Birds in the garden (BIG) 1: Mòfi

As Covid-19 has also arrived in Curaçao a couple of weeks ago and the government has slowly been upgrading the measures to prevent the spreading of the virus, birdwatching in nature is out of the question. As of last Sunday night we have a ‘Shelter in place’ active, which basically means that inhabitants are not allowed to exit their homes if they do not work in vital professions, only to do necessary groceries with according rules and regulations.

I can tell you one thing, for a tropical Caribbean island these measures are increasingly harsh, as a big chunk of our economy and subsequently our population depends on tourism directly or indirectly. With almost all hotels closed, apartments en B&B’s shut down, restaurants and cafes closed, tour operators out of service and attractions devoid of visitors, now not even local visitors anymore, the island has basically become a ghost community with a lot of hidden poverty. A large group of people working on short term contracts are without a job, and have no income anymore. The man on the street who survived from job to job is desperately trying to do some work here and there out of the vision of the police and government to be able to pay for food. Most banks have given a 3 -month break on loans, and some have the luck that their landlords are so socially minded to give them dispensation of rent too. But not all are so lucky.

For Bird Watching Curacao, these times are also difficult, as especially in the last 2 weeks of March many bird watching trips were cancelled as guests could not arrive on the island anymore. Our monthly Bird Watching Cross Island trips are postponed.

But we do have the time now, hoping that the virus will not spread in our community causing an over-stressed medical system and many casualties as a result, to work on our educational features. So this is the first of a series of small articles about garden birds, the Top 10 of garden bird species which can be seen on our small island. With pictures made in the garden, as we are not allowed to hike outside. Bird watching under lockdown!

And the first is the Black-faced Grassquit or Mòfi as it is called in our local language Papiamento.

ENGLISH: Black-faced Grassquit
DUTCH: Maskergrondvink
SCIENTIFIC: (Tiaris bicolor)

Female Mofi 350x
Female Black-faced grassquit at the feeder in the garden. Photos Michelle Pors-da Costa Gomez

The Mòfi as the animal is called in Papiamento is a small bird of about 10 centimetres in size, which belongs to the seed eaters. The feathers of the Mòfi are greenish brown in colour and vary per individual. It is one of the few species of birds on the island, in which it is fairly clear to see whether it is a female or male animal. The males have a dark head and are overall darker in colour with olive-green tones and differ from the females, which are lighter and grayer in colour.

In the past, these birds were generally widespread throughout the island and were also found regularly in urban areas where they search for seeds, including cactus seed, in gardens. These days, the animals have become a lot rarer and the impression is that it is mainly due to the introduction of the invasive Saffron Finch, that numbers are declining. Saffron finches not only eat the same food, but are more aggressive in their search for food, and in addition, these birds live in

Male Mofi 350x
Male Black-faced grassquit at the feeder in Curaçao.

groups consisting of several adult animals and a large number of young. The Mòfis live in smaller groups that often cannot cope with the invasion of the large groups of Saffron finches.

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