With nine research articles, two book reviews, and an ornithological literature review, we are excited to announce the completion of Journal of Caribbean Ornithology’s Volume 29. Collectively the publications highlight valuable work spanning the entire arc of the Caribbean island chain, from Cuba to northern South America. The quality, quantity, and distribution of research represented in Volume 29 is testament to the JCO’s continued mission to build and grow a community of ornithologists around the advancement of scientific knowledge of all the unique avifauna of these island habitats.
These accomplishments would of course not be possible without the commendable teamwork that happens between researchers, reviewers, editors, and volunteers in all corners. Thank you so much for bringing your passion to the table and helping produce such a valuable resource to the field of ornithology.
Volume 29 wraps up with two complementary articles on the Adelaide’s Warblers:
1. “First observations of Adelaide’s Warblers (Setophaga adelaidae) outside of Puerto Rico, in the U.S.VirginIslands” is an article by Sean M. Rune and LeAnn M. Conlon that documents the first sightings of this species of warbler outside its endemic range of Puerto Rico (and its island-munici palities of Vieques and Culebra). From one to four individuals were recorded during each of ten observation periods spanning from 24 March to 17 December 2012 on the island of St. Thomas. One observation of one individual on 6 January2013 occurred on the island of St. John. Seeing as Adelaide’s Warblers are known to breed during the late spring and early summer months, these observations may indicate the initiation of range expansion by the species from Puerto Rico to the U.S. Virgin Islands to the east.
2. Further evidence of range expansion by Adelaide’s Warblers follows in the article “Vagrancy and colonization of St. Thomas and St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, by Adelaide’s Warblers (Setophaga adelaidae)” by Richard R. Veit, Lucinda C. Zawadzki, Lisa L. Manne, Pearl Cales, Danielle Fibikar, Shannon Curley, Elizabeth Dluhos, and Robert L. Norton. The authors observed five Adelaide’s Warblers on St. John during January of 2015 and eight individuals in the same area one year later. Given that these vagrants arrived against prevailing easterly trade winds and were observed in the same area from 2012-2016, Veit et al. hypothesize that in current time we are witnessing the eastward colonization of new islands by Adelaide’s Warblers.
A thorough overview of Adelaide’s Warblers highlighting these newly published articles has been written by Jason A. Crotty and can be found in a recent article of the magazine BirdWatching.
The Archives Have Grown – We’re excited to announce that we’ve been able to put some serious time into uploading and making available older volumes of the journal. The JCO Archives are now completely catalogued back to the year 2005. Our goal is to continue working our way back in time, ultimately providing easy (and free!) online access to every article of every publication back to the journal’s beginning – Volume 1 in 1988. We encourage you to take some time looking around the archives to remember and discover all the great work that has been contributed over the years. We will continue to make announcements as more volumes are made available.
What’s Coming Up – The 21st International Meeting of BirdsCaribbean set to take place in Cuba this July promises to be an unforgettable event. Detailed information about the meeting can be found here, the meeting website will have a lot of updates in the coming weeks. Regular attendees of BirdsCaribbean conferences and seasoned Caribbean ornithologists should take advantage of this attractive venue to consider reaching out to young, burgeoning researchers across the islands that could greatly benefit from attending. BirdsCaribbean is making an active push to integrate new members into our community, and the best way to do so is by word of mouth from all of our members. Everyone planning on attending the conference should come ready to have an excellent time, and don’t forget to budget some extra time in Cuba if your schedule allows! Volume 30 of the JCO is already underway with a lot of great manuscripts in the pipeline. We’re also looking forward to the release of a Special Issue on Caribbean Forest Endemics that promises to be around a dozen articles in length. Rumor has it that we’ll be seeing some great articles on everything from Elfin-woods Warblers to Golden Swallows to Giant Kingbirds. Stay tuned!
By Justin Proctor, Caribbean Ornithologist; Freelance Writer; Loving Husband. Justin is part of our JCO Editorial and Production team and a frequent contributor to our blog.
BirdsCaribbean is excited to announce the first award recipients of the David S. Lee Fund for the Conservation of Caribbean Birds. We are extremely pleased to support these dedicated young scholars as they pursue important research that will increase our knowledge of and inform conservation management decisions for Caribbean birds. The award recipients are: Wayne Smart, Maya Wilson, Spencer Schubert, Ramon Williams, Holly Garrod, and Paige Byerly.
