St. Maarten has 164 recorded bird species and water birds make up a large part of the group. While 39 species are resident and breed locally, the majority of species are migrants that stop-over during the winter. The birds breed, nest and forage among the mangroves wetlands and on rocky islets in the marine park. Resident avian species also make up the bird population among which the National bird, the Brown Pelican. Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) and Bird Life International have indentified five Important Birds Areas (IBAs), international site priorities for bird conservation; Little Bay Pond, Fresh Pond, Great Salt Pond, Fort Amsterdam and Pelican Rock. Of the five IBAs, Pelican Rock is protected within the St. Maarten Marine Park and Fort Amsterdam is protected as a historical site.
Brown pelicans can be seen fishing for their dinners at several areas around the island. Simpson Bay Lagoon, the outer Simpson Bay, Great Bay and Littlebay Pond are popular dining spots. Watch them drift along in the air above the water, peering for fish below, then suddenly pull in their shoulders and plunge into the water, to grasp a fish in their large beak pouch.
Ruddy Turnstone This little sandpiper is found along rocky or sandy shores where they turn over stones, shells, and debris to look for molluscs, crustaceans, fish eggs and vegetable matter. Plump with short necks and orange legs, in flight they show a pattern of black, white and reddish brown on their backs and wings.
Black Bellied Plover Seen on the island in large numbers in December and January, the black bellied plover shows a strong white wing bar and square-ish white patch on the rump and upper tail when in flight. Their call is very distinctive; a loud slurred whistle 'tlee-oo-ee', the second syllable lowers in pitch.
Laughing Gull Known by its cackling laugh-like call, the laughing gull can be found along the shore line waters. It feeds there, flying over the water until it spies a bit of food, on or near the surface. With a swoop, it picks up the quarry in its beak and flies away. In the summer these birds are marked by black heads with a white ring around the eyes. In winter they bare a small brown marking on the top of the head and around the eyes. The legs turn from red in summer to black in winter.
Royal Tern The dramatic black and white royal tern earns its living in plunge diving for fish in the bays and lagoons, often falling from considerable height. When not at work they, like their cousins the gulls, can be seen sitting on conveniently available boats, salt pond dikes or other waterside paraphernalia.
Brown Booby Like the cormorant, boobies pursue their prey underwater, sometimes remaining there for as long as 40 seconds. Because of how they rest in the salt ponds and lagoons with their body submerged, they appear as floating heads.
Snowy Egret These delicate white birds abound in and around the salt ponds, feeding in the wetlands and resting in the mangroves and other wetland vegetation surrounding the. They are distinguished by a bare yellow patch at the base of the black bill and by black legs and yellow feet. They spend their nights nesting in bushes and trees. Look for them to make this brief flight as they move in small groups an hour or two before sunset. They breed once a year with the female laying 3 to 5 greenish blue eggs which hatch in three to four weeks.
Stilts These elegant waders can be seen often in the Salt Pond feeding on aquatic insects, small snails and fish. Black-winged Stilts feed mainly on aquatic insects, but will also take molluscs and crustaceans. They rarely swim for food (unlike the Banded Stilt), preferring instead to wade in shallow water, and seize prey on or near the surface. Occasionally, birds plunge their heads below the surface to catch sub-aquatic prey. Their loud alarm call (Kek-Kek-Kek) alerts other birds to intruders.
Herons Several varieties of herons can be found in the ponds and their environs. Always dramatic to come upon, they are a study in patience as they wait for their meal of fish to swim into view (and reach). The Great Blue Heron ranges from 42 to 52 inches in length with a wingspan of seven feet. It is almost twice the size of the Green Backed Heron. The Yellow Crown Night Heron is distinguished by its black groin and back, long white head plumes and white belly. While travelling around the salt and fresh water ponds you may be fortunate to come face to face with one of these great herons. They will likely be totally unfazed by your presence.