Jamaican Birdwatching with Ornithologist Ann Sutton

Ornithologist Ann Sutton helps cruising birders add Jamaica’s many winged wonders to their life list.
Ornithologist Ann Sutton
Cruisers visiting Jamaica have the chance to encounter 30 bird species that are found only on the island. D. Branson Hay

Sure, Jamaica has beaches, reggae and jerk. But Ann Sutton knows well the island’s true national treasure: its birds.

“We have around 30 endemic species that aren’t found anywhere else in the world,” says Sutton, an ornithologist, guide and respected voice in Caribbean conservation groups. “So we get birders who have these long life lists who, in one morning, can get 15 to 20 birds they’ve never seen before. And the birds are so accessible. You can see at least 20 of them from my veranda.”

Sutton’s veranda is at Marshall’s Pen, a coffee plantation and former home of Jamaica’s governor-general that is now a protected national heritage site, private nature reserve and prime birding destination (by appointment). When Sutton first arrived in Jamaica in the 1970s and then settled into Marshall’s Pen—her husband’s family estate—the only relevant bird guide had mostly line drawings and written descriptions. “Imagine trying to identify birds from just a few words,” she says. “I set out to make that natural history more accessible.” And so she and her husband, Robert, also a preeminent ornithologist at that time, hired a photographer and published “A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamaica.”

Read More: Island Icon

She’s eager to compile even more bird sightings through the upcoming BirdsCaribbean 2023 seabird census.

“We’d love to have participation from the yachting community because they can often visit places that nobody else can get to,” she says. Cruisers can go to the BirdsCaribbean website for details on how to get involved.

What are some of your favorite local bird species? The Jamaican tody is a bright green ball of fluff with a bright red beak and throat. The streamertail hummingbird is Jamaica’s national bird. It’s bright emerald green with black wings and a long tail. The Jamaica owl looks like a fairy puppet.   

Ann Sutton’s A-List on Jamaica

Treasure Beach: It’s a beautiful environment. Visit one of the nice seafood restaurants. The fish is caught in the morning and is on your plate in the afternoon.

Blue Mountains: Hardwar Gap is a wonderful place to see a lot of endemic bird species. It’s quite accessible, only about a 40-minute drive from Kingston.

Portland Bight Protected Area: It’s Jamaica’s largest mangrove system and protected area.