In Puerto Rico’s Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge, members of the public went on a morning birding session, followed by a talk on endemic birds, in particular the “Reinita” – the Adelaide’s Warbler, known for its delightful song. On Grenada’s Belmont Estate, fifth-graders excitedly held bird bags, learned about mist netting and banding, and enjoyed releasing the birds. At the University of Havana’s School of Biology students organized knowledge piñatas, endemic bird bingo and other games and exhibits. And in Bermuda, besides the annual bluebird nestbox competition, members of the Bermuda Audubon Society sailed to Nonsuch Island in search of the National Bird, the endemic Bermuda Petrel, known locally as the “Cahow.”
What was all the fun and activity about? Well, one major clue in all of the above is the word “endemic.” The annual Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival (CEBF), coordinated by BirdsCaribbean and its energetic partners across the region, begins on Earth Day (April 22) and ends on International Biodiversity Day (May 22). The festival celebrates the
exceptionally high endemism in the region—173 species of birds call the Caribbean home, that is, they are found nowhere else in the world. Many of these species live only on a single island, and many are endangered or threatened. These birds are the most unique examples of the Caribbean’s natural heritage, and they often occupy specialized niches in the ecology of the islands where they live.
This year, dozens of events involved the active participation of thousands of islanders, young and old. The overall theme was “Spread Your Wings for Bird Conservation” which raised awareness about the different laws and programs that protect our unique birds and how everyone can participate in activities that help safeguard their long-term survival.
For the organizers of CEBF celebrations across the region, it is important to reach out to different groups. Birds – and in particular the “special” endemics that are unique to each island – have widespread appeal, touching hearts and minds in different ways. Each year, CEBF partners such as
Grupo Acción Ecológica in the Dominican Republic, the Natural History Society of Puerto Rico and Jamaica’s Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) offer new perspectives on endemic birds for visitors from overseas as well as students of all ages, educators, local families and youth groups such as Boy Scouts. Members of a group of grandparents (“Renacer”) were among those visiting the University of Havana exhibition. Many events were advertised via social media as well as traditional media.
In Jamaica, C-CAM’s new Portland Bight Discovery Centre, in the Salt River wetland area, was the setting for an exciting day of activities for local high school students and teachers. Prizes (including Ann Haynes Sutton’s “Birds of Jamaica” field guide) were awarded in four categories for a student art exhibition with some stunning entries. An exploration of the surrounding mangroves and bird hide, including binocular practice, was literally an “eye-opener” for the students. Earlier, the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) partnered with a local non-profit organization in deep rural Trelawny for the Spring Garden Bird Festival, where the very young Team Hummingbird were champion birdwatchers.
Over in the eastern Caribbean, the trans-boundary non-governmental organization Sustainable Grenadines Inc (SusGren) took to the seas and led a series of bird-watching trips with its Junior Rangers and graduate BirdSleuth teachers. Their island excursions included an early morning trip at the invitation of the exclusive Palm Island Beach Resort (breakfast included); and extensive seabird and shorebird viewing and counting via boat trips and on foot, around Union Island and its surrounding islets and rocks.
The CEBF would be nothing without partnerships, and new ones are being forged every year on every island. Non-governmental organizations such as “SOPI” (Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña), in Puerto Rico; private sector sponsors such as the Bermuda Electricity Company; government agencies such as Jamaica’s Forestry Department; and academic institutions such as the Cuban Zoological Society and the Institute of Jamaica’s Natural History Museum – all bring extra value to the activities by lending additional local expertise, materials and funds.
CEBF 2016 was, once again, an expression of joy and appreciation, as well as a learning experience for many. As the leader of a Boy Scouts group in Caguas, Puerto Rico put it: “What I was most pleased with were the activities for my students, teachers and the families. My boys thoroughly enjoyed it all.”
BirdsCaribbean thanks all of our partners for their leadership and hard work and the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Environment for the Americas and Optics for the Tropics for materials and support.