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The Mystery of the Missing Todies: Understanding the Impacts of Invasive Mammals

Broad-billed Tody perched in a tree. They will typically perch on small branches with food before entering the nest. (Photo by Holly Garrod)
Broad-billed Tody perched in a tree. They will typically perch on small branches with food before entering the nest. (Photo by Holly Garrod)

Invasive mammals are known to be a problem on many islands. Holly Garrod shows first-hand how some of these pesky species are causing nest failure for one of the Caribbean’s most well known and best loved birds—the tody.

It was a muggy afternoon, typical for the summers in Jarabacoa, the central region of the Dominican Republic. Rubber boots on and camera in hand I was making my way through the creek system of a local farm. The goal was to check Broad-billed Tody nests. I was in the first field season for my master’s research, studying the breeding biology and behavioral interactions of Hispaniola’s two tody species: the Broad-billed Tody (Todus subulatus) and the Narrow-billed Tody (Todus angustirostris). One aspect of my research included how non-native mammals were affecting their breeding success. I had dubbed the creek I walked through as “tody neighborhood” (or barrio de barrancolis in Spanish), due to the high volume of nests I had found, totaling up to 15 in that one creek alone. I anticipated it would be one of my most productive sites this year, little did I know I was to be wrong.

But before I get into the mystery at tody neighborhood, let me explain some basic tody facts. Todies, while appearing to look like our pollinating hummingbird friends, are actually more closely related to kingfishers. Interestingly enough, todies are one of only two families of birds that are endemic to the Caribbean (the other being Dominican Republic’s national bird – the Palmchat). Within their Family Todidae, there are 5 species distributed throughout the islands of the Greater Antilles, most of which are named for the island they’re found on, excepting the aforementioned Hispaniolan todies. This interesting phenomenon, where Hispaniola is the only island to have two tody species, is the baseline for my master’s research, and the reason I was walking through creeks searching and monitoring for tody nests.

Typical clutch of Broad-billed Todies at 12 days old. Clutch size is typically 1-4 chicks. (Photo by Holly Garrod)
Typical clutch of Broad-billed Todies at 12 days old. Clutch size is typically 1-4 chicks. (Photo by Holly Garrod)

Now when most people hear “bird nest,” they think of an assemblage of twigs and moss carefully placed among the branches. But todies are different. For their nests, the pair chooses a dirt bank, then takes turns digging a burrow using their beaks. Typically, the burrows end up being about 10-15 cm deep, with some of them curving and all of them having an enlarged chamber at the end. With their preference for dirt banks, the best place to look for these burrows ends up being creeks.

Which brings us back to tody neighborhood. Walking through the creeks, notebook in hand, I stopped at the first nest. It was still early in the season, late May, and from my last check I knew all the nests had eggs. Now it was just a matter of seeing when they would hatch. I used an endoscope camera to check the nests, a long bendable tube with a camera and light on one end, where the other end hooked up to a monitor, providing live-stream tody footage. I slid the camera into the first nest, seeing nothing. Knowing that this nest had a tricky curve, I tried for several more minutes until something appeared, a cricket. Oftentimes when the todies finish breeding, other animals will move into the unoccupied cavities; typically large cave crickets are the most common. For this reason, todies almost always construct a new burrow every year. Presence of the cricket meant the nest had failed.

I continued to the other nests, hoping to have better luck. I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the next nest still had the three eggs noted from several days earlier. But that’s where my luck ended. The next 5 nests had failed. I was baffled, from all outward appearances the nests appeared fine: the holes were still the same size and there were no signs of forced entry or tracks around the banks. When I returned several days later, it was more bad news. More failed nests and still mostly no signs of the culprits. Several nests appeared as though they may have been enlarged, but most others maintained the same outward appearance. Who could be predating these tody nests?

This is a Broad-billed Tody chick at 13 days old. I banded chicks between 12-14 days because at that point they were most developed. Chicks typically fledged (left the nest) around 14 days after hatching. (Photo by Holly Garrod)
This is a Broad-billed Tody chick at 13 days old. I banded chicks between 12-14 days because at that point they were most developed. Chicks typically fledged (left the nest) around 14 days after hatching. (Photo by Holly Garrod)

I started putting up camera traps (part of my funding from the David Lee Grant), hoping to get footage of what was happening at these nests. The idea being, the camera traps are motion activated and start recording with the presence of movement. I set one up at one of the few remaining active nests in tody neighborhood, scattering the others at nests in other creeks. One week later, I returned to glean the videos. Sitting back at the field house, going through the videos I was disappointed with the first two cameras. Most of the videos showed twigs moving or people walking by, the angle looking slightly off to catch the curprit.

Then I came to a night picture. I was about to pass by when I saw the outline of a cat walking by. Suspect number 1. Yet when I checked the records that nest had fledged successfully when I retrieved the camera. Plus a cat would have to have caused some external damage to the nest hole to access the tody. Ruled out as the common culprit, but still a potential predator.

The next set of videos I pulled up began with a night shot. I waited several seconds and then suspect number 2 appeared: a rat. I watched several videos of what I can only assume to be the same rat climbing on logs and scurrying around. Video after video I watched the rat run around, but appear oblivious to the nest entrance. Finally, watching the rat take its usual stroll around the log, I saw it. The flicker of interest in the nearby nest hole. I watched as the rat approached, holding my breath. There was no way the rat could fit, it would have to dig out the nest at least a little bit, leave some trace of evidence behind. But lo and behold, the mammal contracted in its side and squeezed into the hole, no damage and no evidence. Then out it came, baby tody in its mouth. I finally understood why the nests were failing!

Video: During the night, a rat enters the tody cavity and predates one of the two tody chicks inside. The other was presumably trampled based on appearance the next day. This rat was caught on camera for several nights before entering the cavity. (Video by Holly Garrod)

As I continued watching the videos for another nest that had failed, I saw a third culprit appear, one I was surprised I hadn’t seen earlier. Let me introduce you to culprit number three, the mongoose. I watched as the weasel-like mammal appeared and begin excitedly digging at the base of the hole until it managed to disappear inside, and return with a single tody chick in its mouth.

Video: A mongoose digs out the nest from below and enters from the bottom, leaving with a tody chick at the end of the video. No todies were present after checking, suggesting the mongoose likely returned for the second chick. (Video by Holly Garrod)
A Narrow-billed Tody displays in the forest. (Photo by Holly Garrod)
A Narrow-billed Tody displays in the forest. (Photo by Holly Garrod)

Mystery solved. Or is it? From the videos and what evidence I could find, it appears that rats are the most wanted, followed by mongoose, and leaving room for both feral cats and dogs. What is clear is that the majority of these predations are from introduced mammals. Even though these mammals have likely been present on the island for several hundred years, it may not have been enough time for the tody to adapt in some way. Throughout these videos I saw no evidence of nest defense behavior, or evidence the parents were even present. Additional behavioral experiments I conducted using a mammal decoy showed the same result—no interest or concern in the “mammal” present at the nest. Do we really know the impact these non-native mammals are having on bird populations? Out of 42 Broad-billed Tody nests I was monitoring, nearly half (20) of them failed, while 6 of 20 Narrow-billed Tody nests failed. All of them appeared to fail from non-native mammalian predators.

While these mammals may not be putting a huge dent on the tody populations, it’s clear they are having an impact. Continued predation could cause a decline in population sizes, especially since the todies show little to no defensive behavior and are therefore highly vulnerable. My research highlights the importance of understanding breeding ecology and the factors that influence nest success in Caribbean endemics like the tody. It’s important to monitor populations so that we can undertake management actions if needed to ensure long-term survival of these amazing birds.

By Holly Garrod. Holly is a MsC student in the Biology Dept at Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania. One of the goals of her thesis research in the Dominican Republic is to better understand how Caribbean endemic birds respond to changing landscapes and invasive predators. Holly was a recipient of the 2016-2017 BirdsCaribbean David S. Lee Fund Grant.

Hugo, George, Irma and Maria: How Hurricanes Reinforce the Bond Between Islanders and Birds

Martha (Mandy) Walsh McGehee recalls her experiences with several devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean during the 1980s and 1990s, and the heartening interactions between people and birds in their aftermath.

I have had hurricane nightmares. Once, they were about boy-named hurricanes. Now they are about the girls. My first “bad dream” was in St. Croix in 1989, when Hurricane Hugo came to visit. My two-story home was demolished. The roof of the top floor and the sea walls on both floors were gone. I was in a downstairs closet for three days – blocked in by debris – before anyone could get to my house in the East End. I was lucky to be on the first flight to the United States. I never returned to St. Croix. Instead, I relocated to the island of Saba in 1990.

An aerial view of Saba after the hurricanes in the late 1990s. (Photo by Mandy McGehee)
An aerial view of Saba after the hurricanes in the late 1990s. (Photo by Mandy McGehee)

On Saba, I had become known as the “Bird Lady” due to my work with the Rare Center for Tropical Bird Conservation (now called RARE), and my experience rehabilitating birds. My doorbell rang often and I would answer it to find an islander with a cardboard box, which contained an injured or dehydrated bird. I lost some, but was able to rehabilitate many.

In 1992 I met a man from Miami who came to Saba without a dive buddy and we eventually married. His experiences in Florida prompted him to update my home for hurricanes. For example, he immediately made certain that the glass doors and windows had adequate permanent shutters. All went well until my second bad dream in 1998: Hurricanes George (followed a year later by Lenny). We retreated to the laundry room that was a level down from the house and protected from the sea by our cistern. When we emerged and went upstairs to the main house, we found the stone walls were intact but the house was full of water. George even took our fireplace chimney and part of the roof with him!

