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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary


Saturday 23 March to Sunday 31 March 2024
with Jon Dunn as leader
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 28 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 25 endemics. Two other endemic subspecies (Greater Antillean Nightjar, Cuban Bullfinch and Eastern Meadowlark) likely merit 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 major disruption. European and Canadian tourists have flocked to Cuba for years and the country has good roads and hotels. Havana, Cuba’s largest city, is worth seeing by itself, especially the areas beautifully restored to the Spanish colonial period, and we’ll spend part of our last afternoon touring the old city on foot. 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.

Day 1: We’ll begin mid-morning at the Ft Lauderdale airport, followed by a very short early afternoon flight to Havana.** After clearing immigration and customs, we’ll be met by our Cuban naturalist and official guide and immediately set off for Soroa, about an hour and a half away. Night in Soroa.

Day 2: This morning we’ll drive to San Diego de los Baños, and then to Cueva de los Portales in La Güira National Park. Our main focus will be Cuban Solitaire, a somberly colored species with a beautiful song that we’ll hear repeatedly. Seeing them can be more difficult. Other species we might encounter include Great Lizard-Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Antillean Palm Swift, Cuban Emerald, the colorful Cuban Trogon (the national bird), Cuban Tody, West Indian and Cuban Green Woodpeckers, Cuban Pewee, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Loggerhead Kingbird, Cuban Vireo, Red-legged Thrush, Western Spindalis (endemic pretrei subspecies), Yellow-headed Warbler, and Cuban Oriole. The rare, threatened and endemic Giant Kingbird is possible. We’ll be carefully checking the pigeons too. White-crowned is the most numerous , but this will be our best chance to see the striking Scaly-naped Pigeon, a West Indian endemic. Zenaida Doves should be present too and we have seen Ruddy Quail-Dove here. The polymorphic American Kestrels that are found in Cuba and elsewhere in the West Indies are very distinctive in their behavior and likely represent a separate species. We’ll watch the skies for Cave Swallow and Cuban Martin, an endemic breeder and for the rare and endemic Gundlach’s Hawk, a species with very close affinities to the Cooper’s Hawk.After lunch we’ll head east, stopping at fishponds for Snail Kites and other waterbirds. Night in Soroa.

Day 3: This morning we’ll head to Las Terrazas.We should see a number of endemic or near-endemic species including Cuban and Tawny-shouldered Blackbirds and wintering North American warblers. We’ll check the pigeons  again for Scaly-naped. A nearby pig farm attracts many grassquits, mostly Yellow-faced but also a number of the attractive and endemic Cuban Grassquit. Shiny Cowbirds should be present as well. A pair of Stygian Owls (endemic siguapa subspecies) has been present recently in a pine plantation and we’ll hope they’re still there. Olive-capped Warblers are found in the pines as well and Gray Kingbirds and Black-whiskered Vireos should be numerous. After lunch at a hilltop restaurant in the old 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 other waterbirds. 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, with great luck four, species of quail-dove, including two handsome endemics, Gray-fronted and Blue-headed. Key West Quail-Dove is sometimes present, and in the last few years we have seen Ruddy Quail-Dove too. Other endemic species here include Cuban Parakeet, Cuban Pygmy Owl, 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 wintering North American 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. Just to the east the endemic Red-shouldered Blackbird is present in small numbers and we’ll search carefully for another endemic, the distinctive Fernandina’s Flicker. Limpkins occur too and depending on marsh and rice field conditions, we might find various rails: Sora, and with good luck King (endemic ramsdeni subspecies), with very good luck, the striking Spotted Rail. Glossy Ibis are found here too along with Crested Caracaras. We’ll listen carefully for Eastern Meadowlarks. This endemic subspecies (hippocrepsis) is distinctively different in appearance, sounds totally unlike an Eastern Meadowlark, and very likely represents a distinct species.