The David S. Lee Fund was established in 2016 to recognize the scientific and conservation efforts of David S. Lee, a biologist and naturalist dedicated to Caribbean biodiversity. The award funds innovative avian conservation research in the Caribbean. All projects demonstrate a commitment to engaging with local scientists, government officials, organizations and communities, as appropriate, to involve them in the research, share results, and build interest in local birds and their conservation.
Thanks to support from the David S. Lee Fund and contributions from an anonymous donor, BirdsCaribbean is able to provide grants of $900 to $1,000 for six exceptional conservation research projects in 2017, the first year of funding for the award. Congratulations to all the dedicated and hard-working student recipients, who embody the vision that we all share of a bright future for the conservation of Caribbean birds. We look forward to hearing about their work in forthcoming articles and publications.
Seabird nesting performance, colony declines and invasive predators in the Southern Grenadines.
Wayne Smart, Arkansas State University
Seabird colonies are declining globally for multiple reasons such as habitat loss, introduced predators, and poaching. The Grenadines support five Important Bird Areas and host a number of seabird colonies, though little is known about local seabird decline. Wayne Smart will conduct field work on five uninhabited islands off the north coast of Grenada this summer. By interviewing locals, monitoring nests, and deploying cameras and two types of traps, he anticipates gathering valuable baseline knowledge about the current size and reproductive success of seabird colonies in the Grenadines and how they are impacted by introduced rats. The data will inform seabird management decisions for a community-based conservation program.
Population biology, life history and ecology of the Bahama Swallow (Tachycineta cyaneoviridis): informing conservation of an endangered species.
Maya Wilson, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
The Bahama Swallow is an endangered species endemic to Grand Bahama Island, Great Abaco Island and Andros Island in the northern Bahamas. The swallow relies on pre-existing cavities in Caribbean Pine (Pinus caribaea), which are only found in large tracts on these island (they are also found on New Providence Island though the breeding Bahama Swallow likely was extirpated from here). Maya Wilson will undertake her third and final field season to investigate the population abundance, life history traits and nesting resource limitations of the Bahama Swallow. She is collaborating with the Bahama Oriole Project to develop survey techniques to estimate population and habitat data for both species. In addition, gene flow between islands will be analyzed from samples collected during mist netting efforts. Maya’s research will provide important information about two endangered Bahama endemics that will be used to inform conservation strategies for these species and their habitats.
Artificial perch installation as a method for enhancing avian seed dispersal and accelerating early-stage forest recovery in the central Dominican Republic.
Spencer Schubert, Old Dominion University
In Hispaniola, less than 15% of the original wet forest cover remains, primarily due to deforestation for cattle ranching. It is well known that frugivorous birds provide vital ecosystem services that aid in forest growth, such as pollination and seed dispersal. Spencer Schubert will travel to the Dominican Republic this summer to investigate the role of artificial perches as a strategy to increase natural seed dispersal and reforestation. From his previous work in the area, he has identified 24 species of frugivorous birds that aid in seed dispersal. Working with the local NGO Plan Yaque, he intends to install artificial perches in different spatial patterns and measure frugivore use and seed deposition. Results from this study will directly benefit Plan Yaque and their ongoing reforestation effort, local farmers, and the biodiversity and avian communities that rely on forests.
Distribution, diversity, and abundance of Grenadian birds, including endemic and restricted-range species.
Ramon Williams, University of Manitoba
Like many islands in the Caribbean, Grenada is undergoing rapid development leading to increased human disturbance and habitat loss. The conservation status of Grenadian passerines in response to development is poorly understood as there is little information regarding the distribution, diversity and abundance of species across the island. Thirty-five passerines are found on Grenada, including the critically endangered Grenada Dove (Leptotila wellsi), the endangered Grenada Hook-billed Kite (Chondrohierax uncinatus mirus) and the endemic Grenada Flycatcher (Myiarchus nugatory). Ramon Williams will begin field work this summer to estimate passerine species diversity and abundance, in addition to quantifying vegetation structure, in representative habitat types across Grenada. This study will produce a comprehensive assessment of the status of passerines on the island, potentially identifying areas of conservation priority.
Nest response of Broad-billed Todies (Todus subulatus) to an invasive nest predator, the small Asian mongoose.
