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Tobago Travels


A Birder's Paradise:
The Ultimate Guide to Bird Watching in Tobago

I’ve always loved birds, but the more time I spend in Tobago the more I appreciate our feathered friends. Villa Shandison boasts a diverse birdlife due to the abundance of flowering plants in the villa’s garden. We are privileged to have hosted the award-winning wildlife photographer William Barrow, who has kindly shared his art with us.


The 750-acre Tobago Plantations Estate, home to Villa Shandison, includes 5 manmade lakes and ponds that teem with lilies and waterfowl. You can find many of Williams’s shots on our website, Instagram, and Pinterest boards.


Frigate Birds soaring over the beach, Pelicans diving into the lagoon, and Grey and White Herons nesting in the mangrove all take flight and refuge within the vegetation that borders the paths and roads, making them very easy to spot with the naked eye. The brackish fishponds offer a wide variety of nourishment for the water birds that call them home, with seasonal ducks and other birds visiting daily.


Optimal visiting times to the ponds are early mornings, 5.30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., and to the lakes later in the afternoon, anyone would be fortunate to see the return of the Herons, 5.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m., a sight you really won’t want to miss.


Here are my favorite birds that visit us at the villas:



This speedy little bird is synonymous with Island Life, all locals know if you have flowers, you have hummingbirds. These little dare-devils zip in and out of people’s yards so quickly that they often go unnoticed, ensuring that these tiny beauties survive generation after generation. 

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The Hummingbird, on average 14 cm and smaller, can easily be recognized by its shining emerald-green feathers, and colorful smock beneath a slim dark beak. The hummingbird is also found in Venezuela but more easily spotted in Tobago, where it was thought to be extinct following the destruction inflicted by Hurricane Flora in 1963; the species was rediscovered in 1974, with thousands now darting throughout Main Ridge Forest Reserve. You have a good chance of seeing one supping nectar from colorful flowers, particularly during the nesting season, February to April, and if you’re lucky you might see the male of the species aggressively defending territory.


One of the National Birds of Trinidad and Tobago, the Cocrico - Rufous-vented chachalaca - inhabits northeast Colombia and northern Venezuela where it is called Guacharaca.


The rufous-vented chachalaca is a largely arboreal species found in forest and woodland, but it is also found in more open dry scrubby areas. This combined with relatively low hunting pressure makes the Cocrico far less vulnerable to hunting.

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These are medium-sized birds, similar in general appearance to turkeys, with small heads, long strong legs, and a long broad tail typically 53–58 cm long; the female weighs 540g and the larger male 640g. They have fairly dull plumage, dark brown above and paler below. The head is grey, and the brown tail is tipped rufous or white depending on race.


The Bananaquit is found throughout the island, from the lush forests, sunny beaches, or even perched on buildings in the heart of town. 


Dark cranium and white streaks at the base of the flight feathers, and a yellow chest make this cutie unmissable. It has a prominent white superciliary streak. They are non-migratory with the numerous populations staying on their own Caribbean islands.


It is a nectar feeder that collects nectar from a wide variety of flowers, predominantly heliconias and hibiscus. The Bananaquit cannot hover like a hummingbird so it perches while suckling and many times hang upside-down from a branch instead of sitting erect. The bird lunges its head between the flower petals either from overhead or underneath, its sharp curved bill and forked tongue extract the nectar stowed at the base of the flower. If it encounters large flowers where the nectar is outside the reach of the bird’s beak and tongue it spears the base of the flower to gain access to the nectar. These birds also feed on fruits, insects, and arachnids. They are very friendly animals and if there is a regular supply of sugar or ample flowers they will be seen in great groups. They are brave, athletic, and raucous, in endless motion, fluttering their wings as they forage.

Magnificent Frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebirds can be seen flying overhead, whether you’re in the pool at Villa Shandison, or touring the Plantations Estate, you will see these large seabirds with elongated, pointed wings and severely cleft tails. The beak is lengthy and strong with a bold bowed tip.


These soaring creatures are mostly black, however, the female and young of the species have fluctuating amounts of white on their crown, torso and abdomen. Females have a white chest and a dark head. Juveniles start with a white head and belly and gradually obtain darker heads.


Breeding males are completely black except for the bright red gullet pouch, which is not always observable.


