Cuba’s secondary forests and rural areas.
Near-Endemic. Status Endangered. Local name Cao Pinalero. The Cuba Palm Crow was considered as Corvus minutus but is now treated as the same species dwelling in Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti). They are distinguished by the names Hispaniolan Palm Crow and Cuban Palm Crow. The Cuban subspecies, C. p. minutus is slightly smaller and duller than the Hispaniolan form, but their vocalizations are similar. Compared to Cuban Crow (Corvus nasicus), the Palm Crow’s vocals are more typically corvine. The Cuban subspecies is now very rare and confined to just a few unconnected areas on the main island. Its habitat is mainly mountain pine forests.
Endemic. Status Endangered. Local name Catey. The Cuban Parakeet is a species of parrot in the Psittacidae family. It is commonly known as Catey, a Taíno word. Tainos also called it xaxabi. Parakeet is the diminutive of the Taíno word paraca, their word for the Cuban Parrot (Amazona leucocephala). In the 1800s, the Cuban Parakeet was abundant across main island and its islets. Today its distribution is limited to isolated patches. Their most western locality is the Zapata Swamp in Matanzas province. Its populations in the central and east regions are isolated and consist of very few individuals, in most cases, less than 40. During the nonbreeding season, the parakeet can move up to 19 miles a day between feeding and resting areas. It is a popular caged bird in Cuba, a major reason for its decline.
Near-endemic. Status Vulnerable. Local name Cotorra, and Loro. The Cuban Parrot resides in Cuba, Bahamas and Cayman Islands. Currently, there are four recognized subspecies: A.l. leucocephala, A.l.r bahamensis, A l. hesterna, and A. l. caymanensis. The Cuban subspecies lives throughout the main island. It was abundant, but today the populations are much reduced in number because of capture for the caged bird trade.
Near-endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Bobito Chico. The Cuban Pewee is a species in the Tyrannidae family. It is found in Cuba and the northern Bahamas. Four subspecies are recognized: one for the Bahamas (C. c. bahamensis) and three for Cuba (C. c. caribaeus, C. c. morenoi, and C. c. nerlyi). The form found in Cuba and the northern Bahamas is also known as the Crescent-eyed Pewee. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, moist lowland forests, subtropical or tropical montane forests, and heavily degraded former forests.
Endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Sijú Platanero. The Cuban Pygmy Owl is a species of owl in the Strigidae family. It is the smallest among the Antillean owls. The mature owl is about the size of a robin. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, subtropical or tropical moist montane forests, and heavily degraded former forest. During courtship, the male lifts his tail until almost touching his back and moves it left to right without moving his body. This species has diurnal and nocturnal habits. It is difficult to see, although it can be heard. It often allows people to approach. Learn more about the petite Cuban Pygmy Owl here.
Endemic. Status Vulnerable. Local name Ruiseñor. The Cuban Solitaire is a species in the Turdidae family. It is common in mountainous areas of the east and west part of the country and shows a preference for well-conserved rain forests. It also dwells in semideciduous and evergreen forests, pine groves, and in the vegetation of mogotes.
Endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Cartacuba. The Cuban Tody belongs to Order Coraciformes, the same as the Kingfisher, and the family Todidae, which is endemic of the Caribbean. The Cuban Tody is the most colorful of all. It can only fly short distances on its short rounded wings. They congregate in pairs and mate in the spring. When nesting, they dig an inch diameter tunnel ending with a larger chamber in clay embankments. They coat their dwellings in a thick glue-like substance mixed with grass, lichen, algae, small feathers, and other materials to serve as a sealant.
Endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Tocororo. The Cuban Trogon is the island’s national bird, its coloring reflecting the red, blue, and white of the Republic’s flag. It is found in forests, especially near streams. It has a shiny iridescent green back, a violet-blue crown, and nape. Its throat and breast are white, and stomach red. Its wings are marked with green, black, and white stripes. The bill is reddish with a darker upper mandible. It has piercing red irises. Its flared black and white tail is unique among trogons. It has no evident sexual dimorphism – differences between males and females. The Cuban name Tocororo is onomatopoeic from its song. It feeds by hovering. Its diet consists mainly of nectar, fruits, berries, and insects. Learn more about the colorful Cuban Trogon here.
Endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Juanchiví. The Cuban Vireo is a species in the Vireonidae family and is reasonably common in forest and woodland. Upperparts are dark olive-grey while underparts are pale yellow. There is a large creamy white crescent behind the pale brown eye. It shows one or two faint wing-bars. It is difficult to detect in the field due to camouflage its plumage provides, but its song helps locate it.