Holly Garrod, Villanova University
The Broad-billed Tody is endemic to the island of Hispaniola. Like all todies, this species nests on the ground by building burrows in embankments. This nesting strategy makes todies extremely vulnerable to introduced predators, such as the small Asian mongoose (Herpestes javanicus auropunctatus). This summer, Holly Garrod will return to the Cordillera Central region of the Dominican Republic – where she conducted pilot research in 2016 – to monitor nesting todies and nest predation. She is interested in the behavioral differences of todies in undisturbed and disturbed sites and how this might affect reactions to nest predators and reproductive success. Understanding how birds respond to predators under different environmental conditions has the potential to improve anti-predator management techniques for native bird conservation.
Conservation genetics of the Caribbean Roseate Tern
Paige Byerly, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
The Caribbean Roseate Tern, a threatened metapopulation of Sterna dougallii dougallii, is thought to be declining across its range, though the trajectory of the population is not well understood. Paige Byerly will undertake a project to analyze the genetics of the Caribbean Roseate Tern in order to investigate gene flow patterns between this population and the similar Northeastern Atlantic population. It is thought there is no movement between the two groups; such genetic isolation has the potential to negatively impact population viability. In addition to gene flow, this analysis will yield information about genetic diversity and effective population size. Samples will be collected this summer from populations in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Massachusetts. Results from this study will provide researchers and conservation managers with valuable new information about connectivity, migratory ecology and population vulnerability.
To learn more about the David S. Lee Fund for the Conservation of Caribbean Birds, click here. If you would like to contribute to the fund and help support future projects, click here. You can choose to designate your gift to the David S. Lee Fund.
BirdsCaribbean thanks the scientists that provided thoughtful and constructive reviews of the proposals. We are very grateful to all that have donated to the David S. Lee Fund. We are pleased and proud to honor Dave’s legacy with the funding of these exciting projects that will advance the development of young Caribbean scientists and contribute to the conservation of Caribbean birds.
Joseph Prosper shares with us his experiences birding in Barbuda and the choices this pristine little island faces. He discusses the importance of conservation and provides wonderful insights into the birds found here.
Barbuda is definitely torn between two lovers and probably feeling like a fool. This island holds two tomorrows in its hands. One is for it to remain a remote, low-key eco-tourism destination, with a small economy that preserves and features the island’s wealth of pristine natural resources and traditional culture. The other tomorrow is Barbuda becoming a tourist destination with mega resorts, modern lifestyles and greatly lessened natural beauty.
Climate change looms over both of these tomorrows, as the low relief is highly threatened by sea level rise. This is their moment to consider and decide. I know what I would choose.
I have been involved in bird watching for 14 years. I crudely define this activity as a form of wildlife observation in which the observation of birds is a recreational activity. Watching birds in Barbuda can be done with the naked eye, through binoculars or by listening for bird sounds. Surprisingly, in Barbuda, many bird species are more easily detected and identified by ear than by eye. Most birdwatchers, including myself, pursue this activity for recreational and social reasons. I have also engaged in the study of birds using formal scientific methods. Many birdwatchers maintain life lists, a list of all of the species they have seen in their life, usually with details about the sighting, such as date and location. The criteria for the recording of these lists are very personal. Some birdwatchers “count” species they have identified audibly, while others only record species that they have identified visually. Some maintain a country list, parish list, state list, county list, yard list, year list, or any combination of these.
My ‘birding’ life started in 2002 when I attended a “West Indian Whistling-Duck and Wetlands Education Training Workshop led by Dr. Lisa Sorenson of BirdsCaribbean (formerly the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds) and the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG).
This was my introduction to the West Indian Whistling-Duck which sparked and sealed a lasting interest in birds and birding. This tall, graceful, brown-spotted duck is found only in the West Indies. It was once abundant and widely distributed throughout the Caribbean, but is now scarce and limited in its distribution due to illegal hunting, introduced predators like the mongoose which eat eggs and ducklings, and loss of much of its wetland habitat from development. In my pursuit of the duck, I traversed little known parts of Antigua and Barbuda, spending many hours observing the duck and widening and deepening my knowledge and experience with birds. My fascination and surprise grew as I realised through my association with other local birders, notably Victor Joseph and Andrea Otto, that as small and as dry as Antigua and Barbuda is, the country hosts well over 182 species of birds including numerous migrants.
