Key West Quail-Dove, Elbow Cay, Abaco (Milton Harris) 1a


Elbow Cay has many reasons to be admired: the historic iconic striped lighthouse, Hope Town’s pretty harbour and surroundings, wonderful beaches, some great places to eat and stay, no cars, the general impression of being a happy and most congenial place to be. To which, may I add, a good place for birding in general and for pinning down a couple of hard-to-find species in particular. Resident and birder Milton Harris has sent me a few photos from his recent outings. There is at least one burrowing owl at the north end of Elbow Cay. These owls are reputedly very rare vagrants on Abaco but recent sightings suggest numbers may be increasing. More of which another time.

The Key West Quail-Dove Geotrygon chrysia is a permanent breeding resident on Abaco, but relatively uncommon. These birds are difficult to find, flighty, and fly fast. They are hard to get a clear photo shot at, and reluctant to pose attractively in the open in good light while keeping still. Sadly, we never got a good clear shot of one to use for THE BIRDS OF ABACO‘. A great one from Nassau, yes, but disqualified from inclusion by location. 

Key West Quail-Dove, Elbow Cay, Abaco (Milton Harris) 6a

Milton says he has been seeing KWQBs “at the north end of Elbow Cay off and on for the past year. Normally they flush and fly though the trees at great speed, so I have not been able to get a photo.  Today I was creeping through the coppice and one walked out in a clear spot and posed!” 

Approximate KWQD locationElbow Cay (north) map jpg


Disappointingly little these days. The KWQD originally bred in the Florida Keys and was actually discovered on Key West (incidentally a James Bond location used in ‘Licence to Kill’). Sadly the species no longer breeds in Florida (reasons unknown – all shot, maybe?) and these doves are now found only as vagrants there. I have checked the Bahamas National Trust’s very helpful BNT HUNTERS GUIDE – in the Bahamas, the quail-dove is completely protected and may not be shot or taken at any time [but I have a sneaking suspicion that they would be delicious…]

Elbow Cay: Abaco’s KWQD hotspot (eBird)KWQD hotspot map abaco


A nice idea, Elbow Cay being the sole Abaco hotspot for the species over the last 10 years, as recorded on eBird. But in fact the birds are found throughout much of the Caribbean so there will be other contenders for the honour. Probably best left as it is to avoid contention.

Key West Quail-Dove, Elbow Cay, Abaco (Milton Harris) 5a

I always enjoy comparing the ‘real thing’ as you might see a bird in the coppice near you, with the depictions of the bird made by one of the pioneers, Audubon prime among them. Here’s his very charming take on the species. But I agree, it’s not very like the bird you are looking out for…

Key-west Dove (J J Audubon)

Credits: many thanks to Milton Harris for his excellent photos of this tricky bird; hotspot clip from eBird