Connecting Communities and Conservation with BirdsCaribbean

The Red-billed Streamertail. (Photo by Steven Shunk)
The Red-billed Streamertail, endemic to Jamaica. (Photo by Steven Shunk)

The mission of BirdsCaribbean—the region’s largest conservation organization—is to advance the conservation of over 560 species of birds and their habitats in the Caribbean. It’s a huge responsibility for the organization’s 300+ members and partners, and includes a wide variety of activities, from groundbreaking research to engaging education. At the heart of all of these efforts is the fundamental task of connecting communities and conservation.

The two flagship bird festivals coordinated by BirdsCaribbean each year are one of the organization’s most powerful tools to connect communities and conservation. The Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival and International Migratory Bird Day activities reach over 100,000 people each year at events across the Caribbean. To showcase this year’s theme, Restore Habitat, Restore Birds, BirdsCaribbean developed a free ebook, Heritage Plants,  that showcased native, bird-friendly plants that beautify backyards and neighborhoods while creating habitat and food for birds.

Jamaican schoolchildren getting an up-close look at a Caribbean Dove by Lisa Sorenson
Jamaican schoolchildren getting an up-close look at a Caribbean Dove. (Photo by Lisa Sorenson)

Youth are often the best gateway to reach a community. For a twelve-year-old child, there is nothing like holding a wild bird gently in your hand, then releasing it into the wild. This year, BirdsCaribbean President Dr. Leo Douglas moved his research project in thirteen rural high schools in his native Jamaica forward, into Year Two. Funded and supported by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, the University of the West Indies and BirdsCaribbean, the project is the first long-term study in the Western Hemisphere of the knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of youth towards bird conservation and how that that can be changed through bird education. After only a year the students rejected the idea of the capture, killing and trade in native birds, considering birds to be “very important” for Jamaica and Jamaicans. Many of them indeed experienced an “awakening” to birds and nature, check out what the students had to say in this video.

BirdSleuth Caribbean summer camp for kids in Jamaica. (Photo by Emma Lewis)
BirdSleuth Caribbean summer camp for kids in Jamaica. (Photo by Emma Lewis)

Young people were again the focus at BirdsCaribbean’s first-ever Bird Camp for children at Kingston’s Hope Zoo in July, using the BirdSleuth Caribbean curriculum and with local support from the Sandals Foundation. Thirty youngsters – many from disadvantaged urban communities – were at first shy and lacking in confidence, but transformed within a day or two into eager, enthusiastic kids on a fast learning curve. Their first excursions with a pair of binoculars in their hands, their participation in art workshops, quizzes and even bird yoga, were all “eye-openers” for the children. They were reluctant to leave the lush, green environment, but eager to share what they had learned with friends and neighbors. It is hoped that, funding permitting, this could be a regular summer event and replicated elsewhere in the region.

BirdsCaribbean’s 20th International Meeting, held in Kingston in July, carried the theme Birds – Connecting Communities and Conservation. The meeting was abuzz and bursting at the seams with over 220 participants, themselves a community connected by both birds and BirdsCaribbean. The meeting showcased the latest in Caribbean bird research, education and conservation. Artist and naturalist Nils Navarro launched his groundbreaking Endemic Birds of Cuba field guide. It was announced that, on the island of Dominica, a breeding population of Black-capped Petrels was confirmed for the first time in over 150 years. Members of the public were invited to a special “Jamaica Day” program that featured exciting guest speakers, an introduction to Jamaica’s 29 endemic birds and a history of Jamaican ornithology.

International Migratory Bird Day activities in Puerto Rico. (Photo by Leslie Ann Pizarro Muriel)
International Migratory Bird Day activities in Puerto Rico. (Photo by Leslie Ann Pizarro Muriel)

The Caribbean Birding Trail, a program promoting birding tourism in the Caribbean made great strides in 2016. Guide training sessions were held in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. By promoting birding, showcasing the best birding sites and training guides, the program aims to integrate birds and birding into the Caribbean tourism portfolio, creating jobs and an incentive to preserve habitats. What a great way to connect communities, local culture and conservation!

How we connect communities and conservation in the Caribbean is more important than ever. These islands, like the birds that live on them, are beautiful and unique, but also vulnerable. Birds and their habitat are the heritage of the Caribbean people, and a resource that has the potential to bring sustainable growth and prosperity. Although threats are abundant, by sharing the wonder of Caribbean birds and teaching their value, BirdsCaribbean is creating and nurturing the connection to conservation, one community at a time.