Unlike many birders, I do not have a life list, but strive to see as many birds as possible, and rarities and endemics are at the top of my list.
I was therefore thrilled to learn that, as tiny as my country was, Barbuda is home to the endemic Barbuda Warbler, recently elevated to species status after genetic research deemed it worthy of this designation.
One of my best birding moments was setting eyes on this warbler in 2005. My guide, Mr. Calvin Gore, took me to the spot for the Barbuda Warbler. This is quite easy to find: Going south on the main road, about 2 miles from the airport is a thick section of pipe on the left. There is an embankment about 100-200 feet to the left, which holds water occasionally, but was bone dry with no signs of having been a pond on my visit. There is a pond on the right as well, mostly dry. Just before reaching the embankment I heard a warbler sing, and shortly thereafter spotted the Barbuda Warbler, flitting about in the dry scrub. It is a beautiful little bird with gray upperparts, bright yellow underparts, a yellow line above the eye and a yellow or whitish crescent below it. I saw and heard many Barbuda Warblers during the 3 hours I spent here.
I spooked a pair of Helmeted Guineafowl and got excellent looks at Lesser Antillean Flycatcher, Mangrove Cuckoo, and Caribbean Elaenia. I saw many migrant and resident shorebirds and waterbirds, including White-cheeked Pintails, Stilt Sandpipers, Short-billed-Dowitchers, Black-necked Stilts, Wilson’s Plover, White-rumped Sandpipers, Common Snipe, and a pair of Pectoral Sandpipers. I walked around the town—there were Cliff Swallows with Barn Swallows at the airport, supposedly rare for Barbuda. There is a place in the lagoon where West Indian Whistling-Ducks come in the evening, uttering their beautiful haunting whistling call as they fly in. Visiting Barbuda to see the warbler and the many other special birds that one can see in Barbuda makes it a worthwhile trip for any birder or nature lover.
My love affair with birds and birding led to my membership in BirdsCaribbean, a non-profit regional organization dedicated to studying and conserving Caribbean birds and their habitats, and my travels all over the Caribbean including Trinidad, Tobago, Puerto Rico, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Guadeloupe and beyond to Canada, South America and Europe. Birding allowed me to feed my other great love which is education. I studied birds, focusing on the West Indian Whistling-Duck, and advocated for their conservation on Antigua and Barbuda. and delved into the ways of any bird I encountered. I happily shared my discoveries with many children, residents, and visitors wanting them to experience a similar amazement at the world of birds.
At the Codrington Lagoon in Barbuda where the Magnificent Frigatebird engaged my attention – oh what a sight for my eager eyes! I took a small boat from the harbour in Codrington to the Frigatebird Sanctuary in the northwest of the lagoon. I thoroughly enjoyed the crossing and at the sanctuary I was taken within 2 metres of thousands of birds nesting on top of clumps of short Red Mangrove bushes. They were totally unmoved by my presence. Surveys show there are over 5,000 frigatebirds using the site, making it the largest colony in the Caribbean. It is really something to see these birds and the way they live in the wild. By this time George Jeffrey, my tour guide, was moving me along with a pole, the boat was silent except for the sound of my camera shutter. I was there during mating season (February) and it was fascinating to see the males puffing out their brilliant red neck pouches to attract the females. I could hear the sound of the males drumming their pouches all around me.
Fascinated, I asked where the ‘downies’ go when there is a hurricane? “When there’s a storm the babies climb deep into the mangroves and wait it out, while the adults fly away,” George said. “Some people call them Weather Birds, because there will be hundreds of them going off in a cloud before the storm hits.” George then provided a demonstration of how important sticks are to the male frigatebirds for building their nests. He threw a stick up in the air and then gave a play-by-play commentary of the male frigates fighting over the stick and even pulling it away from another bird while in flight until they could find a way back to their nest. There were males displaying, chicks and females sitting on nests—an incredible sight. A definite must-see if one is in Barbuda.
My hope is that these birds and the pristine nature of Barbuda will still be here for generations.
Let’s choose a tomorrow that does not succumb to the bulldozer but instead preserves this natural wealth for all to experience and enjoy.
By Joseph (Junior) Prosper, schoolteacher in Antigua and dedicated local conservationist. Reprinted with permission from the tourism coffee table book: Simply Antigua Barbuda. The book is available to order online at this link. The online version of the book can be viewed here.