I walked outside to our courtyard and couldn’t believe the number of Purple-throated Caribs and Bananaquits that were waiting on bare twigs near where our feeders had been. We had eight feeders in the fridge that I had removed the evening before George hit, and we took them out immediately.

My faithful Purple-throated Carib waiting in the yard. (Photo by Mandy McGehee)
My faithful Purple-throated Carib waiting in the yard. (Photo by Mandy McGehee)

The first feeder went to a Purple-throated Carib we called Buddy. He dominated the pool area and successfully defended “his” feeder from all other hummingbirds and Bananaquits. His perch was less than a foot away. We always talked to him and it took him no time to recognize his name. If he wasn’t on his perch above the feeder he would come in if we called him. When I removed his empty feeder he would perch outside my front door. When I came out with a full one he would fly to my shoulder and ride to the feeder. I think he chose the shoulder over the feeder to avoid being sloshed with sticky fluid. He was one smart bird!

With Buddy safe it was time to check on our Gray Kingbird named Jeremiah, who we rehabilitated after receiving him as a nestling. We had raised him in our family room, teaching him to catch moths and bugs outside when he was fully feathered and starting to fly. He came immediately when I called. Needless to say, it was such a relief that he had also made it through the Hurricane!

After Hurricane Georges in 1998, the lack of vegetation revealed a sight never before seen from my house- the airport down below. (Photo by Mandy McGehee)
After Hurricane Georges in 1998, the lack of vegetation revealed a sight never before seen from my house- the airport down below. (Photo by Mandy McGehee)

After tending to the birds, I looked around and saw that the elfin forest was completely gone, stripped bare of all leaves, fruits and flowers. I knew what we had to do. We had a satellite phone and called Miami. I managed to get a donation of 250 hummingbird feeders and we ordered four pallets of birdseed to be shipped to the island in the fastest way possible.

The word spread quickly through the island that I had ordered emergency rations for the birds and as a result, our house became a feed and feeder distribution center. Most of the islanders lost their roofs. I can remember blue tarps covering damaged houses everywhere. Yet, in the midst of utter devastation, I would see Sabans out every day filling feeders for the birds.

From my experience, islanders really began to pay attention to their birds after the hurricane. Because the elfin cloud forest was gone, many birds that were primarily seen only there and passage migrants were forced to come halfway down the mountain to the villages in search of food. This excited people and I was constantly identifying birds for curious residents. A Baltimore Oriole was spotted and soon attracted the whole neighborhood!

Much of the vegetation on Saba was damaged after the hurricanes- removing critical food sources for many of the island's birds. (Photo by Mandy McGehee)
Much of the vegetation on Saba was damaged after the hurricanes- removing critical food sources for many of the island’s birds. (Photo by Mandy McGehee)

Saba has no standing water, so water birds were especially exciting. One of the most memorable bird identifications I made was of a Green Heron. I arrived at the home of an elderly gentleman who was standing in his yard waiting for me. He thought the bird was the prettiest bird he had ever seen. He wanted to know everything about it. I always had a bird guide in my car so was able to answer all of his questions. After spending over half an hour discussing the bird and looking at it from all the varying angles, I finally told the man I needed to go home. He gave me a big hug and thanked me with tears in his eyes. He said he hoped the bird could go back to its home, but hoped that if another hurricane came the bird would visit again.

I have had nightmares again, since Irma and Maria. Throughout my career, I traveled to many islands to supervise bird projects we were working on in the Lesser Antilles. My heart breaks for all the islands impacted by the recent hurricanes, and I know many of them- and their birds- well. I am hoping that, by telling my story, maybe those islands can plan ahead and have a repository of feeders and seed on hand at the beginning of hurricane season. They will likely be rewarded, as I was, with an island that truly loves and takes care of its birds.

Cleaning up the damage after Hurricane Georges. (Photo by Mandy McGehee)
Cleaning up the damage after Hurricane Georges. (Photo by Mandy McGehee)

I would now like to add a postscript. Since writing the first draft of this article I have been in almost daily contact with my very dear friend on Saba who is the current bird rehab person specialist. When she wrote to tell me there was no more seed and few feeders on the island, I arranged for her to get in touch with Lisa Sorenson. Lisa has arranged for a seed and feeder shipment to Saba. I will always be grateful to BirdsCaribbean, and I am very proud to be a member.

By Martha (Mandy) Walsh McGehee, biologist and member of BirdsCaribbean since its beginning in 1988.

Editor’s note: We thank Mandy for writing about these memories. Her inspiring story, originally told to Lisa Sorenson by phone after Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit in September 2017, motivated us to make sure that all the islands (15) impacted by these hurricanes received shipments of feeders and seed. We’re happy to report we were able to do this, thanks to many generous donors to our Hurricane Relief Fund. We continue to help birds and our partners recover with many restoration activities planned for 2018. The needs are enormous, however, so continued donations to the fund are welcome.

 

The Status of Caribbean Forest Endemics—Special Issue of JCO

The Journal of Caribbean Ornithology (JCO) is excited to announce the release of a Special Issue on the Status of Caribbean Forest Endemics (Volume 30, Issue 1). Inside you’ll find a total of 10 publications, 9 of which focus on different forest endemic birds from central Cuba down to Grenada. The tenth publication provides statistical evidence of the JCO’s invaluable role as a multi-lingual, regional scientific journal that outshines other ornithological journals through its distinct subject strengths, especially in terms of papers published on the distribution and abundance of forest endemic species.

Map showing locations of research on various Caribbean forest endemic birds featured in the Special Issue of JCO.
Map showing locations of research on various Caribbean forest endemic birds featured in the Special Issue of JCO.

In this Special Issue, we highlight those strengths with a collection of publications specific to forest endemic birds, many of which have become icons and flagship species for their specific island communities. In some cases, there is good news to report, whether it be population growth or range expansion, while in other cases, there are greater causes for concern and subsequent action on our part. The extirpation of the Golden Swallow from Jamaica, for example, is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of some of our forest endemics, and a prime example of the complexities of the problems that island birds face.

As stewards of island bird communities, we know that we must often be two steps ahead when it comes to making informed decisions with local conservation management practices. Islands are filled with diverse fauna and flora that interact in ways that can’t be seen anywhere on the mainland, but simultaneously their populations can often suffer the most from even the smallest disturbances. Our resilience must make up for those species that have such little of it. And here at the JCO we firmly believe that making the most current and impactful research available to our Caribbean community is one of the many critical steps towards doing exactly that.

The following are brief synopses of each publication you’ll find in our Special Issue, which we hope will quickly spark your interest in reading through each in more detail.

Male Montserrat Oriole on a red Heliconia flower.Our Special Issue starts off in the forests of Montserrat, a habitat heavily impacted by volcanic activity over the last twenty years. In Bambini et al.’s Current population status of four endemic Caribbean forest birds in Montserrat, current populations of four endemic forest birds are surveyed for, including the Bridled Quail-Dove (Geotrygon mystacea), Forest Thrush (Turdus lherminieri), Brown Trembler (Cinclocerthia ruficauda), and Montserrat Oriole (Icterus oberi).

 

 

2. GiantKingbird_Eduardo Inigo Elias-croppedWe move to the Greater Antilles where, in the face of recent extirpations from its former range, Peña et al. bring us in-depth news on the endangered Giant Kingbird’s remaining foothold in Cuba with their publication Distribution and abundance of the Giant Kingbird (Tyrannus cubensis) in eastern Cuba.

 

 

3. Maikel Canizares Morera_Habitat-croppedMoving westward across the Caribbean’s largest island, we are now presented with information on a newly identified population of Palm Crows that may exceed 200 individuals, thanks to recent work by Maikel Cañizares Morera in his publication Nueva localidad para el Cao Ronco (Corvus palmarum minutus; Aves: Corvidae) en Cuba Central.

 

4. Elfin-woods Warbler_Gloria Archilla-croppedTo the east, on the island of Puerto Rico, Anadón-Irizarry et al. provide us an invaluable update on the Status and recommendations for the recovery of the Elfin-woods Warbler (Setophaga angelae) in Puerto Rico. In light of devastating impacts to forest habitats by recent hurricanes, this work will be pivotal in helping post-hurricane conservation efforts understand the species’ vulnerability and most pressing needs.

 

5. Mark Orr_Cuban Parrot-Feature imageIn Haakonsson et al.’s Conservation status of Grand Cayman (Amazona leucocephala caymanensis) and Cayman Brac (Amazona leucocephala hesterna) Parrots, we find ourselves ~250 miles south of Cuba amid the Cayman Islands, where alarmingly two subspecies of Cuban Parrot are being found in fewer, more concentrated population sites.

 

6. Gunnar Kramer & Jennifer Mortensen_White-breasted Thrasher-REVOur journey swings us back east into the Lesser Antilles to the neighboring islands of St. Lucia and Martinique, where Mortensen et al. report on the Current status of the Endangered White-breasted Thrasher (Ramphocinclus brachyurus), a dry forest songbird endemic to Saint Lucia and Martinique. Heavily geographically restricted on both islands and facing myriad threats, new and amplified life history information on the White-breasted Thrasher reviewed in this publication will undoubtedly prove invaluable for new conservation plans underway.

 

7. Greg Homel_Grenada Dove-REVTo the south lies the island of Grenada, where Bonnie L. Rusk has been undertaking Long-term population monitoring of the Critically Endangered Grenada Dove (Leptotila wellsi) on Grenada, West Indies. Here Rusk stresses the current critical state of the Grenada Dove based on long-term population trends and multiple obstacles facing species recovery.

 

8. Cockpit Country_Claude Fletcher-REVLastly, we set sail back up towards the Greater Antilles, finding our way to the beautiful island of Jamaica, and in particular its Cockpit Country – a region known for its seemingly impenetrable (yet still vulnerable) geography of karst-limestone hills. Herlitz Davis’ publication on Forest disturbance has negative consequences for the persistence of Jamaica’s threatened and endangered bird species in Cockpit Country brings forth evidence of an association between forest disturbance and bird distribution patterns in a globally important area for bird species that is under pressure from all sides by various types of habitat disturbance.

