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Birds, flora and fauna of Aruba

By Rebecca Elliott

Aruba's semi-arid climate has created a unique paradise in which local plants have developed the ability to flourish under drought-like conditions, and wildlife has eked out its own particular survival methods. The island, as a result, is much more than it appears, wherein between the subtle shades and textures of the seemingly tranquil landscape can also be found brilliant flowers, tenacious colorful birds and the almost overwhelming beauty of an undersea world teeming with life.

A birdwatcher's paradise

The great availability of fruit proves a boon to the island's population of ‘prikichi' or Caribbean parakeets (aratinga pertinax arubensis).

Birds, both migratory and native species, are among most successful examples of the island¹s fauna. Of course, as one would expect, water birds are some of the most plentiful species of birds to be found on the island. Sitting together in small flocks, pelicans are a common sight on the island. Aruba represents an important refuge for these birds, in particular for the brown pelican (pelecanus occidentalis), which is found on all of the islands but is known only to breed consistently on Aruba. The island is also and important breeding ground for Terns, known locally as ‘bubis,' which can be found in breeding colonies along the reef inlets near the Valero Oil Refinery in San Nicolas. Seven different terns, including the Royal Tern (sterna maxima), the sandwich tern (sterna albifons), the Cayenne Tern (sterna sandvicensis eurygnatha), Common Tern (sterna hirundo) and the least tern (sterna albifrons), can be found in this area. The government has already declared Bubali Plas an official nature preserve.

This fresh water lagoon is located not far from the hotel strip and represents an important nesting site for the Blue Heron, Green Heron, Cattle Egret and the Snowy Egret. While these water birds may be the most visible, more fanciful birds can be found when you travel further inland, including the ‘trupial' oriole (icterus icterus), ‘barica geel' finch and ‘blenchi' emerald hummingbird (chlorostilbon mellisugus).

Aruba is also home to birds of prey, including the ‘kinikini' kestrel (falco sparverius) and the ‘warawara' crested caracara (polyborus plancus), often observed souring in the skies over Arikok National Park. Aruba's endangered species. A third bird of prey is Aruba's endangered diminutive burrowing owl, or ‘shoco,' (athene cunicularia arubensis), a species unique to Aruba.

Turtles and snakes
Similarly unique, yet close to extinction is the Aruban ‘cascabel' rattlesnake (crotalus unicolor). Local efforts of conservation are also now focused on the marine sea turtles that nest on Aruba, from March to September, and including the leatherback turtle, hawksbill turtle, loggerhead turtle and the green turtle.

Much more than cacti

Aruba does support an astonishing variety of cacti plants, including the towering candle cactus (stenocereus griseus), the wide-reaching prickly pear (opuntia wentiana) and the rotund Turk¹s cap cactus (melocactus macracantthos). It is, however, the divi-divi tree (caesalpinia coriaria) as well as the kwihi tree that is most readily recognizable, marked by its graceful arching branches, shaped by the continuous breeze of the island¹s tradewind.

Each of these species, as well as the prickly acacia (acacia tortuosa) bushes, remain green all year-round, having evolved their own form of protection from grazing herbivores. Other of the island¹s plant species remains barren during dry spells, bursting to life and emitting bursts of colour with the return of the rains. The kibrahacha tree, or yellow poui, is the most remarkable example of this, transforming itself from bare limbs to a perfuse array of yellow blooms that decorate hillsides such as the Hooiberg, traditionally each June. Rainfall, traditionally occurring most often in the months of November, December and January, also bring about a return of ripe fruits, with native species including the West Indian cherry (malpighia emarginata), sea grape (coccoloba swartzii) and tamarind tree.