Potential endemic, awaiting species reclassification. Status Not threatened. Local name Sabanero. The Eastern Meadowlark requires closer study, especially in light of the imminent splits among the Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) in North America. The Cuban subspecies (S. m. hippocrepis) is smaller and it underbelly more streaked. Cuba has the only population of Eastern Meadowlark in the Caribbean, and it is a resident, nonmigratory subspecies. Its song is unlike any Eastern Meadowlark beyond Cuba.
Endemic. Status Vulnerable. Local name Carpintero Churroso. Fernandina’s Flicker is a species of the woodpecker family Picidae. It is the oldest lineage in the group. It has isolated distribution in savannas with palms, swampy areas, and open forests. The population size is unknown. Its habitat is fragmented, 50% of which has been lost in 40 years. Its small population makes it one of the most endangered species of woodpeckers in the world after the possibly-extinct Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. Fernandina’s Flicker ranges in length from 14 to 15 inches. It is mostly yellowish-tan, covered with varying amounts of black barring. Its underwings are yellow. The male has a black mustache-like stripe, which the female lacks.
Near-endemic. Status Endangered. Local name Pitirre Real. The Giant Kingbird is a species in the Tyrannidae family. This species is considered endangered because of its limited distribution to specific regions of Cuba and its low numbers. It lives in savannas with Kapok trees (Ceiba pentandra), ecotones between forests, savannas, high forests near to rivers, and pine groves. It is threatened because of habitat loss.
Endemic. Status Vulnerable. Local name Camao. The Grey-Fronted Quail-Dove is a species in the Columbidae family. The Cuban name comes from the Taíno word for this bird “camao.” Its habitat is fragmented and limited to diminishing forested areas. Its population is not abundant and threatened. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, swamps, subtropical or tropical moist montane forests, and plantations.
Near-endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Arriero. The Great Lizard Cuckoo is distributed across a variety of forested and wooded areas in Cuba and the Bahamas. It is large at 20 inches from beak to tail. It’s olive-brown upper plumage and light grey breast transitions to buff and rufous on the belly. The tail is very long and patterned black and white. The bare eye-ring is orange to red in the adults, and the bill is long blue-grey, and curved downward. There are three subspecies in Cuba: C. m. merlini, C. m. decolor from Isla de la Juventud, and C. m santamariae form the islets of the central north coast. They feed on lizards, insects, frogs, snakes, other bird’s eggs and nestlings.
Endemic. Status Endangered. Local name Gavilán Colilargo. The Gundlach’s Hawk is a bird of prey in the Accipitridae family. The common name and Latin binomial commemorate the German-Cuban ornithologist Johannes Christoph Gundlach (1810–1896). The species is threatened by habitat loss and human persecution. It is similar to Coopers Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), although bigger. The species has national distribution, but the size of its diminished population is unknown. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests and subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests. The habitat is fragmented and continues to diminish. Around 46% of the area of its current habitat lies with a Cuban system of protected areas.
Near-endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Bobito Grande. La Sagra’s Flycatcher is a passerine in the flycatcher family Tyrannidae. It breeds in Cuba, the Bahamas and Grand Cayman in the West Indies. It is usually a year-round resident. However, it has been known to end up in southern Florida as a vagrant. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, mangrove forests, subtropical or tropical moist montane forests, and heavily degraded former forests. They build nests in tree cavities or human-made holes. Their clutch consists of two to four eggs. La Sagra’s Flycatcher is distinct from other confusingly similar Myiarchus species. It has a high pitched single call or double noted wink.
Near-endemic. Status Vulnerable. Local name Bijirita del Pinar. The Olive-Capped Warbler is a species in the Parulidae family. It is found in Cuba and Great Bahama and Abacus. In Cuba, its distribution is limited to discrete areas of the western and eastern ends of the island. Its western habitat is in Pinus caribaea forests, and in the east to Pinus cubensis forests. Its population size is small and unknown, and its habitat fragmented.
Endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Pechero. The Oriente Warbler belongs to an endemic family of Cuba Teretistridae. It is common but restricted to the central and eastern parts of Cuba. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, subtropical or tropical moist montane forests, and subtropical or tropical dry shrubland.
