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We thought this recent article by the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance was an excellent summary of some of the rich birding experiences found on Bonaire in the last few years. Certainly, Bonaire is becoming better known as a Birdwatchers’ Paradise as well as a Divers’ Paradise!

The island of Bonaire has achieved worldwide recognition for its rich and diverse marine life, but the island is rapidly gaining momentum as a birdwatchers paradise. Recent estimates put Bonaire’s bird population at more than 210 species, with a great variety of terrestrial and seabird species. While some species reside year-round on Bonaire, many are migratory species that stop on the island on route to or from North and South America.

Six International Bird Areas on Bonaire.

The island acts as a sanctuary for many rare or endangered bird species, such as the Yellow-shouldered Amazon (Amazona barbadensis), known locally as the lora. Birdlife International has identified six International Bird Areas (IBAs) on Bonaire:

Washington-Slagbaai National Park.

Significant nesting, roosting, and foraging area for the Yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot (Amazona barbadensis). Important nesting area for globally significant numbers of Common Tern (Sterna hirundo), and regionally important numbers of Sandwich Tern (S. sandvicensis) and Least Tern (S. antillarum). Regionally important concentration of American flamingo; important habitat for a number of restricted-range species as well as several endemic subspecies.

Dos Pos.

Important breeding and roosting site for the Yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot. Significant habitat for Neotropical migrant passerines. Small pond supports waterbirds, including the Caribbean coot (Fulica caribaea). Significant habitat for two restricted-range species: Caribbean Elaenia (Elaenia martinica) and Pearly-eyed Thrasher (Margarops fuscatus).


Important breeding and roosting site for the Yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot. Important habitat for the Caribbean Coot. Coast is regionally important for breeding Least Tern.

Klein Bonaire.

Stop over point for countless species of migratory wetland birds. Important breeding site for terns, notably regionally important Least Terns. Significant for the restricted-range species Caribbean Elaenia and the Northern South America biome species Bare-eyed pigeon (Patagioenas corensis).

Lac Bay.

Important habitat for breeding and wintering shorebirds and seabirds. Important feeding area for seabirds, including the Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens), Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) and gulls (Laridae sp.). Important roosting area for seven species of heron.

Pekelmeer Saltworks.

Supports one of the most important nesting colonies of American Flamingo in the Caribbean. Important feeding area for pelicans, herons and various migratory shorebirds that breed in North America. Globally important numbers of Common Tern and regionally important numbers of Sandwich Tern and Least Tern nest here. Only known nesting area on Bonaire for the Royal Tern.

These International Bird Areas recognized as globally important for the conservation of bird populations according to a number of set criteria. Bonaire’s IBAs provide vital breeding and foraging grounds to species with a high conservation priority.

Dos Pos, in the north of Bonaire, is an especially important breeding and roosting site for the Yellow-shouldered Amazon, along with Washikemba-Fontein-Onima. Gotomeer and Pekelmeer provide vital breeding grounds for the American Flamingo, Bonaire’s flagship bird. Globally and regionally important numbers of tern also nest at Pekelmeer (Common tern (Sterna hirundo), Sandwich tern (Sterna sandvicensis), Least tern (Sterna antillarum)). Klein Bonaire is also an important breeding site for terns, notably least terns. Lac Bay supports many shorebird species, including seven species of heron.

New species sighted on Bonaire!

Over the past two years–from January 2016 to the end of 2017–at least eight bird species have been recorded for the first time on Bonaire. One other species awaits final identification. The record of a 10th species could not be validated due to a lack of footage.

Finding new species on Bonaire is always an exciting discovery and shows how much is still to be discovered about Bonaire’s bio-diversity!  During the timeframe discussed, the following new species have been sighted on Bonaire:

  • Lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus), seen at Plaza Resort Bonaire,
  • Pied water-tyrant (Fluvicola pica), seen at LVV
  • Dickcissel (Spiza americana), seen at the LVV terrain
  • Oilbird (Steatornis caripensis), seen in Kralendijk
  • Greater Ani (Crotophaga major), seen at LVV
  • Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani), seen at LVV
  • Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor), seen at LVV
  • Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus), seen at Sorobon

The discovery of an Oilbird was rather an exciting find!

The discovery of an Oilbird on the night of December 4th, 2016 was spectacular.

While having dinner at a restaurant in Kralendijk, Lauren Schmalz and Quirijn Coolen of Echo Foundation saw it flying to and from a palm tree. It appeared for several consecutive nights in the same garden, feeding on palm nuts.

The Oilbird is a nocturnal bird that lives on the South American mainland and on Trinidad. This species was only seen once before on the ABC-islands, namely in 1976 on Aruba. It is reddish-orange in color with white-spotted plumage, big eyes and a small but heavily hooked bill (del Risco et al, 2011). Throughout the day, the Oilbird hides in large numbers in dark caves. It uses echolocation to navigate in the dark. It is a frugivore and consumes lipid-rich fruit primarily from the laurel (Lauraceae), torchwood (Burseraceae), and palm (Palmae) plant families (del Risco et al, 2011), and will travel quite far from its cave to forage. Some Oilbirds are known to migrate seasonally away from breeding sites in search of food (del Risco et al, 2011).

Two possible additional species.

There are two additional possible new species, including the Cory’s/Scopoli’s Shearwater (Calonectris borealis / diomedea) and American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus).

So, the lesson here is that birders should get out and go birdwatching when on Bonaire!  Bonaire is truly a Birders’ Paradise!

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Susan Davis, Bonaire InsiderSusan Davis has been living on Bonaire for over 25 years. She is a PADI Master Instructor, a certified bird guide, and an underwater and topside photographer. She also enjoys writing for The Bonaire Insider tourism news blog. 

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