 

9. Jamaican Golden Swallows specimens_Hein van Grouw-REVPulling back to an island-wide view, Proctor et al.’s time censusing the remote corners of Jamaica for aerial insectivores completes an ongoing effort to determine whether any Jamaican Golden Swallows persist on the island in light of there having been no individuals reported since the 1980’s. The Last search for the Jamaican Golden Swallow (Tachycineta e. euchrysea) confirms the local extinction and highlights the importance of using new knowledge to strengthen conservation plans for the subspecies that persists on the island of Hispaniola to the northeast.

 

Antillean_Crested Hummingbird-Grenada_HPN (2)-CroppedThe Special Issue’s final publication is an equally important one in which we are empirically reminded of the unique niche that the JCO fills in the wider world of ornithological publications. The role of a regional journal as a depository for valuable ornithological data as demonstrated by Caribbean forest endemic birds, by Devenish-Nelson et al., is an uplifting report of the impact that our community’s journal is having on birds, people, and the bright future of research and conservation.

You will find the issue in its entirety for free download here:
Thank you to all the authors, reviewers, and members of the production team for making this Special Issue possible.  Enjoy, and please spread the word!
Jason Townsend (editor-in-chief, JCO) and the JCO Editorial Team

BirdsCaribbean Welcomes News of Proposed Jamaican Wildlife Sanctuary

Great Goat Island (foreground) and Little Goat Island.
Great Goat Island (foreground) and Little Goat Island.

BirdsCaribbean, the region’s largest conservation organization, warmly welcomes news that the Government of Jamaica is planning to establish a Wildlife Sanctuary at Goat Islands, in the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA).

“This is a great Christmas gift to Jamaican and international campaigners, who have advocated in recent years to have Goat Islands protected,” said Lisa Sorenson, Executive Director of BirdsCaribbean. “We wish to congratulate Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ administration for this bold and forward-thinking move.”

Sorenson pointed out that the PBPA was designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) and Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) by BirdLife International. “These are nature’s biodiversity hotspots,” noted Sorenson. “Goat Islands include important and threatened habitats for birds and other species, especially its pristine mangrove systems and dry limestone forest.”

BirdsCaribbean also warmly commended the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), under the leadership of Diana McCaulay, for its determined advocacy, as well as the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM), supporters and advocates from all walks of life. “Diana McCaulay is a staunch defender of Jamaica’s environment,” said Sorenson. “We wish her all the best in her retirement and look forward to working with JET’s incoming CEO Suzanne Stanley, and with all our Jamaican partners in 2018.”

West Indian Whistling Ducks are a threatened regional endemic, resident in the PBPA. They have been declining in Jamaica due to loss of wetland habitat.
West Indian Whistling Ducks are a threatened regional endemic, resident in the PBPA. They have been declining in Jamaica due to loss of wetland habitat.

The PBPA, including Goat Islands, is home to 17 endemic birds (found only in Jamaica) and many resident birds, such as the West Indian Whistling Duck – one of the most threatened waterfowl in the Western Hemisphere Endemic species include: Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo, Jamaican Oriole, Jamaican Owl, Jamaican Tody, Sad Flycatcher, Jamaican Spindalis and Jamaican Mango. The area is a critical refuge for numerous neotropical migrants, including ducks, warblers, waterbirds, shorebirds and seabirds, that spend the winter or stop off in the area.

“The Caribbean islands are fragile, and increasingly vulnerable to climate change impacts, as well as human activities such as tourism and housing developments. This has been a very difficult year for Caribbean birds on numerous islands, after two devastating hurricanes. We are delighted by this positive news as the year draws to a close,” said Sorenson.

By Emma Lewis, Blogger, Writer and Online Activist, based in Kingston, Jamaica. Follow Emma at Petchary’s Blog—Cries from Jamaica.

Thanks to all of our members and partners that have supported us in this campaign through writing letters, signing petitions, spreading the word with your networks, and more. Your efforts have paid off and we thank you! – Lisa Sorenson

Read about the decision to save Goat Islands from development in 2016:

Goat Islands Saved! Conservationists Warmly Welcome Jamaican Government Decision Against Transshipment Port in Protected Area

 

BirdsCaribbean Hurricane Relief Fund—Accepting Applications to Help Birds and Habitats Recover

Normally lush and green, Trafalger Falls in Dominica, the nature isle, suffered serious damage to natural areas from Hurricane Maria (photo by Mark Lopez)
Normally lush and green, Trafalger Falls in Dominica, the nature isle, suffered serious damage to natural areas from Hurricane Maria (photo by Mark Lopez)

The islands of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico and the surrounding marine areas provide essential habitats for many migratory and resident birds, including endemics that occur nowhere else in the world. In September 2017, many islands in the eastern and central Caribbean were ravaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The impacts on human livelihoods, infrastructure, homes and businesses are being addressed to some extent by governments and the traditional relief agencies. The impacts on natural habitats, species, conservationists and conservation projects are harder to assess and quantify, but no less dire. Thanks to many generous donors to our Hurricane Relief Fund, BirdsCaribbean has established a fund to aid the recovery of birds and bird habitats by supporting conservationists and recovery projects on hurricane-affected islands.

OVERALL OBJECTIVES FOR HURRICANE RELIEF FUND

  1. To provide resources to advance the recovery and ongoing conservation of birds and their habitats on islands affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  2. To assist conservationists working on these islands regain capacity lost in the hurricane and necessary to undertake recovery and conservation projects.

WHO MAY APPLY TO THE FUND

Grants from the fund are available to BirdsCaribbean members and partners or individuals/groups undertaking work on the islands seriously damaged by Irma and Maria: Dominica, Barbuda, Anguilla, St. Eustatius, St. Barts, St. Kitts, Saba, St Martin/Sint Maarten, British and US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Cuba.  Applicants may be non-government organizations, government agencies, or private individuals, based on or off the islands in question.

PRIORITIES FOR THE FUND 

Projects must contribute to the conservation of any Caribbean birds and their habitats affected by hurricanes. Preferred projects are those that will benefit threatened endemic species (island or regional), and local or regionally significant populations or species of conservation concern (migrants and/or residents).  Activities that help in the recovery of Important Bird Areas, Key Biodiversity Areas, Ramsar sites, mangroves, or Protected Areas are also preferred.

Blue-headed Hummingbird, endemic to Dominica and Martinique. Very few individuals have been seen since Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Dominica. (photo by Paul Reillo)
Blue-headed Hummingbird, endemic to Dominica and Martinique. Very few individuals have been seen since Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Dominica. (photo by Paul Reillo)

Other criteria that BirdsCaribbean will consider include:

  • Does the project address an immediate, short-term conservation issue that was caused or exacerbated by the hurricanes?
  • Are objectives and activities associated with the expenditure clearly linked?
  • Is the request realistic and reasonable? Has there been an effort to leverage these funds to raise funds from other sources?
  • Does the applicant have sufficient experience and organizational skills needed to complete the activities outlined in the request?
  • Does the request show evidence of thoughtful planning and details?

SIZE AND LENGTH OF GRANTS

The BirdsCaribbean Hurricane Relief Fund is positioned to support small grants – up to US$5,000. Expenditures should be immediate (as soon as funding has been received) and ideally completed within 6-12 months.  Larger grants of up to $10,000 may be considered but will require a more detailed application. Matching funds are not required but contributions should be documented where possible.

DATES FOR SUBMISSION OF REQUESTS

Requests may be made of the fund at any time. Requests will be reviewed and granted on a rolling basis (that is, first come, first served) until funds are exhausted.

REPORTING REQUIREMENTS

Recipient will acknowledge receipt of funds and confirm their expenditure. Project recipients will be expected to document their activities with photographs and post updates on Facebook if they have access to the internet. A short blog article describing your activities for BirdsCaribbean’s monthly Newsletter is also requested.

PROJECT ADVISORY TEAM

If you have questions about eligible activities or requests for assistance (e.g., advice on how best to carry out surveys and monitoring), please contact BirdsCaribbean Executive Director, Lisa Sorenson (Lisa.Sorenson@BirdsCaribbean.org)

TYPES OF ACTIVITIES THAT MAY BE CONSIDERED FOR FUNDING*

 Funding must be used for short-term activities that are directly related to assessment of or recovery from hurricane impacts.

  1. Assessment of impacts and identification of conservation needs for birds and their habitat post hurricanes; e.g., surveys, assessments, and monitoring of high-priority species and their habitats that may have been affected by the storms.
  2. Implementation of conservation/recovery actions; e.g. habitat clean-ups, clearing of trails, and restoration or enhancement work, such as re-planting of mangroves and native trees lost in the storms.
  3. Emergency support for vulnerable species; e.g., feeding programs for endemic parrots in damaged forests.
  4. Provision of shortfalls to pre-existing projects that are facing issues as a result of hurricane damage; e.g., loss of materials, infrastructure or equipment
  5. Capacity restoration; e.g., office and field equipment which was lost or damaged in the storm, such as binoculars, scopes and tripods, computers, cameras, backpacks, GPS units, etc. or materials for community outreach and education.
  6. Restoration of infrastructure that supports nature-based livelihoods damaged by the hurricane; e.g., repairs to boardwalks, blinds, etc., especially in parks and protected areas.
  7. Implementation of outreach and education events that raise awareness about the impacts of storms and climate change on wildlife and ecosystems and how local people can help; e.g., promoting citizen science monitoring using eBirdCaribbean and iNaturalist (especially important in the wake of hurricanes), feeding birds to help them survive post-hurricane food shortages, planting native trees that are beneficial to wildlife, promoting recycling, planting of native trees, and energy conservation, advocacy for properly-planned post-hurricane development, etc.
  8. Other

*The following list is not in order of priority.