One evening we’ll try for the now endemic (once split in July 2023) Cuban Nightjar near Playa Larga. Although it is very similar to the taxon on Hispaniola, its vocalizations are distinctly different, an obviously important character in night birds. On our 2nd morning, we’ll try to find what will probably be our most difficult endemic, the distinctive (especially on vocalizations) Zapata Wren and we have a good chance of seeing the endemic Zapata Sparrow (inexpectata, the most colorful of the three subspecies). Spotted Rail is found here too but is seldom seen. The endemic Zapata Rail is or was found not far from here at Santo Tomás, but it has reached near mythical status with essentially no confirmed (no photo or specimen) records for the better part of a century. Some of the claimed and published hear only records turned out to be Spotted Rails. 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 resident Caribbean ridgwaii subspecies, which is stockier and has larger feet, a paler head, and paler underwings. Here “Golden” Yellow Warblers are resident, and we should see Clapper Rail and the endemic and distinctive-sounding (“bau-tis-ta”) Cuban Black Hawk. If we missed Cuban Nightjar at dawn, we’ll try for it again at dusk. Nights in Playa Larga.

Day 6: If we’ve missed Zapata Wren, we’ll make another attempt first thing this morning. From here we will head east towards Trinidad. On the east side of Trinidad we should see both Cuban and Palm Crows. While they look quite similar to each other, their calls readily distinguish them. Some now split the Cuban Palm Crow (Corvus m. minutus) from the subspecies (palmarum). Near Trinidad we also have a decent chance for the endemic Cuban Gnatcatcher and possibly another opportunity for Giant Kingbird. After lunch near the 446’ tower of Manaca Iznaga at Hacienda Ingenio, we’ll head for Morón with a rest stop at Rio Azul for anoles, notably the striking Band-headed Anole. Night in Morón.  

Day 7: After a pre-dawn breakfast we’ll cross the 17 kilometer causeway for Cayo Coco. We’ll start birding along a wooded road just after crossing the causeway where we will search for Cuban Gnatcatcher, Cuban Gnatcatcher, Zapata Sparrow (varoni), a different subspecies from the Zapata Peninsula subspecies, and Oriente Warbler. Mangrove Cuckoo is also possible here, or elsewhere today. Next, we’ll stop at Cueva de Jabali, a nice, protected area of woodland where food and water placed out attracts many North American warblers along with a wide variety of resident species.  Painted Bunting is possible and Key West Quail-Dove is present along with many Zenaida Doves. Later we’ll head west to Cayo Guillermo where our main target is Bahama Mockingbird. It is rare, but perhaps one will be singing and will be visible. Many shorebirds should be present too. We’ll return for a buffet lunch at a resort on Cayo Coco and stop afterwards to look for the threatened West Indian Whistling-Duck before heading back across the causeway and heading for Santa Clara. Night in Santa Clara.

Day 8: We’ll bird the grounds of our resort and after breakfast look nearby for Eastern (“Cuban”) Meadowlark. It was here at Santa Clara that Ernesto (Ché) Guevara triumphed over Bautista’s troops in late December 1958, essentially sealing the outcome of the revolution. His body, along with his comrades (all executed in Bolivia in 1967) are entombed here. Later in the morning we’ll depart for the two hour drive to Havana arriving in time to get lunch in the restored “Old Havana.” After lunch we’ll drive west along the famous El Malecon, which forms the border of the harbor. We will pass the site where the USS Maine lies. This late 19th century explosion and sinking (cause never discovered) led directly to the start of the Spanish-American War. We’ll continue to our accommodation where we will have our final dinner.

Day 9: After breakfast we’ll drive to José Martí International Airport for our flight back to Fort Lauderdale, in time to connect to other flights home.

Updated: 14 March 2023


  • 2024 Tour Price Not Yet Known
  • (2023 Tour Price $5,990)


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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 early afternoon Ft Lauderdale–Havana flight the tour price since it’s possible (and likely cheaper) 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 Ft Lauderdale 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 Ft Lauderdale 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 Ft Lauderdale 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. An additional permit is required for Americans to enter into Cuba and will be provided through our partner organization, Caribbean Conservation Trust (details below).

*** 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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