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Amazing Island Nature: Trinidad's spectacular scarlet ibis

One regret from my brief island getaway to the island country of Trinidad in the Caribbean? That I did not go birding. Yes, you heard me correctly. "Birding." Once upon a time, I thought bird watching sounded sort of silly and dull, but that was before I knew about gorgeous creatures such as the scarlet ibis. The photographs of these stunning animals have utterly captured my imagination:

scarlet ibis

(The scarlet ibis in flight. Photo by Dominic Sherony, Flickr.)

While Trinidad is beloved for many things, among them Maracas Bay beach and its delicious Indo-African-Caribbean cuisine, its birds are actually quite special. Trinidad lies off the northern coast of South America, at the southernmost point of the Caribbean island chain, and its unique geographic location has helped the country develop simply extraordinary nature, of all kinds.

Island Runaways

(A close-up of a scarlet ibis. Photo by Schristia, Flickr.)

The scarlet ibis is similiar to the white American ibises we see near Island Runaways' headquarters in south Florida. They both have black-fringed wings, although the rest of their feathers look startlingly different. As youngsters, the scarlet ibis isn't scarlet at all. Initially, the young birds' feathers are colored grey, brown, and white. But as they begin to eat red-colored crustaceans, they gradually change color, a process which lasts two years. Considering its gorgeous plumage, you can understand why the scarlet ibis appears on Trinidad's coat of arms, and why it's been featured on postage stamps.

Trinidad and Tobago

(The official bird of Trinidad and Tobago. Photo by Mark Morgan, Flickr.)

Apparently, of all the shorebirds in the world, the scarlet ibis is the only one with this red-orange coloring. They're rather delicate birds, weighing in adulthood about 3 pounds, and measuring 22 to 25 inches in length. They're also long-lived: up to sixteen years in the wild, and longer yet in captivity.

Caribbean birds

(One of the most beautiful Caribbean birds. Photo by Cliff, Flickr.)

Not only do they shrimp and crabs, they also consume insects such as beetles. These birds live in large flocks, with thirty birds or more. They're fairly social, too, going about their business along-side other water birds like egrets, herons, and ducks; sometimes they're even spotted flying in the company of these other species.

island getaway

(An island getaway with amazing nature. Photo by Shriram Rajagopalam, Flickr.)

The best place to view the scarlet ibis in all its glory in Trinidad is on the island's west coast, within the Caroni Swamp. This bird sanctuary contains the second largest mangrove wetland in the country, and is renowned for its populations of scarlet ibises. A good way to explore this natural wonder is to take a guided tour with an experienced guide, by kayak or boat. Nanan's Caroni Sanctuary Bird Tours offers excursions that both respect the fragility of nature and give visitors a chance to observe the wildlife from the best possible vantage points. There are other wonders to discover in Caroni, such as the hairy crab and four-eyed fish! It sounds like an unforgettable destination. Despite our love of tropical beaches, this is one Caribbean sight that is now topping our list of Island Runaway "must sees."

Have you explored Caroni Swamp or the Asa Wright Bird Center in Trinidad? If so, leave us a tip on our Guest Island Experts Page. Cheers!

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