BIRDSCARIBBEAN HURRICANE RELIEF FUND – REQUEST FORM

(Submit as an attachment or in the body of an email and send to: info@BirdsCaribbean.org and Lisa.Sorenson@BirdsCaribbean.org). BirdsCaribbean Hurricane Relief Fund Request Form.

TOTAL Request*:  $US __________

If request is for materials rather than cash (e.g., equipment or supplies, please provide specifics).  Note:  BirdsCaribbean can assist with the purchase of discounted binoculars, spotting scopes/tripods and some other items).

EXPLANATION OF ACTIVITIES:

  1. What type of activity is associated with this request? See list of Types of Activities above.

 

  1. Provide a brief explanation of the request, including an explanation of how will the funds be used, your desired outcomes, and expected benefits (to birds, habitats and people).

 

  1. If the request supports multiple items or activities, please provide a brief explanation of budget, e.g., a simple table.  There is no requirement for matching funds but where they exist in cash or in-kind please document them, as this will help BirdsCaribbean raise further funds.

 

 

INFORMATOIN ON APPLICANT

Name:

Title:

Organization:

Address:

Email:

Phone:

 

Briefly note your experience in managing similar projects:

 

 

Provide names of other project leads, partners, sponsors, or any mentors who will be assisting with this project:

 

 

**Applicants may request funds for materials, travel, equipment, and repairs or restoration work. Stipends may be requested to pay for someone’s time if they are not already employed and volunteers are not available, or to pay persons who lost their primary source of income due to the hurricane and are willing to work short-term on your project for a small amount of pay (please justify). Stipends should be reasonable, e.g., $50-100/day to complete the work)

 

Forest Restoration in the Dominican Republic: How I Got the Birds to Work for Me

Follow Spencer Schubert on his adventures into remote corners of the Dominican Republic and learn how birds (and their poop!) naturally restore forests. And they do this for free!

Bird enthusiasts have long struggled with the challenge of attracting birds to their backyards, often employing the use of feeders, bird baths, or populating their gardens with plants that birds like. There’s something about birds that really captures our attention, whether it’s their impressive bright plumage or the cheery music they produce.

The Palmchat (Dulus dominicus) is one of the most unique birds in the Caribbean region. The species is endemic to the island of Hispaniola. Over the course of our studies, we have found evidence that Palmchats consume more than 40 species of fruits, making them the most generalist and important seed dispersers known to these landscapes. Here, an individual is seen feeding on Wild Guarana (Cupania americana). (Photo by Dax Roman)
The Palmchat (Dulus dominicus) is one of the most unique birds in the Caribbean region. The species is endemic to the island of Hispaniola. Over the course of our studies, we have found evidence that Palmchats consume more than 40 species of fruits, making them the most generalist and important seed dispersers known to these landscapes. Here, an individual is seen feeding on Wild Guarana (Cupania americana). (Photo by Dax Roman)

But birds have a lot more to offer beyond aesthetics. With an estimated 10,000 species of birds inhabiting our planet, it is perhaps unsurprising that they have adapted to eat just about any type of food found in nature. As it turns out, birds’ choice in cuisine often turns out to be beneficial to environments where humans live. Scavenging vultures limit the spread of pathogens by consuming dead animals. Birds of prey control rodent pests. And many birds feed on insects that can be damaging to farmers’ crops.

Another ecosystem service that fewer people are aware of is the dispersal of seeds in bird feces. That’s right! I am talking about bird poop. But before we all get too excited about bird poop, I need to take a few steps back to properly explain what I mean by this…

Many different kinds of birds have a sweet tooth for the juicy, nutritious fruits of the forest. But do yourself a favor and resist the temptation to try strange fruits that you see birds eating. Many of these are unpleasant and even toxic to people. Our palates are very different from those of birds, and that is no coincidence. Birds have evolved over time in native ecosystems with their plant neighbors, and many plants have adapted to take advantage of birds in a remarkably clever way.

You see, plants are faced with a different set of problems than those facing animals. Most importantly, they can’t really move around. For example, a tree cannot choose where it ends up and where it takes root. Long-lived trees might produce thousands, if not millions of seeds over their lifetime. Most of these fall to the ground directly below their parent, where they either get snatched by insect or rodent predators, fail to germinate, or eventually succumb to the overbearing shadow of their parent. (And you thought your parents were oppressive!).

The Red-legged Thrush is one of more than twenty species at my research site that we have confirmed feeding from fruit-bearing trees. Here, an individual is seen feeding on wild guarana (Cupania americana), one of the most popular fruits during the spring and early summer. (photo by Spencer Schubert)
The Red-legged Thrush is one of more than twenty species at my research site that we have confirmed feeding from fruit-bearing trees. Here, an individual is seen feeding on wild guarana (Cupania americana), one of the most popular fruits during the spring and early summer. (photo by Spencer Schubert)

Some lucky seeds manage to venture away, taking a ride with the wind, through the water, or undamaged in an animal’s gut. Some of these lucky seeds get even luckier still, by landing safely in a nice patch of fertile soil and substrate with moderate lighting from a gap in the forest canopy above.

Birds’ ability to fly long distances and visit a variety of habitats in a relatively short period of time makes them great seed dispersers from the perspective of the plant, and these two groups have evolved a mutualism for which they depend on the other. In exchange for their seed-dispersing services, birds are rewarded with a food supply.

Can a seed, dispersed, create a forest?

For my current research, I am working in the Dominican Republic, where I am trying to collect data to understand how seed dispersal by birds in cattle farms might be important for future forest restoration efforts in the region. Human populations all over the world are ravenous for beef and dairy. And in the tropics, by many estimates, the clearing of forests for livestock grazing lands has historically been the leading cause of deforestation. As a result, many experts see forest restoration in abandoned pastures as a key conservation strategy both in the present and in the future.

Constructing barbed wire fences around isolated trees in pastures allows us to study how birds may contribute to seed dispersal and regeneration patterns on abandoned farms. Some of the different plot types in this experiment included (a) mango trees, (b) open pastures without trees, and (c) Royal Palm trees. (photos by Spencer Schubert)
Constructing barbed wire fences around isolated trees in pastures allows us to study how birds may contribute to seed dispersal and regeneration patterns on abandoned farms. Some of the different plot types in this experiment included (a) mango trees, (b) open pastures without trees, and (c) Royal Palm trees. (photos by Spencer Schubert)

Having said that, restoration projects are expensive. The costs associated with growing trees in a nursery, transporting them, and caring for them after transplantation are high. It can conceivably cost thousands of dollars to manually reforest an area the size of a basketball court. In regions such as our work site in the Dominican Republic, where economic conditions are such that most working class jobs only pay $10 to $20 dollars per day, it is very difficult to convince organizations to take on these expensive projects.

The first step to my research project began about 18 months ago, when I secured permission to conduct my studies on a single large cattle farm near Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic. The land owner agreed to let me fence off small sections of existing pastures to study seed dispersal and forest regeneration in the absence of human management and grazing, simulating abandoned conditions.

Señor Jose Brache is quite the character. An older gentleman on the verge of retirement, Sr. Brache much prefers his peaceful farm over the hustle and bustle of urban Santo Domingo. Like many older Dominican men, he has a lot to say about just about everything. It has become a frequent occurrence that Sr. Brache will encounter us on the main farm road in his truck and “kidnap” us for a ride to a part of the farm where he will tell a story about what the area looked like when he bought the property more than 20 years ago.

The first part of my project has been to study how certain isolated trees can attract birds to venture away from the forests out into the open pasture and how this might result in increased seed dispersal by birds and forest regrowth. Some of these selected trees included colony nest trees of Hispaniolan Woodpeckers and Palmchats, large mango trees, and control plots with no tree.

Perhaps the more interesting finding has been that relatively little forest regeneration has occurred during the study, so far. Below colony trees with many birds attending the tree, for example, both seeds and tiny seedlings are everywhere, but most of them do not survive. While it is still too early in the study to draw major conclusions, there is plenty of evidence to suggest from this and other similar studies that most seedlings end up losing their battle for survival when facing thick, tall grasses that are typical of these pastures. Furthermore, my findings suggest that it’s not so important how many seeds arrive as how good the habitat is when they get there.

The first step before setting up plots is to locate stands of bamboo and to harvest poles, cut them to specified lengths, and pack them up for transport. (photo by Spencer Schubert)
The first step before setting up plots is to locate stands of bamboo and to harvest poles, cut them to specified lengths, and pack them up for transport. (photo by Spencer Schubert)

While isolated trees in pastures are not the miracle cure for deforestation that I would have hoped for, even a small effect is potentially valuable, especially when it’s FREE. These findings rattled my brain… the presence of trees as perches for birds potentially begets more trees and biodiversity. So rather than waiting decades to grow a nice tree that birds will use and disperse seeds around, I thought of a shortcut… Artificial perches.

An artificial perch is exactly what it sounds like: any man made object or structure that birds can perch on. From my reviews of scientific literature, I soon learned that this is not a new idea. A handful of studies dating back to the late 90s have attempted various designs for artificial perches to study how birds use them and contribute to seed dispersal and forest regrowth. Results have been mixed with some more successful than others. There is still not a clear consensus on the subject, but I knew it was worth a shot. I began looking for larger scale restoration projects that would provide an appropriate context to carry out this work.

