Each island in the Caribbean is both unique and connected to its neighbors. The sea between islands forms a barrier between them that limits movement from island to island, but it isn’t an absolute barrier. The balance between separation and connection keeps our wild spaces in constant change. Major events, like hurricanes, can break down these barriers and cause sudden changes.
Birds can fly from island to island, but that doesn’t mean they will do it on their own. Many species are perfectly content to stay where they are. Seabirds travel great distances, and migratory birds fly thousands of miles each year. In both cases, they are moving to find food. Other birds, like sugar birds and doves, find the flowers, fruits and seeds they need right here. Few will ever leave St. Martin.
Hurricane Irma brought White-crowned Pigeons, which aren’t usually seen here. They do live on Antigua and Barbuda. These birds are capable of flying here, but it took an exceptional event to actually bring them. In this case, Hurricane Irma took the perfect path to carry them from there to here.
Since Irma, White-crowned Pigeons have been seen in many places on the island. There are definitely enough to find mates and start raising chicks here. Will they become a permanent part of our local birdlife?
There are some reasons to predict they won’t survive here. Hunting is one of the main threats to White-crowned Pigeons. At some point in the past St. Martin probably did have White-crowned Pigeons. Hunting is probably one of the reasons why they disappeared. Along with the Scaly-naped Pigeon, it is one of the most popular birds to hunt in the region.
The White-crowned Pigeon also has pretty specific habitat needs. They prefer nesting in mangroves and coastal areas, but they usually feed up in forested hills. If they don’t have enough of one or both of these habitats, they may not be able to survive. They also tend to be afraid of humans. They are known to abandon their nests if there is too much human activity nearby. With so many people on St. Martin, it could be a real challenge to find places to nest.
It is also possible that they will stick around and prosper. There’s really no way of knowing, except to watch and find out. They broke through a barrier by crossing the sea, but there’s no guarantee they will find what they need now that they are here. Will we remember this as the one year St. Martin had White-crowned Pigeons? Or will it be the year they came back for good?