Bahama woodstar, by Tom Sheley
Calling all bird lovers! Are you dreaming of vacationing in The Bahamas, but unsure which island to visit to get the most bang for your birding buck? If you want to spend your days scouting out species, Inagua is without a doubt the island for you. Even if you aren’t so keen on birding, Inagua is the place to visit to be truly wowed by the spectrum of natural life in The Bahamas.
Technically, when Bahamians say Inagua, we’re referring to Great Inagua, and nearby, though uninhabited, is Little Inagua. The only settlement on Great Inagua, Matthew Town, was once a bustling cosmopolitan city. Today, it’s considerably quieter, but its robust salt industry dates back centuries.
Inagua is the third largest island in The Bahamas, and the southernmost island in our archipelago. Originally called Babeque by the Lucayans, the indigenous Indian people of the Bahamas, the English began calling it Heneagua. This is likely from a combination of the Spanish words lleno, meaning full, and agua, water, referring to the landscape dotted with saltwater lakes and ponds.
Life on Inagua has historically been very difficult for people, but it is paradise for plant and animal life. Both Great and Little Inagua are incredibly biodiverse, and home to a number of endemic species of plants, birds and reptiles. These are found exclusively on the Inaguas and nowhere else in The Bahamas, let alone the world.
Given the rich land- and seascapes of the Inaguas, it’s not surprising that they are stewarded for plants and animals as much as they are for humans. In 1965 nearly half of the island of Great Inagua became Inagua National Park. The 287 square mile wilderness is included on the Ramsar list of Wetlands of International Importance. Part of the park encompasses the Union Creek Reserve, an enclosed tidal creek and sea turtle research station. Surrounded by mangroves, the reserve is a natural habitat for green and hawksbill turtles.
In 2002, the government established Little Inagua National Park. The park covers the entire island of Little Inagua and its surrounding waters, which are important for replenishing our oceans. For example, Little Inagua is a documented nesting location for critically endangered sea turtle species. With no freshwater sources, Little Inagua is already hostile to human life, but giving it national park status ensures there will be no developmental intrusions.
Inagua’s Unique Birds
Have we gotten you excited about this jewel of an island yet? We’ve only just scratched the surface! Inagua has over 140 species of native and migratory birds, and is internationally recognised as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.
If you’re a hummingbird lover, you might have heard of the Bahama woodstar, a species that’s, of course, native to The Bahamas. There are woodstars on Inagua too, and in 2015 they were classified as an entirely different species; now they are known as the Inagua woodstar. There are differences between Bahama parrots on Inagua and every other island in our chain as well. These bright green parrots typically nest on the ground, but in Inagua they nest in trees.
Of all Inagua’s birds, flamingoes definitely have the highest profile. They are the national bird of The Bahamas and figure prominently on our coat of arms. Although, today, there are approximately 70,000 birds in their colony, there was a time when they were at the brink of extinction. In fact, flamingoes are at the heart of the greatest Bahamian conservation success story. Starting in the 1950s, when the colony numbered less than 5,000 – the largest in the entire region – it was slowly nursed to its flourishing status today.
Between the native Bahamian birds and the flamingoes, we hope you’re convinced that Inagua is the island for you. But just in case you’re still on the fence, here are a few more wonderful birds you may find: Bahama pintails, West Indian whistling ducks, roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, brown pelicans, burrowing owls and countless others.
Whether you’re a devoted birder or this post has made you want to try birding for the first time, we’re confident that your experience on Inagua won’t disappoint. There are even certified birding guides in Matthew Town who can ensure you’re looking in all the right places. With the ‘what to do’ taken care of, all that’s left is to book your ticket!