Jamaica’s Also Great for Bird Watching

A few years ago, bird watching was not on my list of vacation activities. But after driving past the sign to Rocklands Bird Sanctuary, my curiosity got the better of me. Rocklands is located about 30 minutes’ drive from Montego Bay going west along the main road towards Reading in a place called Anchovy in the parish of St. James.

I really didn’t know what to expect when we turned off the main road on to a very bumpy drive leading to the sanctuary but I was about to find out. Rocklands Bird Sanctuary was opened in 1962 by Lisa Salmon. Ms. Salmon, who was known as the “Bird Lady,” passed away in 2000. Rocklands is now managed by the husband and wife team of Fritz Beckford, a long time guide, and Claudette, his wife. Fritz has been at Rocklands for more than 20 years now.

When I arrived, he welcomed me to the porch and I sat, uncertain what to do next. A couple from Florida who was there ahead of me, saw my uncertainty and smiled. The husband began telling me about their trip – they had arrived by ship that morning, specifically to visit Rocklands, and were on their way to Mexico. As he talked, his wife added little details to their story. We were still talking when Fritz gave me a small water bottle with a sugar water mixture and told me to hold it in one hand and keep the index finger of my other hand out.

You mean, that’s all I have to do?

Hmm, I don’t know about this, I think to myself.

The birds must have read my mind as within seconds, a hummingbird landed on my finger, zoomed in on the pin-size opening in the water bottle and started drinking. It happened so quickly, I gasped.

Jamaica's Also Good for Bird Watching - Hummingbird at Rockland Bird Sanctuary
Jamaica's Also Great for Birding - Hummingbird at Rockland Bird Sanctuary
Jamaica's Also Great for Bird Watching - Hummingbird at Rockland Bird Sanctuary
Jamaica's Also Great for Birding - Hummingbird at Rockland Bird Sanctuary

It was that simple. I relaxed, and another bird landed.

Jamaica's Also Great for Bird Watching - Hummingbird at Rockland Bird Sanctuary
Jamaica's Also Great for Birding - Hummingbird at Rockland Bird Sanctuary

It was an unbelievable experience. As the bird landed, I felt my body shift and the tension, which I didn’t realize was there, disappeared. I had no choice but to relax and feel the peace that came over me. I looked at the couple sitting across from me and we all started chuckling.

I don’t remember how long I stayed at Rocklands Bird Sanctuary — I didn’t stay for the guided walk — but I left feeling like my mind had been blown.

Some of the Birds You Can Expect to See at Rocklands Bird Sanctuary

  • Hummingbird
  • Bananaquit
  • Jamaican Mango
  • Black-faced Grassquit
  • Yellow-faced Grassquit
  • Orangequit
  • Jamaican Woodpecker
  • Jamaican Parakeet

Getting There

Rocklands Bird Sanctuary is an easy 30 minute drive if you’re staying in the Montego Bay area, about an hour from Negril.
Hours: Monday to Saturday – 10 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
For more information, call Claudette or Fritz Beckford, 876-952-2009 or 876-871-4759
Cost: US$20

Other Birding Spots/Tours

With some 200 species, more than 20 of which are endemic to the island, bird watching isn’t limited to Rocklands Bird Sanctuary. Here are a few other locations and tours that you can arrange:

Best Months for Bird Watching

December through June are the best months for bird watching as more birds are visible. In the mornings, I wake up to several birds calling in the trees nearby. I am not yet able to identify the calls but there are at least 5 distinct ones.

Have you ever been birdwatching? How many species of birds can you identify?

24 comments on “Jamaica’s Also Great for Bird Watching

  1. I am not a good bird identifier but I love the actual bird watching part of it. My husband is into the identification and I could see myself getting into bird photography. It makes all the outdoor activities that much more interesting when you’re looking for birds. I’d certainly love to see the birds of Jamaica and feeding hummingbirds looks like great fun..

  2. OMG! Your pictures are SO cute. You look like you’re having an absolute blast with this experience in them. How cool! I would love to do something like this sometime.

  3. I love your expressions here, Marcia! This looks like such a fun activity and experience. It’s amazing how the bird is able to target the pinsize opening.

  4. I’m not good either but it’s great fun to watch. They make for some fabulous photos, if you can sit long enough to catch them. You’re right, Leigh, it does make outdoor activities fun. So, one more thing to do when you make it to Jamaica. BTW, there’s good bird watching up in the Blue Mountains as well.

  5. Great photos and a great experience. Hummingbirds are very cool.

    I love bird watching and listening, it is one of my favourite pastimes (but not an obsession).

    We have an eagle that cruises around our neighbourhood. One day it flew over the kid’s heads, so close, it ruffled their hair. Cheeky bugger.

    We are blessed with a wide range of birds that visit our backyards. http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/finder/all-species

  6. You can do a free ecourse with Jon Young on bird communication and connecting to nature http://birdlanguage.com/

    We have lots of very colourful parrots and they like to have a natter. Every day I try to take note of what birds are around.

    There is a wattle bird around that I call Crasher because he is a very reckless flyer and crashes into things. He’s not injured, he’s just an adolescent.

  7. The colours on that humming bird are just beautiful. I wish we could buy birds like that back home but then again nothing that pretty should be in a cage. Great article.

  8. Hahaha and most probably a boy, right? I’ll have to record the sounds — in the morning, there are quite a few of them. Thanks for sending that link, will definitely check it out. I need to be able to identify the calls I’m hearing.

  9. Those photos of you with the hummingbird are great! When I was in Costa Rica I was running about all over the place trying to get a photo of one before it flittered off. Next time I might try a makeshift nectar bottle!

  10. They do move quickly, don’t they? But they will stop for something to sip. I’ve been thinking of putting up a bird feeder near my back porch — there are lots of birds around!

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