A New Collaboration with Plan Yaque

Plan Yaque technicians assist Spencer in assembling artificial bird perches. Bamboo grows as a feral exotic plant at many many sites surrounding Jarabacoa. Not only is harvesting bamboo poles for perch materials free, but it also helps to control overgrown stands where it has become invasive. Before burying bamboo perches in the ground, we carefully treat the poles over an open fire to prevent resprouting. (photo by Eduardo Infante Sicard, Plan Yaque Inc.)
Plan Yaque technicians assist Spencer in assembling artificial bird perches. Bamboo grows as a feral exotic plant at many many sites surrounding Jarabacoa. Not only is harvesting bamboo poles for perch materials free, but it also helps to control overgrown stands where it has become invasive. Before burying bamboo perches in the ground, we carefully treat the poles over an open fire to prevent resprouting. (photo by Eduardo Infante Sicard, Plan Yaque Inc.)

I did not have to wait long for an opportunity. It was June of 2016. Through a local colleague, I learned about a budding wetland restoration project in the town of Jarabacoa where I was working that was to be taken on by the NGO known as Plan Yaque. This organization is responsible for the conservation of natural resources in the Rio Yaque del Norte watershed, working mostly in rural farm communities.

After a few probing emails to the director, I was invited to attend an event with this organization. From the way they described it to me, it was meant to be something of a ceremony or convocation of a new community project they were undertaking. Put simply, Plan Yaque had convinced one of the community leaders in a rural neighborhood called Piedra Blanca to let them install a small dam structure in a stream running through the farm of one of the community leaders. They called this dam “trampa de agua” (water trap), and the premise of this project was to create a small reservoir in a headwater, spring-fed stream to maintain human-usable water sources from going completely dry during droughts.

Another major focus of this project is planting native tree species alongside this stream to help establish riparian forests with the aim of preventing soil erosion and mitigating the contaminants in the environment. They labelled the whole project with a clever title: “Litro de Agua” (Liter of Water) to communicate their objective of providing a consistent source of clean water to keep their farms going.

Spencer, project technician Joaris Gonzalez, and Cristián of Plan Yaque pose next to a fully assembled artificial perch. (photo by Kim Shoback)
Spencer, project technician Joaris Gonzalez, and Cristián of Plan Yaque pose next to a fully assembled artificial perch. (photo by Kim Shoback)

I met up with the director of Plan Yaque and several technicians on a hot June day, and we made our way out to the site riding in flatbed of their pick-up truck along a rural highway through the foothills of the Cordillera Central. Only a day prior, the technicians had finished their makeshift dam, made from a combination of sandbags and old recycled car tires—a clever and low-cost approach for this function. On the near side of the creek, they had enclosed part of the pasture field with a barbed wire fence about 25 meters wide and 60 meters long to keep cattle from disturbing the upper stretch of the stream and their improvised dam construction.

Plan Yaque’s technicians held a short public forum with the family and neighbors explaining the goals of the project and inviting a discussion on how they could improve the project and monitor its success in more meaningful ways. Beforehand, the director had asked that I share my experiences with the farmers and talk about the importance of birds for healthy forests. My Spanish is pretty good. By this point, I had spent a collective eight academic years studying the language and nearly a year’s worth of time working in various Spanish-speaking countries. Dominican farmers don’t see a lot of foreigners, and I could see a lot of curious stares in my direction as I somewhat awkwardly presented, as I now present to you, this idea that birds (and their poop) are protagonists of natural reforestation. If you found my proposition to be a little eccentric, you can imagine how crazy I must have seemed to these people. Nevertheless, I got my message across and it has given my project an opportunity to greatly expand our research efforts.

Community members gather to listen to technicians from Plan Yaque and Spencer discuss how restoring riparian forests can benefit rural farming communities by improving water quality and availability as well as importance of seed-dispersing birds in healthy forest ecosystems. (photo by Holly Garrod)
Community members gather to listen to technicians from Plan Yaque and Spencer discuss how restoring riparian forests can benefit rural farming communities by improving water quality and availability as well as importance of seed-dispersing birds in healthy forest ecosystems. (photo by Holly Garrod)

One of the most remarkable discoveries during these adventures, from my point of view, concerns the Dominican people. Some of the most outspoken conservationists I have met in the country come from its most remote corners of the country. I have spoken to dozens of farmers over the age of 70 who tell me stories of lush green forests covering the hills and how so many birds have practically disappeared since their childhood. Fortunately for me, these individuals have graciously received me and my research project into their community. Together with our partner organization Plan Yaque, we are now incorporating both of our agendas into a single project. While they struggle to improve water availably and quality for farmers, I am recruiting the birds to bring the forest back and restore at least a piece of the glory that was once the tropical forests of Jarabacoa.

With the support of my university, funders, my partner organizations, and local farmers, we have started up a new project to study this untapped potential of fruit-eating birds. Currently our team is halfway complete in our goal of constructing eight plots for the calendar year. We will continue to study these plots over the course of two years with the goal of turning the project over to our local partners and arming them with new cost-effective, bird-friendly techniques for forest restoration.

The Northern Mockingbird is another important seed-dispersing species at our research sites. While most birds only occasionally venture away from the forest into open fields, mockingbirds are quite comfortable doing so. This curious individual was seen exploring the newly-installed fence posts. (photo by Spencer Schubert)
The Northern Mockingbird is another important seed-dispersing species at our research sites. While most birds only occasionally venture away from the forest into open fields, mockingbirds are quite comfortable doing so. This curious individual was seen exploring the newly-installed fence posts. (photo by Spencer Schubert)

I owe thanks to a handful of individuals and organizations for their role in making my project so successful. Devoted efforts from project technician Joaris Samuel Gonzalez and field assistants Alex Lascher-Posner, Paris Werner, Kim Shoback, and Tyler Glaser helped get this study off the ground and were invaluable for data collection. Dr. Eric L. Walters of Old Dominion University helped advise the project and has been instrumental in the progression of my ideas and my development as a scientist. My fiancé, Holly Garrod, has helped me hold my life together during graduate school and has also contributed substantially to my research project as she pursues her own graduate research in the Dominican Republic. Local organizations Plan Yaque and Rancho Baiguate have provided key logistic support, without which this work would not have been possible. Furthermore, numerous private land owners have generously received us on their farms to conduct our field studies. This research was funded jointly by the Rufford Small Grant (II) Program, the Sophie Danforth Conservation Award from Roger Williams Park Zoo, and the David S. Lee Fund Grant from BirdsCaribbean.

By Spencer Schubert. Spencer is PhD student in the ecology program at Old Dominion whose thesis focuses on the contributions of avian seed dispersal to tropical forest recovery and plant-frugivore seed dispersal networks on farmland landscapes in the Dominican Republic. Spencer was a recipient of the 2016-2017 BirdsCaribbean David S. Lee Fund Grant and is using his research as a platform to raise interest in the ecological importance of birds for restoration projects in the region around Jarabacoa.

New Nesting Habitat for the Bahama Oriole and New Opportunities for Young Researchers

The critically endangered Bahama Oriole is found only on Andros, Bahamas. (Photo by Steve Brezinski)
The critically endangered Bahama Oriole is found only on Andros, Bahamas. (Photo by Steve Brezinski)

The sun was now enough above the horizon that a few rays made it down to the understory of the pine forest. We walked quickly to our next point then began another nine-minute sampling period. About one minute in, we heard the clear crisp song of a Bahama Oriole, about 100 meters to our south. My student Briana noted this information on the data sheet. While waiting, she also recorded details about the habitat and the surrounding vegetation within a 100-meter radius: number of pines – 100+, number of understory palms – 10-20, number of coconut palms – 0, overall habitat – 100% pine forest.

The oriole sang several more times before the point count ended. Just 18 months prior, when we began the Bahama Oriole Project in October 2015, we would have been extremely surprised if we found an oriole in the pine forest. Previous research suggested that the orioles were concentrated in the settlements, especially around coconut palms, which were thought to be their preferred nesting tree. But in 2016, our team had discovered three different pairs of orioles nesting in this very pine forest, several kilometers from the nearest houses, farms or coconut palms. Now we were conducting an exhaustive population estimate to determine whether the orioles were found in just a few areas in the pine forest, or whether they were utilizing many areas of the pine.

Briana Yancy measuring nest site characteristics. (Photo by Kevin Omland)
Briana Yancy measuring nest site characteristics. (Photo by Kevin Omland)

We continued to walk along the long-abandoned logging road to the next randomly selected point. As we gained just a few feet in altitude, the pine forest became drier, and the gorgeous understory Key Thatch Palms became shorter and more scattered. I honestly feel ecstatic to be able to work in these vast remote forests, and as we walked along, I asked Briana what she thought of the habitat. She quickly spoke glowingly of the same features that I love so much – the open canopy, the echo of a Bahama Mockingbird song, and the unfamiliar beauty of the understory thatch palms.

This was Briana’s first fieldwork in the tropics, and she was off to a great start. As we walked, I asked her what she wanted to do after she finished college at UMBC. She said that this was exactly the kind of work that she had dreamed about doing – working on a tropical island, studying a critically endangered species, and seeing all these new birds and habitats. She had just finished her sophomore year as a Geography and Environmental Sciences major. Briana is in UMBC’s prestigious Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which is nationally known for its success in increasing underrepresented minority participation in science and technology.

Breeding in the Pine Forest – “Briana’s Nest”

A Bahama Oriole takes off in the pine forest. (Photo by Dan Stonko)
A Bahama Oriole takes off in the pine forest. (Photo by Dan Stonko)

We conducted eight more counts that morning, and we did not hear or see any other orioles during the counts. However, as we continued west toward our meeting point on one of the main logging roads, the land sloped down again and we entered a wet area with many more understory thatch palms (so named because of their local use in roof making). The common species here is the Key Thatch Palm (Leucothrinax morrisii). To me these palms are the most beautiful plants on Andros, and they have intrigued me since my first days on the island. As we walked, suddenly Briana and I both heard a distinctive short “see-you” whistle, which meant a Bahama Oriole was nearby. She pointed as an oriole flew from one low thatch palm to another. Then, a second bird flew in and swooped up to one of the tallest of these understory palms. I whispered excitedly to Briana that maybe there was a nest nearby.

