Must-see Aerial Insectivores in the Greater Antilles: Part 2/5

Cave Swallows in flight from multiple angles under different lighting conditions, Jamaica.

This post is part of a series; visit Part 1 here.

Cave Swallows (Petrochelidon fulva)

These little guys are a great species to start with because they are known to all of the Greater Antilles islands. One of the best contexts to find Cave Swallows in would be nearby to one of their communal roosts / nesting sites. Terrestrially, look around cave entrances or pocket-like formations in the sides of rocky cliffs. Coastally, look for limestone formations along the beach or just offshore. If they are there, you won’t miss them. Their nests are primarily made up of a mix of mud and plant fibers that have been attached to a vertical wall. If you can manage to get close, you might be lucky enough to see a pair of Cave Swallows sitting still in a nest giving you that famous 1000-yard stare.

A pair of Cave Swallows looking out from their mud nest erected in an alcove of a limestone arch overhanging Jamaica’s northern coastline.

However, let me be brutally honest for a second – Cave Swallows often have a way of mixing in with other foraging swallow and swift species, and simply put, these mixed-species flocks can be a nightmare of a time to sort your way through. And yes, when mixed in with Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows, and just as often a handful of swifts, Cave Swallows can become easily “lost in the crowd”. However, with a little practice, the subtle differences in plumage, size, and flight patterns will help you tease the birds apart. Cave Swallows are really stocky looking with short, square tails.

Caribbean Martin (Progne dominicensis) & Cuban Martin (Progne cryptoleuca)

Cuban Martin perched outside of nesting cavity, Cuba. (photo by Ianela García Lau)

This is a two-for-one special. If you’re going to be island-hopping, then I can’t include one without the other. Your search target is going to be similar for both. Caribbean Martins can be found from the Cayman Islands eastwards to the Lesser Antilles, ultimately down to Tobago. They are not found in Cuba, yet their conspecific, the Cuban Martin, is only found there. Both martins are hefty birds; to give you an idea they weigh roughly twice that of a Cave Swallow. They are incredibly adept cavity nesters, mastering the use of crevices in high mountain trees, urban buildings, coastal lighthouses, limestone cliffs, and even the masts of moving sailboats. You may already have some knowledge of their more widely spread congener, the Purple Martin (Progne subis), the mental image of which would be helpful as you seek out their Cuban and Caribbean counterparts. To see both Caribbean Martins and Cave Swallows nesting side by side, head to Cabo Rojo, Dominican Republic. For Cuban Martins, check out the beautiful Convento San Francisco de Asís in Havana, Cuba, where they are nesting in large numbers in the church walls.

For photos of Caribbean Martins, and to become acquainted with an ongoing effort tracking their numbers and distribution, check out the Caribbean Martin Survey information page.

Cuban Martin in flight, Cuba. (photo by Martín Acosta)

[This post and the rest in the series are part of an online article I wrote for BirdsCaribbean, which I will link to in my final post here]

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