Let’s face it: Coffee table books often lie on the table, mostly untouched unless you pick them up in a moment of boredom, flick through the pages, and put them down again. However, once you open Simply Antigua Barbuda, you will become immersed. It is far more varied than the average tourism publication, with a rich diversity of topics – from finely drawn sketches of the islands’ National Heroes to – yes, an article on Birding in Barbuda, and a strong focus on sustainable living and conservation for future generations. As its authors and publishers note, it is“designed to be dipped into” – not only to enjoy the gorgeous photographs but also to obtain detailed information on the history, culture and environment of the twin-island nation. And this 264-page, high-quality publication was all put together in six months!
The exquisite photographs portray the islands’ natural beauty, from the calm, unsullied blue of Barbuda’s Codrington Lagoon to hidden hiking trails and Antigua’s 365 famous beaches (“one for every day of the year”). An article authored by Daryl George, board member of Antigua’s Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), includes stunning close up photographs of Hawksbill and Leatherback Turtle hatchlings. EAG and BirdsCaribbean member Natalya Lawrence reminds the reader that there is much more to Antigua & Barbuda than beaches, focusing on the offshore islands. She describes the success of the Offshore Islands Conservation Programme, which has resulted in the removal of alien and invasive species and a surge in numbers in bird populations and native species in the past 20 years. Natalya also highlights the Floating Classroom program, which has opened the eyes of young Antiguans to natural wonders on their doorstep.
The section on Barbuda – a low-key tourism destination that has encountered environmental challenges – emphasizes the welcome move towards low impact, sustainable tourism and programs such as the Blue Halo Initiative, a collaborative coastal zoning project that is helping to protect the island’s fragile coastline and marine ecosystems. Barbuda has the largest Frigatebird Sanctuary in the western hemisphere. This extraordinary bird is among those highlighted in an article by EAG and BirdsCaribbean member Joseph (Junior) Prosper, edited by BirdsCaribbean’s Lisa Sorenson. Striking photographs by other BirdsCaribbean members (Andrea Otto, Binkie van Es and Ted Eubanks) of the supremely elegant West Indian Whistling-Duck, the Barbuda Warbler and other species enhance the text.
The book beautifully integrates tips on sustainable living with the many attractions Antigua has to offer – including cuisine. There are delicious recipes for the invasive Lionfish, and important information on the closed seasons for the Queen Conch, Parrotfish, Spiny Lobster and several other important marine species. Dr. Evelyn Weekes of the Agro-Ecology Society of Antigua describes several climate-smart projects that help to enhance the tourism product as well as the lives of Antiguans.
Joseph Prosper observes in his article Birds of Barbuda: “Let’s choose a tomorrow that does not succumb to the bulldozer but instead preserves this natural wealth for all to experience and enjoy.” This gem of a book reminds us of the fragility of the region’s island ecosystems, and the need to preserve them – not only for tourists.
The book is available to order online at this link.
The online version of the book can be viewed here.
By Emma Lewis, frequent blogger for BirdsCaribbean and member of BirdsCaribbean’s Media Working Group. Find me at Petchary’s Blog!
Your help is needed to protect beach-nesting birds, nests, and young. Conservian is planning for Year 2 of their shorebird and habitat conservation program in the Bahamas. Come join them for the adventure of a lifetime!
Conservian is seeking a weekly crew of 8 to 12 enthusiastic volunteers for our Bahamas shorebird habitat conservation project in May 2017 aboard the 75ft schooner “Dream Catcher”. This is an excellent opportunity to gain field experience and shorebird ID skills. Trip cost for one week is $1,250 and includes your bunk, onboard meals, water, and ground transportation associated with project. Participants will fly to the Bahamas to designated airports for shuttle transport to schooner. A valid passport is required. Airfare and insurance are not included.
In 2017, Conservian and partners will continue on-the-ground protective and restorative measures to limit human-caused disturbance, and control invasive Australian pine at key Piping Plover, shorebird, and seabird sites in the Bahamas. Field volunteers will participate in collecting new data on shorebirds and seabirds of the Bahamas. Selected sites include Globally Important and locally Important Bird Areas and national parks of the Bahamas, such as Lucaya National Park IBA, Peterson Cay National Park IBA, Joulter Cays National Park IBA, and the Berry Islands, as well as additional key shorebird sites on Grand Bahama Island and Great Abaco. Read about our exciting and successful field season in 2016 here.