“Briana’s Nest.” Nest is hidden in the hanging dead fronds (yellow arrow). (Photo by Kevin Omland)
“Briana’s Nest.” Nest is hidden in the hanging dead fronds (yellow arrow). (Photo by Kevin Omland)

The first bird then entered the same tall thatch palm. There had to be a nest in that tree, so we approached and started looking under each of the hanging dead fronds. There it was: a neat tan palm-fiber basket, hanging protected under one of the dried-up fronds. We christened it “Briana’s Nest” and stepped back to observe the parents – two stunning adult Bahama Orioles. Both the males and females in this species sport a striking jet-black and lemon-yellow plumage. Both sexes also sing, so it is impossible to tell the sexes apart in the field. We observed both parents bringing food to the nest – there were clearly nestlings, but with the nest over seven meters up, we do not yet have the equipment to further investigate their age or number.

The project has now documented seven nests in the pine forest – three in 2016 and four in 2017. But we know nothing about what happens to nests in the pine forest. In 2018, we will conduct two main projects to evaluate breeding in the pine forest. First, Brianna will lead a project quantifying the key characteristics of the nesting trees and surrounding forest. Can the orioles nest in any part of the pine forest, or are there certain types of habitat (perhaps with tall thatch palms for example) that are preferred nesting sites that need to be preserved? Second, one of the Bahamian students will lead the effort to quantify nesting success and determine the greatest threats to nests – rats, cowbirds or feral cats. So far, we have little evidence of cowbirds in the pine forest, but preliminary surveys with trail cameras suggest that feral cats are likely widespread across the island. And arboreal rats could be important nest predators. Which if any of these threats are significant causes of mortality that need to be managed?

A Big, Diverse Field Crew

Soon we were joined by the two other teams that had been doing point counts that morning. One was led by Rick Stanley, a Masters student at the Imperial College London. The other was headed by Scott Johnson, a Bahamas National Trust science officer – who has a wealth of knowledge about the flora and fauna of Andros. We showed everyone the nest we just found, then compared notes from the morning. Rick’s team had also heard one oriole during counts in the pine that morning, and Scott’s team had heard two. The orioles are never common, but they seem to be widespread on the island.

The 2017 Field Crew. Left to Right: Kevin Omland, Michael Rowley, Jennifer Christhilf, Ciera McKoy, Briana Yancy, Matt Kane (all UMBC), Rick Stanley (Imperial College London), Daniel Stonko (UMBC), Scott Johnson (Bahamas National Trust).
The 2017 Field Crew. Left to Right: Kevin Omland, Michael Rowley, Jennifer Christhilf, Ciera McKoy, Briana Yancy, Matt Kane (all UMBC), Rick Stanley (Imperial College London), Daniel Stonko (UMBC), Scott Johnson (Bahamas National Trust).

Before leaving we took time to take some shots of the whole 2017 field crew. I look back upon that photo with a great deal of pride and gratitude. Each one of those young researchers has already made important contributions to the project. It is such a privilege to do fieldwork with students every year. For many of the students, this is the first time that they have traveled outside the US – one had never even been on a plane before this trip! The opportunity to introduce these students to the joys (and challenges) of tropical fieldwork is one of the best parts of this project. I am especially excited when my students get to work with BNT’s Scott Johnson and interact with students from the Bahamas.

Our shot of the field crew differs from many group pictures of field biologists or birders because it includes people of many different backgrounds. By drawing on UMBC’s diverse student population, and by working closely with our Bahamian collaborators, we are trying to bring a broader range of backgrounds and perspectives to fieldwork and wildlife conservation. Work throughout the Caribbean demonstrates the kinds of multinational and multiethnic collaboration that will build capacity in our increasingly diverse US population as well as in the island nations that are the focus of BirdsCaribbean.

Dr. Kevin Omland is a faculty member in the Biology Department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). In collaboration with Bahamas National Trust, he began the Bahama Oriole Project in 2015. Dr. Omland was recognized as the UMBC Presidential Research Professor for 2016-2019. He is co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the American Ornithological Society. The Bahama Oriole Project has received generous support from the American Bird Conservancy and an anonymous donor through BirdsCaribbean. Stay tuned for updates from our upcoming 2018 field season. 

Funding Opportunity—The David S. Lee Fund for the Conservation of Caribbean Birds

2017-2018 Awards Now Open!

Size of Award: Several grants up to $1,000 each

Application Deadline: January 7th, 2018 at 5 p.m. EST.

Address Questions and Send Application to: Will Mackin, Co-Chair Seabird Working Group, BirdsCaribbean, wicbirds@yahoo.com; copy to  info@birdscaribbean.org

Announcement of Awards: February 3rd, 2018

Donations to the Fund: Tax-deductible (U.S.) at this link.

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Dave Lee holding a White-tailed Tropicbird in the Bahamas.
Dave Lee holding a White-tailed Tropicbird in the Bahamas. (photo by Mary Kay Clark)

David S. Lee was a pioneering naturalist and conservation biologist who helped get BirdsCaribbean started nearly 30 years ago, and inspired many naturalists with his work and his writing. He was a man of many interests, and with respect to the Caribbean, published numerous papers and articles in the popular press on seabirds, Bahamian fish, turtles, snakes, bats, and orchids.

Donations from Dave’s wife, Mary Kay Clark and his mother, June Bash, allowed the establishment of the David S. Lee Fund for the Conservation of Caribbean Birds that will award money to conservation projects in his honor. The money is being held in a trust and will be used to award an annual grant for innovative projects that protect Caribbean birds and their habitats.

Goal of the Fund: The David S. Lee Fund for Conservation seeks to continue David’s passion for protecting wildlife. The fund will support direct, innovative conservation work in the Caribbean Region for birds and their habitats. The fund will be managed by BirdsCaribbean and used for annual small grants.

A striking male Magnolia Warbler perches momentarily on a branch while foraging for food during its spring migration. (photo by Gerald A. DeBoer, Shutterstock)
A striking male Magnolia Warbler perches momentarily on a branch while foraging for food during its spring migration. (photo by Gerald A. DeBoer, Shutterstock)

Eligibility: Scientists/naturalists working in the Caribbean, in conservation organizations or academic programs, may apply. Applicants should be students or early career ornithologists, conservationists, or wildlife professionals (i.e., not established faculty or senior staff of a conservation organization, less than 7 years post-graduation). A student must be enrolled in accredited Masters or PhD program in ecology, biology, conservation, or related field to be eligible. Applicants must be paid or sponsored members of BirdsCaribbean at the time of application.

Use of Funds: The funds can cover travel to field sites, living expenses in the field, or costs for equipment and supplies to conduct conservation projects. Examples of equipment and supplies include traps, cameras, automated recording units, nest boxes, etc. Ineligible costs include salary or other wages, overhead fees, etc. Projects that foster collaboration between scientists/naturalists in different island groups of the Caribbean, such as joint projects to test conservation techniques for similar species, will be favored.

Application Guidelines:

  1. Proposals may be submitted in English, French, or Spanish. All should have an English version of the abstract
  2. Applications should be emailed as a Microsoft Word document.
  3. The application should include a cover page, proposal (see guidelines below), and a curriculum vitae for the applicant.
  4. Separately, by email, three individuals who can attest to your effectiveness in previous work should submit letters of recommendation. For students, this would include your academic advisor.

Evaluation:

  1. A committee appointed by BirdsCaribbean will review the proposals and award the grants.
  2. The awardee will be required to submit a report one year from the day of the award explaining how the award money was spent and the results of the project to that point.
  3. Awardees are encouraged to present the results of their work at the biennial International Meeting of BirdsCaribbean and publish in The Journal of Caribbean Ornithology.

Eligible applicants can download the application here..

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But wait! What if you are not eligible to apply for funds, you ask? You can still support this worthy cause by being a sponsor!

Reddish Egrets (dark morph). (photo by Tania Thomson, Shutterstock)
Reddish Egrets (dark morph). (photo by Tania Thomson, Shutterstock)

This fund will be for the conservation of any bird in the Caribbean as a reflection of Dave’s diverse interests. He was an important part of many projects, ranging from those of the Black-capped Petrel and Seabird Working Groups to the scholarly debate leading to the elevation of the Bahama Yellow-throated Warbler to a full species.

At the moment the fund contains $12,000. Our initial goal is to raise $25,000 so that we can award $1,000 every year to a worthy student or early career ornithologist, conservationist or wildlife professional. Not only will this fund encourage creative field work for projects that make a difference, but it will also help build the knowledge and skills of young conservationists that are urgently needed to make sure that the Caribbean birds and habitats that Dave treasured are still around for future generations to enjoy.

Cuban Parrot surveying his domain. (photo by Elliotte Rusty-Harold, Shutterstock
Cuban Parrot surveying his domain. (photo by Elliotte Rusty-Harold, Shutterstock)

At the 2015 BirdsCaribbean meeting in Kingston, Jamaica, a round of beers was purchased in Dave’s honor, since he always seemed to have a cooler full when people wanted one (and even when they didn’t). Think of this fund like a cooler full of refreshing beverages that Dave would have around if he were here. We owe it to Dave to stock that cooler—to vitalize naturalists and empower them in their work to help wildlife.

Please give a tax deductible donation to the David S. Lee Fund. Give generously. The more we put into the fund, the more we can give out each year. Thanks to all those that have contributed to the fund!

Click here to make an online contribution.

