Birds are some of the most delightful animals of the Virgin Islands , and birders will be rewarded by the colors, acrobatics, and songs of the island birds.
Near the sea, there is usually no better show than the one put on by pelicans, which glide (look: no wing flapping) far above the ocean surface only to crash down with incredible force, gathering tiny fish and other sea creatures in their pouches. Pelicans have special air chambers on their chest and special film over their eyes to cushion the sea landing.
One of the most easily identifiable shore birds is the magnificent frigate bird, sometimes called a man-o-war. This long-winged, black bird with a forked tail and bent wings looks like a holdover from the dinosaur era. Male frigate birds have a strip of bright red skin on their throat, which they blow up like a balloon to attract females during mating season. Frigate birds catch fish at the surface of the sea, but their biggest food source is in the air; they chase other seabirds fiercely until they drop their catch. Then the frigate bird glides down to catch it.
Look out as well for brown boobies, laughing gulls, royal terns, and tropic birds. Boobies, now endangered, got their name from the Spanish word bobo, meaning dunce. They are large and excellent divers. Caribbean gulls are smaller than the seagulls many are used to; listen to their song—“ha, ha, ha, ha.” Tropic birds are elegant and beautiful. Look for the long streamers that extend from their tails.
Inland, birds are smaller and much more difficult to watch. Flower gardens tend to attract doctor birds and green-throated caribs. One of the favorite birds of the islands is the bananaquit, a ubiquitous and cheerful creatures you will see in flower gardens and the forest. They have a wheezy, squeaky call and build untidy nests of grass and leaves. They often have bright yellow bellies, set off by black around the head.
Many open-air restaurants suffer an abundance of Carib gackles, medium-sized birds that make sport of eating crumbs, leftovers, and even whole meals from diners’ plates. There are two kinds of doves on the islands: the common ground dove and the zenaida dove, also called turtledove.
The Charlotte Amalie High School chose the chickenhawk as its football mascot in the late 1990s when football made its debut in the U.S. Virgin Islands. These common hawks can be seen soaring high above farms, fields, and woodland. They keep an eye out for favorite food sources: snakes, lizards, frogs, and rats.
Another bird that is easy to see is the cattle egret, a long-legged, white heron that follows cattle, sometimes on their backs. These birds are natives of Africa and were first reported in the Caribbean in 1933.