Endemic. Status Vulnerable. Local name Mayito de Ciénaga. The Red-Shouldered Blackbird of Cuba is a species in the Icteridae family, but distinct from continental forms in the number of important morphological and behavioral traits, thus a separate species. It is a regional endemic with limited distribution and low populations limited to Guanahacabibes and Isla de la Juventud. In Matanzas province it very fragile ecosystem consists of natural wetlands threatened by the drought and the intensive use of water. The population’s size is small, and field observations are rare.
Near-endemic. Status Vulnerable. Local name Vireo de las Bahamas. The Thick-Billed Vireo is a small songbird. This species is distributed across the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Turtle, and Providence Island. In Cuba, it is an endemic subspecies restricted to coastal xeromorphic shrubland, Avicennia forests, and secondary vegetation of Cayo Paredon Grande on the north coast of Ciego de Avila. It has a local distribution in Cuba, consisting of only 38 square miles. It is sometimes spotted as a vagrant in southern Florida. This vireo frequents bushes and shrubs in tropical thickets. The grass-lined nest is a neat cup shape, attached to a fork in a tree or bush branch, usually with two to three dark-spotted white eggs. Both the male and female – similar in coloring – incubate the eggs. Its diet consists almost exclusively of insects.
Near-endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Carpintero Jabado. The West Indian Woodpecker is distributed in Cuba, the Bahamas, and Grand Cayman. It lives in forests, palm groves, and mangroves. Both sexes have red nasal tufts, but the male has a red crown and nape while the female only has red on the nape. It nests in holes it drills in dead trees, and live or dead palms. Its abandoned nest holes are used by other species such as Bared-Legged Owl, Cuban Pygmy Owl, Cuban Parrot, and Cuban Parakeet. It feeds on insects, larvae, lizards, and frogs as well as fruit. Given its role in dispersing seeds and providing nest holes for other species, it is fortunately quite common in Cuba. The Cuban version of the West Indian Woodpecker may someday be given endemic status.
Near-endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Cabrero. The Western Spindalis is a species in the Thraupidae family. It is found across much of the Caribbean. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, wet mountains, and heavily degraded former forest.
Endemic. Status Not threatened. Local name Chillina. The Yellow-Headed Warbler and Oriente Warbler were classified in the Parulidae family. Nowadays, researchers consider these birds as an exciting example of Cuban Warbler evolution. Ornithologists have determined both species belong to an endemic family of Cuba Teretistridae. The Yellow-Headed Warbler is common in forests of western Cuba, including Cienfuegos, Isla de la Juventud, and adjacent islets.
Endemic. Status Critically endangered. Local name Gallinuela de Santo Tomás. The Zapata Rail is a medium-sized dark colored rail. It is the only member of the monotypic genus Cyanolimnas. It exists only in the marsh grassland of Zapata Swamp. Both sexes are similar with dark brown plumage, a yellow and red-based bill, short wings, red eyes, white undertail coverts, orange legs, and greyish-blue underbellies. Rail fossils have been found in caves in Pinar del Río and Havana provinces, and Isla de la Juventud. It is local distribution and population size is in tragic decline. Its contiguous habitat has shrunk to 78 square miles. Few sightings and photos of this elusive bird exist.
Endemic. Status Endangered. Local name Cabrerito de la Ciénaga. The Zapata Sparrow is classified as Endangered due to its limited distribution in three regions of Cuba and limited numbers. Three subspecies are registered: the nominal of the Zapata Swamp (Torreornis inexpectata), one for the south of Guantánamo (T. i. sigmani), and another for Cayo Coco (T. i. varonai) leading to suggestions the English name should be Cuban Sparrow. All three subspecies are similar but are found in very different habitats. These are flooded sawgrass in the Zapata Swamp, thorn scrub and cacti in Guantánamo province, and the dry forest and coastal vegetation in Cayo Coco. Their diet reflects the different habitats. The Zapata branch feeds on the eggs of Pomacea snails, as well as lizards and seeds. The Guantánamo birds add cactus fruits to the menu.
Endemic. Status Endangered. Local name Ferminia. The Zapata Wren is medium-sized and greyish-brown. Its entire range is restricted to the dense marsh grasslands of the Zapata Peninsula. The population is meager and has a patchy distribution. It feeds on insects, spiders, small snails, lizards, and berries. This wren makes its nest in sawgrass tussocks. It is thought to breed between January and July. Its main threat comes from fires. Between 1972 to 1981 no individuals were observed. The first modern observation occurred in 1982. And since then few individuals have been seen. The population is estimated at 250 individuals. Like most wrens, it is a skulker, making it difficult to spot.
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