If you prefer to donate with a check, please make the check out to “BirdsCaribbean” and in the memo section, note that it is for the David S. Lee Fund. If you have questions or to make other arrangements for donating, please feel free to contact Jennifer Wheeler, BirdsCaribbean Treasurer (jennifer.wheeler@birdscaribbean.org)

Checks can be mailed to: BirdsCaribbean, 4201 Wilson Blvd. Suite 110-174, Arlington VA 22203-1589

Thank you for your participation and support!

Sharing a Passion for Birds: the Caribbean Birding Trail Guide Training in Cuba

Cuban Oriole, one of 26 endemic birds in Cuba (photo by Aslam Ibrahim)
Cuban Oriole, one of 26 endemic birds in Cuba, with insect prey. (photo by Aslam Ibrahim)

Cuba has one of the highest rates of endemism in the Caribbean with 26 endemic birds that attract thousands of bird enthusiasts each year. Engaging them to understand the secret lives of these birds is a special skill. From October 9 to 13, the Caribbean Birding Trail Interpretive Guide Training course taught 26 persons how to connect visitors with the cultural and natural resources of the island. Here is the account of one participant, Mariana Pedraza.

Topes de Collantes Nature Reserve Park in the Escambray Mountains in Central Cuba was our home for a week. We were more than thirty people from all over Cuba ready to learn, to share experiences, and to discover a little more regarding the world of birds. With great energy we began the week-long workshop. But what we did not know was that first we had to answer a pre-test! I saw some participants writing. Others, including me, were not writing much. We looked at each other and laughed at our lack of knowledge. The good thing was we were there to learn. I knew that “the professors” (that’s what we called our instructors) were going to do their best to teach us how to identify birds; understand the diversity of birds in the Caribbean and on our Island, and learn how to be an outstanding guide.

Beny Wilson talks about the incredible diversity of birds in Cuba-26 endemics, residents and many migrants. (photo by Lisa Sorenson)
Beny Wilson talks about the incredible diversity of birds in Cuba—398 species have been recorded, including 26 endemics and 11 near endemics and over 240 migrants. (photo by Lisa Sorenson)

Then it was time to introduce ourselves! I was very worried, because I was the youngest and the least experienced in that classroom. I could see that by listening to the rest of the group.

I soon forgot about my nervousness because very quickly we jumped into the course material. Beny Wilson, one of the lead facilitators with a charismatic personality and great sense of humor, began to talk about birds and how to identify them. We then went outside to learn how to use binoculars correctly and to identify birds, taking into account what had been learned. We had many sessions in the field during the week where we learned and practiced new guiding techniques, such as how to set up a scope and show the bird, how to use a laser pointer and playback, where to stand and how to lead the group when giving an interpretive talk and walk. We also learned about the different types of birders and what they need, how to market ourselves, birding ethics, use of eBird Caribbean, and much more. That was the whole course: we were able to combine theory with practice, which helped to consolidate everything studied.

Presentations by Rosendo Martinez, Maikel Canizares, Ernesto Reyes, and Lisa Sorenson were very well received by all. Each one provided valuable information, such us an overview of the Protected Areas of Cuba, the species of birds threatened on our island, bird ecology and habitats, how to guide photographers and researchers, and the work of BirdsCaribbean and many partners for the conservation of the birds in this region.

Instructor Rick Morales discusses the principles of environmental interpretation. (photo by Ernesto Reyes)
Instructor Rick Morales discusses the principles of environmental interpretation. (photo by Ernesto Reyes)

With Rick Morales, the other very talented lead instructor, we learned about environmental interpretation—how to tell stories with a message to make the experience memorable for the visitor. The interactive methodology he used to teach us was great. With theory and very clear examples he showed the importance of understanding the needs of our customers and making their experience meaningful through guiding presentations that are engaging, relevant, personal and provocative. And the best thing is that this knowledge can be used whether explaining the history of a plaza during a city tour, or explaining the natural history of a bird on a guided walk.

We all learned from each other too. I suppose that happens in similar events, but in this case we learned with simplicity and naturally, without rivalries, as if we had all been from the same family. During that week, we were a family of birders! It did not matter the origin, nor the language, nor the differences of all the participants.

Mariana works on shorebird ID at Tuna de Zazas. (photo by Ernesto Reyes)
Mariana works on shorebird ID at Tuna de Zazas. (photo by Ernesto Reyes)

Free time was the opportunity to know each other and to tell about our lives. Graceful stories and some sad stories were the subject of the long evening gatherings, which I attended, even knowing that I had to get up early to go to Tuna de Zazas to discover the Black-Necked Stilt and fall in love with her, or to get on the trails of Topes to contemplate time and again the beauty of the Cuban Tody.

The hardest thing for me was to prepare the final presentation. I think it was the most complex for everyone, because we had to act before an audience we knew, and knowing that our professors were evaluating us. Presentations such as those of Ningo, Xóchitl and Tania excited us and evoked strong applause. None of us knew who the good actors and actresses were!

Each participant gave a 5 minute interpretive talk on the last day, using what they learned in class. (photo by Ernesto Reyes)
Each participant gave a 5 minute interpretive talk on the last day, using what they learned in the course. (photo by Ernesto Reyes)

Well, the surprise was the final test, the same test we did at the beginning and this time we were able to respond completely. We looked at each other again and laughed, but it was because this time we knew the answers.

The closing dinner was delicious, especially the dessert, and after dinner: good Cuban tobacco and great music. We were proud to receive our certificates and cheered for the presentations that received awards. Most important was dancing, and celebrating all that we learned and experienced, and wholeheartedly thanking the organizers, instructors, and sponsors of the workshop for supporting us to become guides to share our passion for Cuban birds with communities and visitors alike.

Mariana Pedrazas is a student at the University of Havana, studying German, English and tourism. She leads guided tours of Old Havana in her spare time. She looks forward to becoming a skilled bird guide too and practices whenever she has the chance. (see more workshop photos in the gallery below)

Workshop participants and trainers at Topes de Collantes. (photo by Aslam Ibrahim)
Workshop participants and trainers at Topes de Collantes. (photo by Aslam Ibrahim)

Comments from the participants

Unquestionably after receiving this workshop I feel that my knowledge to project myself as a guide will improve immensely.

Our instructors were very good teachers and communicators, with excellent command of the subject and very didactic. They have become part of our great family of Cuban birds lovers and protectors.

The exchange of experience between everyone was very rich. The teaching approach used, including many practical activities, was motivating and left us with a desire to continue to surpass ourselves and to remain linked to the conservation of biological diversity in general and of birds in particular. I thank the instructors for their professionalism and their willingness to transmit their knowledge and experiences with humility and passion. It was a privilege.

This course is an excellent start for my work as a guide and it is not that I have guided before, but this week marked a before and after.

I would recommend it because it was a fantastic experience, it raised me to another level as a birdwatching guide and will be of great interest to everyone, even for non-bird lovers. I would like this workshop to continue and be repeated here in Cuba.

I am grateful to the facilitators for the knowledge shared, for their facility to communicate, for their willingness to help at all times, and the magnificent human relationships that they established with the participants.

The course was very complete, because it not only provided us with tools to identify difficult birds, but also instructed us in interpretation techniques. For me, as a biologist, the most valuable thing was the experience in the latter since I really had no idea of the fundamental concepts of interpretation and now I can apply it correctly. I also appreciated the work done by BirdsCaribbean for the conservation of Caribbean birds because we often feel that we are not heard and it was very good to receive support from organizations willing to put a grain of sand for the preservation of our birds.

I think the best thing about this course was the attention to personal/individual needs of each participant.

I appreciated and learned a proper way to perform an interpretation, it was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to receive these contents from people who are highly qualified. I also enjoyed the interrelation with other experienced guides to improve my work as a professional. Excellent!

The possibility of interacting and learning with so many interested people, in one way or another, to care for and preserve Cuban birds was valuable. The ability of coaches to provide us with information and tools to do our job better was excellent. Thanks to BirdsCaribbean, the Caribbean Birding Trail, Optics for the Tropics, and all the sponsors that made this possible.

I found and enjoyed that the teachers showed great interest in the learning of each participant, it was the best way to continue training us.

Excellent team of facilitators: experts on the subject, motivating, inspiring, joyful.

I believe that this workshop is highly recommended for those who intend to start or already lead specialized (birding or nature in general) tours, due to interpretation tools and guiding skills that facilitates us. The course instructors showed at all times great professionalism and communicative capacity to answer participants concerns. Highly recommended!

I liked this course because it taught us to conscientiously interpret the resources we have. In addition to dealing with the subject of birds, we addressed general issues that serve us both in the city and in nature. Bravo!

I am grateful for the excellent and professional work of the instructors and organizers of the course, and for the pleasant way in which they taught the course. This course far exceeded all my expectations.

Photo Gallery – Hover over each photo to see the caption; click on photos to see larger images and a slide show.

Editor’s Notes: The Caribbean Birding Trail (CBT) is a project of the non-profit organization BirdsCaribbean. The CBT is being developed to connect people to the unique birds, extraordinary places, diverse cultures and people of each island. We promote authentic experiences that benefit local people and encourage the protection of the Caribbean’s natural resources, including birds and their habitats.

The goal of the CBT Guide Training is to provide interpretive skills that engage the client and add a level of professionalism to guiding bird enthusiasts. Cuba is the fifth Caribbean country to receive this training. The intensive five-day workshop covered all aspects of being an outstanding bird and nature guide, including knowledge of bird ID and natural history, ethics, marketing, conservation, and guiding and interpretation techniques.

Certified interpretive trainers from the National Association of Interpretation (NAI), Venicio (Beny) Wilson and Rick Morales, wowed the participants with in-depth sessions on the birding market, communication skills, and the principles of environmental interpretation. Thanks to our sponsors, all participants received binoculars, three field guides, NAI workbook, mangrove identification guides, t-shirts, hats, field notebooks, laser pointers, Bird Checklist of Cuba, and more.

