Malpais-St Michiel

Country/territory: Curaçao (to Netherlands)

IBA Criteria met: A1, A2, A3, A4i (2007)
For more information about IBA criteria please click here

Area: 1,100 ha

Protection status:

Site description
Malpais is a former plantation, just north of Sint Michiels Bay. An earthen dam has been erected, thus creating two lakes, that retain at least some water during dry seasons in most but not all years. The IBA, that is the two lakes and their near surroundings, covers an area of c. 3 km2 from about 10 to 71 m asl. Greater Malpais is about twice the size of the IBA. [this IBA should include the surrounding area in my opinion to encompass some important dry scrub habitat and its associated bird species and to include the vegetation and waterhole below the dam which hosts a large and important Brown-throated Parakeet roost and a columbid roost that includes Scaly-naped and Bare-eyed Pigeons. The area is managed as part of a conservation area and has excellent well-signed and designated hiking trails which are maintained by the local conservation organization Uniek Curaçao. Unfortunately, the island’s large and apparently growing dumpsite is located just north and upstream of the Malpais freshwater ponds. The potential of contamination of the wetlands from toxins leaching from the dumpsite and from the adjacent pig farm is unknown. St Michael Lagoon (500 ha. 0 – 50 m altitude) is situated on the south coast of Curaçao some 5 km north-west of Willemstad and forms part of the greater Malpais conservation area. It is landlocked, lying inland from the coral reef-fringed St Michiels Bay. The area is basically basaltic in origin with overcapping hills of coralline limestone rock surrounding the lagoon.

Key biodiversity
Caribbean Coot Fulica caribaea is a regular at Malpais, with normally tens of birds observed at a time (46 in March 2000) but frequently numbering upwards of 100 (Debrot, pers. observ.). It is present all-year round in most years, and has been confirmed breeding. Other probable or confirmed breeding birds include White-cheeked Pintail, Common Moorhen, Black-necked Stilt, Pied-billed Grebe, Least Grebe Tachybaptus dominicus and Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax. Wintering waterbirds include Blue-winged Teal and the occasional other duck species. The area below the dam is a traditional roost for Brown-throated Parakeets and columbids. As many as 165 Brown-throated Parakeets were counted leaving the roost in early morning in November 2003 (Wells pers. obs.). The surrounding habitat supports characteristic thorn scrub bird species including White-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara (20 in Nov., 2003), American Kestrel, Crested Bobwhite, Bare-eyed Pigeon (an exceptional 600 leaving roost in April 2000), Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Blue-tailed Emerald, Caribbean Elainia, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Black-whiskered Vireo, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Troupial, and Yellow Oriole. The wetlands and surrounding vegetation, imbedded within the otherwise dry habitat of the island, are a magnet for migrating birds. Feeding groups of migrating Caribbean Martins were observed in Nov., 2003, and are likely regular. Species like Blackpoll Warbler and Northern Waterthrush are of regular occurrence and the site has hosted many rarer and irregular species including Philadelphia Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Northern Parula, and Ovenbird. Wintering raptors that have been regularly observed here include Peregrine Falcon and Merlin. The prime importance of this site are the waterbirds that are supported by the freshwater dam. Most waterbirds are non-breeding species, and these include a number of herons and shorebirds. The flamingos that feed in the freshwater dam and nearby saline lagoon are part of a population of flamingos that variously use the three main saline wetlands of Curacao. Thus the Malpais area forms part of a vital network that supports an important southern Caribbean population of the species. St Michiel Lagoon Greater Flamingo 100-200 throughout the year (157 counted March 2000, 81 Nov., 2003—Wells pers. obs.) Common Tern (15 pairs breeding in 2002 and a similar level of breeding confirmed for 2006 (A. Debrot, pers. obs.) Other species documented include Reddish Egret, White-cheeked Pintail (25 in Nov., 2003), Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Osprey, Black-necked Stilt (30-Nov., 2003), Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs (50 in Nov., 2003), Willet, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper.

Non-bird biodiversity: Floristically the area is important as a number of endemic plants are present (Anonymous 1989). Apart from Christoffel National Park, Malpais is the only other area on Curaçao where the White-tailed Deer Oidocoleus virginianus is found. The endemic freshwater fish Poecilia vandepolli is present in the lakes (Vonk et al. 2007; Debrot, 2003). The area supports several or possibly all of the seven bat species known to occur on Curaçao as well as various lizard and endemic landsnail species.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Malpais-St Michiel. Downloaded from on 02/12/2020.