The bananquit, one of Aruba’s birds. Photo: Michele Berger

Check the 1st and the 12th holes.

That was the advice we received to locate the burrowing owls, some of the few remaining on Aruba. So at 6:30 a.m. on our final morning in the Caribbean, we took at $17 taxi ride to a golf course to look for birds. As promised, there on the 1st hole, next to the sand trap, stood two burrowing owls in plain sight. We spotted another three at the 12th hole, and for good measure, a sixth met us at hole 14.

After several days on this island slightly larger than Washington, D.C., we learned that’s just what birding is like here. Once you know where to look, the birds are easily spotted. And what cool species, too.

On a jeep ride through Arikok National Park, a hilly, rocky part of the island opposite the white-sand beaches, two crested caracaras perched as close to the gravel road as they could get (as if people-watching). We saw adorable, chatty bananaquits on the beautiful flowers at—of all places—our hotel. Even the troupials, large oriole-like birds, were everywhere.

Unfortunately, we had a hard time finding Arubians on the ground who knew much about their country’s awesome avifauna. We lucked out to catch ornithologist Jeff Wells, Audubon’s former bird conservation director and an Aruba bird expert, on his last day there. He took us to Bubali Bird Sanctuary and in about an hour, pointed out a dozen species we easily would have missed, like the bare-eyed pigeon, or couldn’t ID, like the sora, a hard-to-spot marsh bird that we watched for 20 minutes on open water.

He also told us that since boa constrictors were introduced onto the island in the late 1990s, bird populations of species like the brown-throated parakeet have plummeted. “Unfortunately, this bird has experienced steep declines in recent years,” Wells writes. “Although efforts are underway to eradicate the snake, such a task is proving difficult.”

One groundskeeper at the golf course told us when he finds boas, he kills them, eats the meat, and makes purses and belts from the skin. A Boa Constrictor Task Force has gone on at least two snake-catching outings, but some estimates put the number of boas as high as 8,000. Peter Fong wrote about his experience on one of these outings for DotEarth:

Aruba’s native mockingbirds, owls, and orioles have met the enemy. And it swallows them whole. According to Aruba Birdlife Conservation, boa constrictors kill more than 17,000 island birds per year. Unless more robust efforts are made to control these ravenous invaders, local extinction is a real possibility for some bird species.

That would be a great loss given the color—both literally and figuratively—the birds add to Aruba.


Burrowing owls.

Bubali Bird Sanctuary.



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