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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary


Saturday 23 March to Monday 1 April 2024
with Jon Dunn as leader
March 2025
with Jon Dunn as leader

Price: $6,350* (03/2024)

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Bare-legged Owl, a Cuban endemic in its own genus, <em>Margarobyas</em>Bare-legged Owl, a Cuban endemic in its own genus, Margarobyas
  • Bare-legged Owl, a Cuban endemic in its own genus, <em>Margarobyas</em>

    Bare-legged Owl, a Cuban endemic in its own genus, Margarobyas

  • Cuba's national bird, the Cuban Trogon.

    Cuba's national bird, the Cuban Trogon.

  • The stunning Blue-headed Quail-Dove, one of four quail-doves in Cuba

    The stunning Blue-headed Quail-Dove, one of four quail-doves in Cuba

  • Cuban Parakeet, a Cuban endemic sadly declining due to habitat loss.

    Cuban Parakeet, a Cuban endemic sadly declining due to habitat loss.

  • Cuban Tody, an endemic and one of only five todies worldwide.

    Cuban Tody, an endemic and one of only five todies worldwide.

Cuba is the largest of the Greater Antilles and its 42,000 square miles has nurtured 30 endemic birds, only one of which, the Cuban Macaw (since 1864), is definitely extinct, although the Zapata Rail hasn’t been confirmed for the better part of a century, and the same may be true for the recently split (from Hook-billed) Cuban Kite. We should see over 20, and possibly as many as 27, endemics. One other Cuban endemic subspecies of Eastern Meadowlark (hippocrepsis) likely merits full species status. Nearly 25 other species are endemic to the Caribbean region, mostly from the Greater Antilles or the Bahamas, and we’ll see nearly all of them, many representing endemic Cuban subspecies. The summer breeders, including the endemic breeding Cuban Martin, will have arrived by late March along with Gray Kingbird and Black-whiskered Vireo, and many North American birds, notably warblers, will still be here on their winter grounds.

As in so many other parts of the world, Cuba’s natural habitats were severely affected by logging and other activities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; in Cuba’s case, trees were felled to expand the sugarcane industry. Despite this, Cuba has an impressive series of national parks and preserves and the government takes conservation issues quite seriously.

US citizens can visit Cuba, albeit with restrictions. Our tours are structured within those rules and have operated without disruption. European and Canadian tourists have flocked to Cuba for years and the country has good roads and hotels. Finally, Cuba has long cherished its distinctive and fine musical heritage and we’ll be serenaded at several meals by some of the best musicians in the country. Our tour will conclude at one of Cuba’s oldest cities, Camagüey, in eastern Cuba which we will tour on our last afternoon by chauffeured bicycles.

Day 1: Our tour will start mid-morning at the Miami airport, followed by an early afternoon flight to Havana**. After clearing immigration and customs, we’ll be met by our Cuban naturalist (and the National Museum’s head herpetologist) and guide, Luis Manuel Díaz, and ground staff and will then head toward the late 18th-century French town of Sorora, about an hour away. We should have a few hours to look for a number of Cuban endemics including Cuban Trogon, Cuban Tody, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Cuban Vireo, Yellow-headed Warbler, Cuban Oriole and Cuban Blackbird. There is also a chance for Giant Kingbird and Cuban Solitaire. Other species will likely include the near endemic Tawny-shouldered Blackbird, along with a variety of West Indian species, such as Red-legged Thrush, Western Spindalis (endemic green backed subspecies, pretrei) and wintering North American warblers. We’ll scrutinize the White-crowned Pigeons with special care, looking for the beautiful Scaly-naped Pigeon, a West Indian endemic. Gray Kingbird and Black-whiskered Vireo, both migratory breeders, will be on territory. After dinner we’ll offer evening birding, searching in particular for the endemic Bare-legged Owl. In 2023 Luis spotted a rarity for Cuba, a roosting Wood Thrush! Night in Sorora.

