Bonaire is a paradise for birders and is well-known for its diving.

Condé Nast Traveler

Pos Mangel, a spring fed water hole, was where we observed the pecking. Tiny common doves were forced from their perch by small white-tipped doves. These doves became entangled in the scaly-naped, burgundy neck feathers of pigeons. We crossed an ancient lavafield to see magnificent frigate birds, six feet wide, as we walked along the cliff. “Frigate birds have lost leg mass evolutionarily,” explained Davis. “They can’t walk or swim with puny legs, so they steal from other birds instead of hunting.”

Davis took us to the flamingo breeding ground on the island’s southern salin pans the next morning. The Dutch seized the island after the Spanish had left. They wanted salt to preserve herring. Stone huts from centuries ago dotted the shore, providing shade for enslaved Africans who were forced to pick salt. Nearby, males and female least terns traded places sitting in small depressions in a ground where they incubated discreetly their eggs.

The salt pans spread out across the road, some pink and some white with crystals. The bird sanctuary shelters hundreds of flamingos from the wind.

Davis took me on Davis’s final day to an unusual hiking location. It was a collection of ponds with the filtered wastewater from Bonaire’s wastewater-treatment facility that were full of birds. Aside from the fenced in plant, black-bellied whistling birds rummaged in a pool for insects while a grooved-billed ani scratched in dirt nearby. Davis has asked for protection of the area, and I am cheering her on. Zoned for industrial use, this gritty spot next to Bonaire’s prison might not be on every tourist’s itinerary, but it’s a highlight for birders like me—because it’s a paradise for the birds.

Plan it

Dawn Oliver, founder and CEO of Well Xplored can organize a similar eight day trip. This includes diving to explore Bonaire’s coral reefs and shipwrecks. You will also have binoculars and a birding book at your disposal for when you return up for air. 

More avian paradises

Many of the birds in New Zealand aren’t able to fly because they were protected from predators before humans arrived. Donna Thomas from New Zealand Travel shows the strangest species through trips that include excursions to spot the nocturnal Kiwi bird, or after-hours access at a yellow-eyed penguin preserve. 

Since millennia, Iceland is a stop on annual migratory routes. Icepedition was founded by Chris Gordon, Access to private land on which different bird species can build their nests. You will find many varieties grouped together for guests. 

South American Escapes founder Jill Siegel suggests 16 days with a birding expert to spot the best fliers of Brazil. The Pantanal has over 400 species and the Atlantic Forest region more than 930—about 15 percent of which are found nowhere else.

This article was published in the April 2023 issue. Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine Here.

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