A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamaica


The Caribbean is a hot-spot for endemism, with many of the islands holding unique avifaunas, and this is very much the case with Jamaica. The island has no fewer than 30 endemic bird species, giving it one of the largest totals of endemic birds for any oceanic island.

Jamaica has traditionally only been covered by guides to the whole Caribbean region, with a consequent lack of detail about its specific birds and habitats. A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamaica goes a long way to redressing that problem.

The book starts with a comprehensive introduction to the birdlife and habitats of Jamaica, which makes for a fascinating read. There is also a section on birding in Jamaica which lists 14 of the best sites. It is unfortunate, however, that these sites are only briefly described, and no access details or directions are included. An expansion of this section into a more comprehensive site guide, with full access details, would be enormously helpful to the visiting birder.

The main part of the book comprises a very extensive photographic guide. The usefulness of such books in the past has been very much dogged by the constraint of making do with just one photo per species. This makes them next to useless in the field, as only one plumage is shown and very few flight shots are included.

This guide, however, does much better. With the exception of rare vagrants, at least one or, in the case of difficult or endemic species, as many as five high-quality photographs are included. The photographs usually show male, female and juvenile plumages if different or breeding and non-breeding. A particularly nice double page covers Semipalmated and Wilson’s Plovers, showing each in breeding, non-breeding and juvenile plumages – six excellent photographs which are as useful as any conventional field guide and far more beautiful to look at. The only fault is that none are shown in flight.

One inevitable drawback with any photographic guide is that the format does not allow for good comparative flight illustrations. With so many migrant North American wood-warblers and waders, the coverage of some species does become a little too superficial, and any visiting birder would do well to also pack a North American field guide.

The individual species texts are generally good and, in the case of the endemics, extensive and informative. A detailed range map of the island is included for every species.

My few quibbles apart, this is definitely the first time that I feel able to say that a photographic guide is not just a nice picture book, but also an essential companion for anyone visiting the destination in question. If you take just one book to Jamaica, make sure this is it.

Tech spec

A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamaica by Ann Haynes-Sutton, Audrey Downer and Robert Sutton (Christopher Helm, London, 2009).
•    336 pages, 650 colour photographs, 220 maps.
    ISBN 9781408107430. Pbk, £29.99.

Available from Birdwatch Bookshop

First published in Birdwatch 209:46 (November 2009)