Day 2: This morning we will depart early for San Diego de los Ba?os and then on to Cueva de las Portales in La Guira National Park, best known as Che Guevara’s base during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Here in the trees among the beautiful limestone karst formations we’ll be looking particularly for the endemic Cuban Solitaire, whose somber appearance is more than made up for by its remarkable jangling song. We should see both White-winged and Zenaida Doves and will look again for Scaly-naped Pigeon. Amongst the Cave Swallows we’ll look for our first Cuban Martins. We should also see the distinctively polymorphic sparveroides subspecies of American Kestrel (which acts more like a Merlin than a kestrel and together with three other West Indian subspecies might represent a separate species), Cuban Pewee, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Loggerhead Kingbird, Cuban Tody, Olive-capped Warbler (a species restricted to parts of Cuba and the northern Bahamas), and Tawny-shouldered Blackbird are all present and we stand a decent chance of finding two other highly sought-after Cuban endemics: Fernandina’s Flicker and Giant Kingbird. Here, or elsewhere, including from the road, we will be watching for the scarce endemic Gundlach’s Hawk, a close relative of the Cooper’s Hawk. Least Grebe and Purple Gallinule are also possible, as are a number of North American wintering species, including perhaps a lingering Louisiana Waterthrush. Cuba has almost twice as many endemic Anolis lizards as it does endemic birds. Some of them are large and colorful, and here we might see Western Giant, Water, and Cliff Anoles. Night in Sorora.

Day 3: This morning we’ll bird around Las Terrazas looking for anything we may have missed yesterday, notably Scaly-naped Pigeon. A nearby pig farm attracts many grassquits, both Yellow-faced and the attractive and endemic Cuban Grassquit. Recently, a pair of Stygian Owls (endemic siguapa subspecies) have been present in a pine plantation adjacent to the village. After lunch at a hilltop restaurant in the old French coffee plantation we’ll retrace our steps past Havana and then turn south to the Zapata Peninsula, home to the largest wetland in the Caribbean. We’ll make a few stops at two inland reservoirs where we should see some lingering wintering ducks and perhaps a Snail Kite. Late in the afternoon we’ll arrive at Playa Larga near the Zapata Swamp and the site of the infamous April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. On our guesthouse grounds before sunset we might see Cuban Parrot or a Cuban Crow, the latter possessed of a remarkable, almost comical vocabulary. Night at Playa Larga.

Days 4–5: We’ll bird the vast Zapata Swamp for two days. On one morning we’ll visit Bermejas, where we could see three species of quail-dove, including two handsome endemics, Gray-fronted and Blue-headed. Key West Quail-Dove is sometimes present, and there is at least a chance of seeing Ruddy Quail-Dove, although many encounters involve only brief flight views. Other endemic species here include Cuban Parakeet, Cuban Pygmy and Bare-legged Owls, Cuban Vireo, Yellow-headed Warbler, Cuban Oriole, and the diminutive Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world. We often find Great Lizard Cuckoo, Western Spindalis, and Shiny Cowbird along with a fine variety of North American wintering wood warblers. On some occasions a roosting Stygian Owl can be located, and elsewhere in the area we should find Limpkin and perhaps the endemic chrysocaulosus subspecies of Northern Flicker, which lacks a white rump. Here we will also search for the endemic and very localized Red-shouldered Blackbird.

We’ll also search in the early evenings to see if we can locate the now split Cuban (from Hispaniolan) Nightjar near Playa Larga. Probably our most difficult endemic to locate will be the distinctive (especially on vocalizations) Zapata Wren, although we have had good success in recent years. We have a good chance of seeing the endemic Zapata Sparrow too (inexpectata, the most colorful of three subspecies), and with great good fortune might see a Spotted Rail. The endemic Zapata Rail is, or was, found here too, but it has reached near mythical status with essentially no confirmed records for many decades (actually the better part of a century). Later we’ll visit Salinas de Bides, noted for its many American Flamingoes along with numerous other waterbirds, including a few Wood Storks. North American wintering or migrant Ospreys will be present along with the stockier and much paler headed (and paler underwings) resident Caribbean ridgwayi subspecies, which is resident. Here “Golden” Yellow Warblers are resident, and we should also see Clapper Rail and the endemic and distinctive-sounding (“bau-tis-ta”) Cuban Black Hawk. If we missed Cuban Nightjar, we’ll try for it again at dusk on Day 5, or possibly in the pre-dawn on Day 6. Nights in Playa Larga.

Day 6: If we haven’t yet seen Zapata Wren, we’ll make another attempt for it first thing in the morning, but today will be mostly devoted to our long drive to Morón across from Cayo Coco, where we will spend the night.