Our days will be filled with much adventure. The focus of the work is surveying for beach-nesting bird breeding pairs, nests and young, and working with local volunteers to implement protective measures in the field. Focal species include Wilson’s Plovers, American Oystercatchers, Least Terns and other colonial nesting species. We will work in both populated and remote areas, sail blue Caribbean waters, visit white sandy beaches, boat to little islands, conduct ground surveys for beach-nesting birds, nests, and downy chicks, and meet new people. We will work with local volunteers to post and sign shorebird sites and control invasive Australian pine. Field crew will assistant with collecting data on breeding pairs, habitat assessment and human-created disturbance. Field crew will also assist with shipboard duties; sailing, cooking and cleaning. There will be time to fish, snorkel, and visit local island towns.
Project partners include: BirdsCaribbean, Bahamas National Trust, International Conservation Fund of Canada, USFWS/NMBCA, LightHawk, Dow AgroSciences, Grand Bahama Nature Tours, Optics for the Tropics, Grand Bahama Port Authority, Bahamas Public Parks & Beaches Authority, Bahamas Environment, Science & Technology Commission, Rand Nature Center, Abaco Friends of the Environment, Treasure Cay Community Center, Royal Bahamas Police Force/Marine Support.
Protect, post & sign shorebird & seabird sites
Collect new data on nesting shorebirds & habitat
Observe/assist with bird banding (conditions permitting)
Control invasive Australian pine on beach habitats
Work with local volunteers to accomplish the above goals
Qualifications: Applicants must be responsible, adventurous, in good physical condition, enjoy working in teams and be capable of walking several miles during warm weather in the Caribbean. Applicants must be comfortable living communally onboard a schooner and riding in small boats to access survey sites.
May expedition schedule and locations (final dates TBD)
Assist for one week or more:
Week 1: Grand Bahama Island- (Freeport GBI Int. Airport)
Week 2: Great Abaco, west- (Freeport/Marsh Harbour Airport)
Week 3: Great Abaco, east- (Marsh Harbour Airport)
If you would like to join our conservation crew for a week or more as part of our Volunteer Field Crew:
Please send 1) letter of interest 2) resume 3) names, email addresses and phone numbers of 2 references to Margo Zdravkovic. Please label all attachments with your name. The review of applicants is ongoing and will continue until positions are filled.
What a start to the year! I am excited and honored to be serving you as President of BirdsCaribbean as 2017 gets under way. It is a wonderful opportunity to work with so many passionate and experienced conservationists in the region and beyond. I hope you will support our organization’s efforts to protect the Caribbean’s amazing birds and their habitats.
Let me tell you a little about myself, and my passion for the islands’ birds. My relationship with BirdsCaribbean began in 2002, when I attended the international meeting in Cuba. As my interest grew, I wrote a Birdwatching Guide to Bermuda in that same year. From 2005 – 2008, I served as President of the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds, which is now BirdsCaribbean. I have served on the executive of the Bermuda Audubon Society since 1990 – including many terms as President – and published the Society’s newsletter for a number of years. I have been a regional editor for the journal North American Birds since 1995. In Bermuda, where I live, I have enjoyed coordinating BirdsCaribbean’s outreach programs, such as the Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival and International Migratory Bird Day
My love of birds began as a small boy in England. My parents maintained nest boxes in the garden. We didn’t own a car, so weekends were spent on local family walks, which led to a growing appreciation for nature. When I landed my first job, I bought some binoculars; and when I went off to university I was fortunate to meet a birding mentor. Similarly, since I arrived in Bermuda, Dr. David Wingate has been a great inspiration. While I have had a lifetime career as a high school teacher, I have also immersed myself in the world of birds. I am continually fascinated by the variety of bird species in the Caribbean. I especially enjoy getting out in the field, running birdwatching courses and leading field trips – including an annual bird camp. And like many of you, bird photography is something I love to do.
The Caribbean is a biodiversity hotspot, with an impressive 172 endemic species found in the region. It is home to more than 560 bird species. The region is also a vital seasonal home for over 180 migratory species that winter in the region or pass through on migration. However, there are so many threats to our birdlife, such as habitat loss, invasive species, hunting, the pet trade and the effects of climate change.
