The Barbuda Warbler

Known in Barbuda as the Christmas Bird, this bird used to be listed as Adelaide’s warbler. In 2000, the American Ornithologist’s Union (AOU), on the basis of current information, divided the species individuals into three new groupings under the names Adelaide’s Warbler, Dendroica adelaidae (endemic to Puerto Rico and Vieques), Barbuda Warbler, Dendroica subita (endemic to Barbuda), and St. Lucia Warbler, Dendroica delicata (endemic to St. Lucia).

An endemic species is one which is unique to a particular geographic location such as a specific island.  Islands, versus countries, are more likely to harbour endemics due to their isolation. In the Eastern Caribbean, Barbuda sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean, sitting apart from the rest of the island chain – a likely place for endemics.  Birds are highly mobile species since they can fly. It is, therefore, unusual for them to show endemism, especially in an island chain like the Eastern Caribbean. Having an endemic bird in the region is, therefore, something special.  That is what the Barbuda Warbler is.

Endemics can easily become endangered or extinct because of their restricted habitat and their vulnerability to the actions of man.  Since it is only found on Barbuda, the bird’s population is relatively small and it is therefore susceptible to developments which are associated with destruction of the vegetation which makes up its habitat.

In the 2009 IUCN Red List Category (as evaluated by BirdLife International – the official Red List Authority for birds for IUCN) the species has been listed as ‘Near Threatened.’

The Christmas Bird is found mainly in those areas of Barbuda that fall in the vicinity of the wetlands associated with the Lagoons. Here, thick shrubs provide the ideal conditions for its secretive nesting habits.  This vegetation type (particularly the logwood – Haematoxylon campechianum) also supports an abundance of insects which make up its food source.

Barbuda’s endemic bird represents one of the island’s best options for a viable economy going into the future. The island is flat (highest point is just over 120 ft/35 m) and is ecologically very fragile. This, however, is its greatest asset.  The small population and extensive wilderness areas serve to create a unique blend of ‘island’ ambiance that can form the basis for a ‘one-of-a-kind’ ecotourism experience.

Tourism is already a significant contributor to the island’s economy. However, the wrong type of tourism development could spell disaster for this fragile island, compromising the ecologywhich is the foundation of its unique ambiance.

Eco-tourism activities are often associated with conservation efforts. The study and protection of a keynote species such as the Barbuda Warbler will yield positive benefits associated with greater exposure to the birding community.  Barbuda has already experienced such positive benefits from its Frigate bird colony.

The presence of this endemic – the ‘Christmas Bird’– is a big boost to the ecotourism development effort in Barbuda.