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Neotropical Raptors of Trinidad & Tobago

July 15, 2012

By Rafael A. Gálvez

Imagine the possibility of 37 raptor species in a territory smaller than Delaware, or one sixth the size of Belgium! The wonderful Caribbean islands of Trinidad & Tobago have that many raptors on record. Add to that 9 owl species and 8 nightjar relatives – potoos and Oilbirds, anyone? – Not to mention the 400 bird species that make this nation a birding paradise.

Above is a field sketch of raptors seen from the Northern Range, overlooking the Arima Valley on June 11, 2012. The sketch includes Common Black-Hawks, Turkey Vultures, Zone-tailed Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk and Swallow-tailed Kite.

I recently returned from a trip through Trinidad & Tobago with Caligo Ventures astounded by the wealth of bird species we saw – tropical rainforest passerines, hummingbirds, trogons – the list goes on. Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) is a nation composed of two main islands and several islets no more than 13 miles from the coast of Venezuela. For its relatively small territory, the nation boasts a surprisingly diverse bird life.

While the abundance of hummingbirds alone would have made the trip unforgettable, I was particularly excited about seeing any of the 37 diurnal raptor species documented in this archipelago nation. I was fortunate to observe 14 of these, and I will follow by posting about one of my most memorable – the Bat Falcon.

Whether you are interested in all or some bird species, bird photography or even field sketching, the way to explore T&T is through Caligo Ventures. I couldn’t have been more thrilled with the range of habitats their itinerary included, not to mention the excellent accommodations and guiding services. I hope to post several entries on the spectacular birds of T&T in the coming future. I would like to thank Larry Lebowitz and Mark Hedden (raptorphile on board) for their knowledge and enthusiasm, and the great group of participants. I much appreciate having been included in such a successful tour.

Wouldn’t a Neotropical Raptors Tour to T&T with Caligo Ventures be an excellent trip? Contact them about the possibility of such a tour. Below is a list of raptor species (owls and Caprimulgiformes will soon follow):

Turkey Vulture   X
Black Vulture     X
King Vulture     V
Osprey   NB
White-tailed Kite   V
Pearl Kite   X
Hook-billed Kite   X
Gray-headed Kite   X
Swallow-tailed Kite   X
Black Hawk-Eagle   X
Ornate Hawk-Eagle   X
Black-collared Hawk   X
Snail Kite   V
Double-toothed Kite   X
Plumbeous Kite   X
Long-winged Harrier   X
Crane Hawk   NB
Common Black-Hawk   X
Rufous Crab-Hawk   X
Savanna Hawk   X
Great Black-Hawk   X
White-tailed Hawk   NB
White Hawk   X
Gray-lined Hawk  (see discussion in the comments)   X
Broad-winged Hawk   X
Short-tailed Hawk   X
Swainson’s Hawk   NB
Zone-tailed Hawk   X
Crested Caracara   NB
Yellow-headed Caracara   X
Common Kestrel   V
American Kestrel   V
Merlin   NB
Bat Falcon   X
Orange-breasted Falcon   V
Aplomado Falcon   NB
Peregrine Falcon   NB

The list above follows the classification format presented by the SACC (South American Classification Committee, version 29 June 2012).

Residents (extant) = X
Non-breeders = NB
Vagrants = V
6 Comments leave one →
  1. Jenn C permalink
    July 15, 2012 9:12 pm

    oh wow- what an amazing adventure!!!! We have friends that live in Trinidad …maybe we need to plan a visit! Thanks for sharing about your awesome trip!

  2. July 15, 2012 10:40 pm

    I added Veracruz’s raptor count to my bucket list and I’ll have to add this T & T tour also. Sounds awesome.

  3. Brian Rapoza permalink
    July 19, 2012 11:32 am

    I just learned that the AOU approved a split of Gray Hawk into two species; those at the southern end of its range, including Trinidad & Tobago, are now called Gray-lined Hawk, while those at the northern end, including SE Arizona and S Texas, remain Gray Hawk.

    • July 19, 2012 3:23 pm

      Thanks for bringing this up Brian. Authorities have been going back and forth on this issue for many years. I failed to note that this had gone beyond the recommendation stage, and had actually been voted upon and passed by the SACC and NACC. The International Ornithologists Committee also recognizes the split. Gray Hawk of North America becomes B. plagiatus, and Gray-lined elsewhere becomes B. nitidus.

      Here is the abstract of a paper recently published on the issue in the Condor journal – Millsap, Seipke & Clark 2011. The Gray Hawk (Buteo nitidus) is two species.
      “We compared the plumage, morphology, and the alarm call of two taxa of the Gray Hawk (Buteo nitidus) from north and south of a distributional gap in the species’ range in Costa Rica. We found all age and sex classes completely distinguishable on the basis of several discrete plumage features. Three of four age and sex classes were diagnosably distinct by measurements of external morphology alone, and the two taxa had diagnosably different alarm calls. On the basis of the level and stability of morphological differentiation, and consistent with prior work suggesting substantial genetic differentiation between the two taxa, we recommend they be recognized as full species, B. nitidus, the Gray-lined Hawk, south of the distributional gap in Costa Rica, and B. plagiatus, the Gray Hawk, north of the gap.”

  4. July 19, 2012 4:39 pm

    I have gone ahead and updated the number and order of species according to the latest format presented by the South American Classification Committee. This brings the species to 37 documented in T&T, with the order significantly changed from previous posting.

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