BirdsCaribbean thanks Maikel Canizares and the Cuban Zoological Society for organizing the workshop logistics. The facilitation team included Beny Morales, Rick Wilson, Lisa Sorenson, Joni Ellis, Ernesto Reyes, Maikel Canizares and Rosendo Martinez. We are grateful to Optics for the Tropics and the Marshall Reynolds Foundation for providing principle funding for this workshop. We also thank Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Vortex Optics, The Friendship Association, Nils Navarro, Gaviota Turismo, and several private donors for providing funding and  support. We look forward to continuing to nurture these guides as they develop their  skills.

Read about the Caribbean Birding Trail Guide Training Workshops in other countries:

Loving the Lora and Chasing the Chuchubi at Bonaire’s Caribbean Birding Trail Guide Training Workshop

On the Caribbean Birding Trail in the Dominican Republic

Caribbean Birding Trail Conducts First Guide Training Program for 24 Participants in Jamaica

Hurricane Impacts on Bridled Quail-doves in St. Eustatius

The inner slope of the Quill National Park before (top) and after (bottom) Hurricane Irma (by Hannah Madden)
The inner slope of the Quill National Park before (top) and after (bottom) Hurricane Irma (photo by Hannah Madden)

On September 6, 2017, record-breaking Category 5 Hurricane Irma pummeled the northern Lesser Antilles, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake. While St. Eustatius (affectionately known as Statia) was spared extensive infrastructural damage and power was restored to most homes within a few days, forest cover in the Quill National Park did not fare quite so well. Immediately after the storm, defoliation of the vegetation was clearly visible across the dormant volcano, which rises to a maximum height of 600 meters and suffered the brunt of hurricane force winds of up to 150 mph.

When we felt it was safe to go out, our initial exploration of the Quill on September 9 revealed a shocking sight from the crater rim viewpoint at 400 meters. Areas that were once covered in lush evergreen vegetation were barely recognizable. Gone were the majestic Silk Cotton trees that once dominated the canopy; instead we were confronted with an almost bare crater wall covered in once-towering trees that looked like they had been snapped in two by an invisible giant.

Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria passed to the south of St. Eustatius and brought over 100mm of rain but less severe winds. Again, residents of St. Eustatius breathed a sigh of relief, but our thoughts were with those who suffered greatly in Puerto Rico, Saba, St. Maarten, Anguilla, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Dominica and other affected islands. Thankfully Maria’s rainfall helped stimulate vegetation regrowth in the Quill. However much of the original canopy was severely damaged, and all fruits, seeds and flowers that normally provided food for wildlife were lost.

Bridled Quail-dove (Geotrygon mystacea) in the Quill (photo by Hannah Madden)
Bridled Quail-dove (Geotrygon mystacea) in the Quill (photo by Hannah Madden)

Our immediate concern fell to the Bridled Quail-dove (Geotrygon mystacea), an uncommon to rare resident in a few Lesser Antilles islands, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. This West Indian endemic forages for fruits and seeds on the forest floor. Little is known about the population status of this species throughout its range, but it is thought to be declining in the Eastern Caribbean due to loss of habitat and other threats. The Quill is the only habitat on Statia that supports the quail-dove.

In May 2017 we had conducted a population assessment of the dove in connection with a rodent control project that is being facilitated through the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI). Our initial results were encouraging, with an estimated 1,030 quail-doves (standard error [SE] = 275, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 561-1,621) across its local habitat of 440 hectares. This is possibly the highest known density in the region. With baseline data fortuitously in hand, we were very interested to assess the quail-dove’s population size post-hurricane. Thanks to generous persons that donated to BirdsCaribbean’s fundraising appeal, we were able to repeat the survey in early to mid-November, about two months after Hurricane Irma hit.

The survey team (L to R): Frank Rivera-Milan, Hannah Madden, and Kevin Verdel (by Chris Couldridge)
The survey team (L to R): Frank Rivera-Milan, Hannah Madden, and Kevin Verdel (by Chris Couldridge)

Our team consisted of Dr. Frank Rivera-Milan (population ecologist with the US Fish & Wildlife Service), myself (biologist with CNSI), and Kevin Verdel (student from the University of Utrecht). We conducted 56 transect surveys of 100 meters, and repeated them 2-4 times. This was fewer surveys than the 70 100-meter transects we had conducted in May because some trails were inaccessible due to downed trees. We also used a playback of the Key West Quail-Dove’s call, given that our surveys took place outside the breeding season, in an attempt to elicit a response from any Bridled Quail-Doves in the survey area. Unfortunately the quail-doves did not respond to the playback, which meant that all the detections during November’s surveys were by sight only. The perpendicular distance of the quail-dove from the transect was measured, and the data collected were brought into program Distance to give a total population size.

Our data analysis revealed an estimated population size of 803 Bridled Quail-Doves (SE = 208, 95% CI = 451-1,229) in November. This is a decrease of about 230 birds from the mean population size estimate of 1,030 birds counted in May. Although this is a decline in the population size of ~22% (SE = 8.2%), statistical tests indicate that this decrease is not statistically significant (Z score = 0.66, P value = 0.51). This is the good news.

Measuring distance from transect (by Hannah Madden)
Measuring distance from the transect point to where the dove was sighted (photo by Hannah Madden)

The bad news is that there is very little food available due to severe vegetation damage and we are now entering the dry season (Dec-Apr). This means that already scarce foraging resources will be reduced even further, which will likely result in decreased survival and minimum reproduction in 2018. The quail-doves we observed looked lethargic and did not flush far or fast during surveys. There is a real risk that the population will decline further due to lack of food. For this reason we plan to repeat the surveys again in May 2018, during peak breeding season.

We were glad to see that dry forest vegetation on the outer slopes of the Quill was recovering quickly. Inside the crater, however, approximately 50% of the evergreen seasonal forest that once covered this area has been heavily impacted by Hurricane Irma. It will take a few decades before the vegetation fully recovers. We expect this will have a negative effect not only on the quail-dove but also other bird species that rely on this unique habitat for their survival and reproduction. For example, instead of the usual flocks of Scaly-naped Pigeons (which are now foraging for food in coastal areas), we are now seeing smaller species like Bananaquit, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, and the migratory Black-whiskered Vireo.

Around the Mountain South trail immediately after the hurricanes (by Hannah Madden)
Around the Mountain South trail immediately after the hurricanes (photo by Hannah Madden)

Following our initial surveys in May we were encouraged by the density of Bridled Quail-doves on Statia, the highest known density in the region at the time (although many islands that support the dove have not conducted population assessments). However, we now have some concerns for the species given its very restricted range (only found in the Quill National Park on Statia, at elevations of around 200 meters and above) and the fact that its natural habitat suffered extensive damage in some areas from Hurricane Irma. With food resources in scarce supply, competition between the doves and other species, such as the more aggressive and widespread Pearly-eyed Thrasher, could lead to a further decline in the already vulnerable population. We recommend removing predators and domestic animals above 250m to help the species recover and enhance its prospects for long-term survival in Statia.

Irma provided us with a unique opportunity to study the impacts of hurricanes on avian fauna on Statia (and elsewhere in the region). It is a bittersweet privilege to be able to contribute our results to the scientific community. Unfortunately, the frequency and intensity of Caribbean hurricanes are predicted to increase under human-induced global warming. We must do all we can to protect and enhance the integrity of our natural areas to help our birds and other wildlife survive the next hit, and hope to come out unscathed on the other side.

Broken trees in the Quill's crater. (photo by Hannah Madden)
Broken trees in the Quill’s crater. (photo by Hannah Madden)

We are grateful to BirdsCaribbean for funding Dr. Rivera’s travel expenses, to St. Eustatius National Parks for allowing us to conduct surveys in the Quill National Park, and to CNSI for facilitating this ongoing project. We look forward to reporting back to the Birdscaribbean community after we complete our second post-hurricane Bridled Quail-dove survey in May 2018.

By Hannah Madden. Hannah is a Terrestrial Ecologist in St. Eustatius currently leading two projects at the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute. She also works as a bird and nature guide in her spare time, sharing the beauty and diversity of Statia with visitors. Hannah is an active member of BirdsCaribbean and has participated in several training workshops and conferences. She has published papers on different taxonomic groups, but especially enjoys working on birds. 

BirdsCaribbean is grateful to everyone that has generously donated to our ongoing Hurricane Relief Fund to help our Caribbean partners, birds and nature recover. This has allowed us to fund bird surveys like this one, replace equipment lost in the storms, send nectar feeders and bird seed to 13 islands, plant mangroves, and other recovery actions.

Forest understory before Hurricane Irma (by Hannah Madden)
Forest understory before Hurricane Irma (photo by Hannah Madden)
Our companion Chris Couldridge inspects with disbelief the mangled vegetation on the crater floor (photo by Frank Rivera-Milan)
Our companion Chris Couldridge inspects with disbelief the mangled vegetation on the crater floor (photo by Frank Rivera-Milan)
St. Eustatius is located in the northern Lesser Antilles and forms part of the Caribbean Netherlands. It has a land mass of 11 square miles and a human population of around 3.500.
St. Eustatius is located in the northern Lesser Antilles and forms part of the Caribbean Netherlands. It has a land mass of 11 square miles and a human population of around 3,500.

Read more about the Fall 2017 hurricane impacts on Caribbean birds:

Barbuda After Irma: A Devastated Landscape, A Proud People—and A Resilient Bird

#BarbudaStrong—Guadeloupe Bird Survey Team Plays Good Neighbors following Hurricane Irma

Bird Dispatches from the Hurricane Front Lines

Good news! Conservationists Excited to Find Surviving Barbuda Warblers on Devastated Island

After the Storm