Day 7: This morning we’ll visit Cayo Coco, reached via a 17-mile causeway. Although Hurricane Irma devastated much of the island in 2017, the habitat has since largely recovered and most of our target species are still present. We’ll start at the southeast section of the island and look for three endemics: Cuban Gnatcatcher with its distinctive black auricular outline, Oriente Warbler and Cuban Bullfinch (now split from the subspecies, taylori, on Grand Cayman), Western Spindalis and a grayer (from inexpectata) subspecies of Zapata Sparrow, varoni, should also be present along with a variety of wintering North American warblers. We will bird at least two other locations on and adjacent to Cayo Coco, likely one not until the morning of Day 8. One is Cayo Guillermo, to the west of Cayo Coco. It is particularly good for wintering shorebirds and recently has had a pair of findable Bahama Mockingbirds. In March 2017 we found several Bahama Swallows, a rarity in Cuba. Bahama Swallows were seen again here during the winter of 2022-2023. We’ll spend some time in the afternoon looking for shorebirds and other waterbirds, including Yellow-crowned and “Great White” Herons. The other is Cueva del Jabali, a popular evening night spot for tourists, but a prime birding spot during the day, with food and water that attracts many species including Cuban Bullfinches, a wide variety of North American wintering species, and Key West and possibly Ruddy Quail-Doves. In addition, there are often a group of the endangered West Indian Whistling-Ducks around and if present we’ll look for them. In 2023 there were also Bahama Pintails present. Night at Morón.

Day 8: Depending on our ornithological needs we will visit one of the locations discussed above, or perhaps we will go somewhere else! After lunch we’ll drive to Camagüey, possibly stopping along the way to search for Mangrove Cuckoo if they are known to be present. We’ll arrive late in the day at our destination, a lovely old colonial city with beautiful architecture. The endemic breeding Cuban Martin should be nesting and roosting adjacent to our hotel at an old Catholic cathedral along with numerous Cave Swallows. Night in Camagüey.

Day 9: We’ll venture east to La Belén, stopping in agricultural country to listen to the endemic hippocrepis Eastern Medowlarks. Their song and perhaps even their appearance are more suggestive of Western Meadowlark, and they should probably be considered their own species. Genetically they cluster with other Eastern Meadowlark subspecies. In the open country we might also see Crested Caracara and our only Cuban Palm Crows (now split as a separate species from the Palm Crows on Hispaniola) along with many Cuban Crows, and around the ponds we might find Northern Jacana and Purple Gallinule. We also have a good chance here or nearby of seeing Plain Pigeon, a scarce West Indian species At La Belén we’ll walk the trails in the preserve. The threatened Giant Kingbird is found regularly here, and we should get good comparisons with the more numerous Loggerhead Kingbird. Both crow species are numerous and Plain Pigeons are found here too. We’ll return in the afternoon with time to take a bicycle trip (not self-driven!) along the streets of the old colonial city, concluding at our favorite restaurant, El Paso, with music provided by our friends, Black Coral. Night in Camagüey.

Day 10: After a leisurely breakfast and some further study of Cuban Martins and Cave Swallows we’ll head to the Camagüey airport for a late morning flight back to Miami where the tour concludes.

Updated: 28 November 2023


  • 2024 Tour Price : $6,350
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $560


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Questions? Tour Manager: Stephanie Schaefer. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

** NOTE: It’s now possible to purchase your own flights directly from the USA to Cuba. As such, we aren’t including the price of the flights from Miami–Havana, and Camagüey-Miami in the tour price since it’s possible to include it in your ticket purchase from your home airport. To ease complications upon arrival in Havana we are starting our tour in the Miami airport, where we’ll proceed as a group through the process of getting visas and through immigration and customs after arrival in Havana. It may be necessary to overnight in Miami prior to the tour if the timing of your flights won’t allow you to arrive in time for the flight to Havana in the early afternoon (you’ll need to check-in for the Miami flight three hours prior, thus by mid-morning). Note that an additional $25 for Cuba’s departure tax will be applied to the flight purchase, as well as medical insurance as required by the Cuban gov’t. At the airport you will also have to pay a $85 visa fee (in 2023). See your airline’s policies for details.

*** This tour is organized by our partner, Caribbean Conservation Trust, Inc. (CCT), a U.S. based organization committed to the conservation of endemic and migratory birds and their habitats in the greater Caribbean region. The U.S. Department of Treasury has provided a license for conducting bird conservation work in Cuba to CCT and it is through this program our tour will be permitted. Your participation in this program will involve a bird and habitat survey each day. Data is compiled by the group and submitted by the trip leader to CCT staff.

Maximum group size 12 with one WINGS and multiple local leaders.

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