They seldom flap their wings, but when they do their wingbeats are slow and deep. In spite of being a bird of the sea, they don't dive for fish; they skim fish from the surface of the water or pursue other birds forcing them to surrender their meal.


These curious birds are the quintessential ‘seabird’, living their entire life soaring and observing the world below them. 

Blue-Backed Manakin

A small bird of riverine and gallery forests in both forest and savanna regions; generally inconspicuous when not displaying. The adult male is distinctive with a black body, sky-blue back, and red or yellow crown patch; both sexes have orange legs. The Female is similar to the White-bearded Manakin but has a somewhat slimmer shape and a longer tail. Inhabits forest understory but may ascend to the canopy, especially when displaying. Feeds on fruit like other manakins and may be seen at fruiting shrubs and trees. Often detected by loud, single call notes; males produce a variety of bizarre sounds in coordinated group displays.


Blue-backed manakins are tiny, polygamous neotropical birds about the size of a sparrow. The adult male is brightly colored, typically 12 to 14 cm long, and weighs 17-21g. The male is mainly a soft black with a light blue back, pale orange-red legs, and a red-colored crown. The feathers are narrow and rigid. The adult males are unmistakable due to the bright red crown and blue back. The adult female upper body has a yellowish olive color which becomes greyish towards the abdomen. Its feathers are also narrow but less rigid than that of the male. 


Found in tropical Southern American countries such as southern Colombia, eastern Venezuela, Guyana, northeast Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador, and in Tobago (but not Trinidad).  They inhabit dry and moist deciduous, humid forests and perform mating dances on low perches in the heavy undergrowth of the secondary forest. 


There is the main dance area where the males display their moves and auxiliary perches nearby. The blue-backed manakin males have a cooperative relationship rather than a competitive one. The adult male takes on a juvenile male apprentice, who is taught the art of the courtship dance. Males keep together in pairs and these pairs occupy fixed territories in the forest they spend much of their time together and nearly all of their displays are performed jointly. 


The most widely heard sound through the forest above the dance areas is a wren-like “wwwrrrrr”. It is a drawn-out ascending sound ending in an explosive chow sound which was repeated sometimes. This call was uttered by lone males perched higher up in the trees in the afternoon period when the activity of the forest has subsided. Generally, the calls were answered with a “whee-whew” call.  


These fascinating little birds keep me occupied all day long, I like making up little stories to accompany the complicated little social networks that the Blue-backed manakins. Just like humans, these little birds have busy little lives, book your stay at our Luxury Villas in Tobago now!

Here are my Top 10 Tips to Enjoy Birding on the islands!


1. Silence is golden: Birds are easily spooked by noises and will flee quicker than you could say Villa Shandison. It’s impossible to sneak up on a bird, they hear much better than humans, so by limiting your noise, you can get much closer. 


2. Stay still: Just as loud sounds frighten these animals, so does unexpected movement. Getting close to a bird means stealth, moving gradually and deliberately. 


3. Keep with the crowd: Know where you’re getting information from, and the double check all the information you collect. Sticking with professional bird watchers will make it easy for you to jump right in and start watching. 


4. Study habitat: Do your research, every bird behaves differently during each season, so pay close attention to your calendar, and plan the perfect Bird Watching Vacation.


5. Know what you see: Update your phone with the latest Bird Watching Apps. 


6. Be patient: A The Birds you see flying and hunting are only a fraction of the birds that may be living in the surrounding area. So be patience, where this is one, there are many.


7. Put the sun behind you: Early morning hikes are recommended, and always walk with the sun out of your eyes and placed at your back. 


8. Try phishing: Phishing involves making small, squeaky noises by kissing the back of your hand or making a low whistled pish by blowing air through your closed teeth. Small birds are attracted to such sounds and will often pop into view to investigate. Here’s how to pish: Clench your teeth, open your lips and whisper the word pish.


9. Leave your brightly colored clothes at home: Many birds have monochromatic sight, however bright clothes, like whites, will contrast with the surrounding environment and enhance the appearance of movement. Wear darker colors or earth tones to blend into the background. 


10. Look in all directions: Many birders focused on the flock in the brush, forgetting to look at the other habitats surrounding them. In particular, they forget to look up and thus miss the flock of geese or the soaring hawk. Or, while studying the ducks on the lake, unaware bird watchers may ignore the flock of kinglets in the trees behind them and miss seeing a new bird.


To my fellow bird watchers, keep alert and do your research.


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