Font Hill IBA is located 13 km west of Black River Morass IBA (JM007) in St. Elizabeth Parish, on the south coast of south-western Jamaica. It includes 1 km offshore of marine habitat.
This IBA is significant for supporting 19 (of the 36) Jamaica EBA restricted-range birds. Sixty-one percent (17 of 28) of Jamaican endemic birds have been recorded in the IBA. More than 50 Vulnerable West Indian Whistling-duck Dendrocygna arborea breed in the wetlands, and there is presence of the Near Threatened White-crowned Pigeon Patagioenas leucocephala and Masked Duck Nomonyx dominicus . Other wetland and coastal bird species breeding or wintering in the area include gulls, terns, grebes, herons, egrets and gallinules. At least 35 (of the 72) species of Neotropical migratory birds recorded use the IBA in winter, such as the Swainson's Warbler Limnothlypis swainsonii, which is found regularly along the mangrove margins at the Font Hill site, but is infrequent elsewhere in Jamaica. The wetlands comprise more than 10 fresh to brackish (mangrove-fringed) ponds and sloughs that tend to dry out during the dry season (January-March), but retain at least some water in the deepest ponds every year, and thus provide one of the only sources of fresh water within tens of km of the site. These ponds provide a focus of activity (feeding, bathing, nesting) for many birds, both aquatic and terrestrial species, especially in the driest years.
Non-bird biodiversity: The Vulnerable West Indian Manatee Trichechus manatus occurs, and the coast is a nesting area for sea turtles such as the Critically Endangered Hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata , Endangered Green turtle Chelonia mydas and Loggerhead Caretta caretta . Font Hill IBA along with Black River Great Morass IBA have been identified as the most important American Crocodile Crocodylus acutus habitats in Jamaica.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
A potential touristic development, including possible nearby airstrip, has been proposed to the IBA.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Extensive research, both by Jamaicans and North Americans, has taken place continuously at the Font Hill property going back to at least 1986. More than 70 scientific papers have been published based on this research, over 20 graduate students have completed theses (including from Jamaica) and hundreds of interns have been trained. This site is also internationally known for its long term research on the wintering ecology of migratory songbirds. Much of this research is focused on understanding the importance of the non-breeding season for long-term population dynamics of the large numbers of Neotropical migrants that winter at the site, and for monitoring how droughts, such as are forecast by Global Circulation Models to intensify, will impact populations of migratory and resident birds as well as other animals. Many of these animals like manatees, sea turtles, and whistling-ducks also provide an important potential for eco-tourism, if managed wisely; contributing to tourism and other commercial benefits. The site has great actual and potential educational value for Jamaicans.
Font Hill IBA is currently unprotected.
Habitat and land use
A diversity of pristine habitats including mangrove forest (black, red and white), undisturbed beaches and coastal scrub vegetation help protect against coastal erosion. Salinas or salt ponds range from the hyper-saline mangrove ponds of southern Font Hill to inland freshwater ponds. The inshore marine ecosystems include extensive areas of very healthy and productive sea grass beds (which form important fish nurseries). The coastal areas and the freshwater ponds receive some pressure from local fishing. A popular beach park borders the entrance to the natural area and is a popular destination for local Jamaicans. A large portion of Font Hill is used for agricultural purposes including experimental plantings of trees for the development of coal to cashew and mango plantations to squash and yam fields
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Font Hill. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 06/06/2020.