BirdsCaribbean is leading efforts to reduce these major challenges through a series of innovative programs and projects. Through our new BirdSleuth Caribbean program we are training teachers in the Caribbean to get young people involved in exploring the natural world and in building their science skills. The Caribbean Waterbird Census Program was set up to study, monitor and conserve these birds and the habitats they need to survive. The Caribbean Birding Trail is an exciting initiative that aims to promote birdwatching as a tool to facilitate the conservation of the birds and habitats endemic to the Caribbean, one of the most biodiverse regions of the planet. By promoting birding, showcasing the best birding sites, and training and equipping guides, the program creates jobs and other incentives to preserve habitats.
We appreciate your support for our important programs in raising awareness of and halting threats to birds; and we need your continued help to build the capacity of local organizations to tackle these problems. These local organizations are BirdsCaribbean’s lifeblood: they advocate on behalf of birds, and boost Caribbean citizens’ avian knowledge as we seek to advance science and conservation. If we are going to look after our special Caribbean birds, we need to continue to foster an appreciation for the natural environment and the need to protect bird habitat. Above all, we need to get young people on board – not only interested, but also actively involved in the organization, to ensure a future generation of conservationists.
So how about a New Year’s resolution to take some young people birding? I was thrilled when both of my daughters asked for binoculars as birthday presents without my prompting. They now record their sightings in eBird Caribbean. When they were home from university at Christmas, they once again insisted on helping me with the annual Christmas Bird Count. We discovered the first record of a Common Eider in Bermuda – how cool was that! Special moments like that can inspire a lifetime interest in birds.
I look forward to working with you all to save our region’s magnificent birds and their habitats.
p.s. With your support, together we can build a future where the Caribbean’s unique natural heritage can flourish and form the basis for a future rooted in sustainable relationships between people and the environment. I encourage you to become a member of BirdsCaribbean today. If you are already a member, please consider donating your time, efforts and financial gifts to our cause, contact us about volunteer opportunities, come to one of our meetings or training sessions, go on one of our trips, participate in one of our programs, and encourage others to join in our efforts. I promise you will find it one of the most rewarding experiences in your life.
From our coastlines and mangroves, to ponds, lakes and rivers, waterbirds are an ever-present part of Caribbean landscapes. They include our majestic seabirds, gregarious ducks, elegant egrets and a host of wading birds that make these islands a seasonal home. Learning the remarkable stories of some of these birds is easy with the release of Caribbean Waterbirds, a free ebook produced by BirdsCaribbean.
The ebook contains pieces by six authors, each revealing something different about these birds and the wetlands that sustain them. Learn how clever herons use tools, how waterbirds are found where they are least expected and how birds survive a hurricane. The book, illustrated with gorgeous photos, is a free download on our Resources page.
The timing of the ebook’s release coincides with the beginning of the eighth-annual Caribbean Waterbird Census. This census includes waterbird counts in over 100 locations on over a dozen islands. Although many are conducted by scientists and conservation groups, the census is designed so that anyone can participate.
The Caribbean is home to a wide variety of waterbirds, including both year-round residents and birds that travel thousands of miles to spend their winter here. Projects like the Caribbean Waterbird Census tell us how these birds are faring and what areas are most important to their survival. New discoveries are made every year.
The Caribbean Waterbird Census takes place each year between January 14th and February 3rd. You can learn more about it on the BirdsCaribbean website, or contact a local conservation group to find census activities on your island. Caribbean Waterbirds is available for free download in English, Spanish and French on our Resources page.
Can Caribbean bird populations survive hurricanes? Or perhaps we should ask, how do they manage to live through the storms’ fierce onslaught as well as survive the aftermath when there is little food and shelter?
In Part 1 we looked at the terrible damage caused by Hurricane Matthew to the human life, infrastructure, wildlife and ecosystems on some of our islands. Matthew arrived just a couple of months ago. Some communities are only just picking up the pieces, and for many, life remains a struggle.
Just as with humans, some birds can “get back on their feet” faster than others. If forests are lost, as in Haiti during Hurricane Matthew, birds are essentially homeless, like a man whose house has blown down, and their chances of survival are not good. As humans are rebuilding their lives, birds have to struggle on with theirs, too, in an environment that has become bleak and hostile, almost overnight. It will take time to restore some kind of normality. Fortunately, like humans, birds are remarkably resilient and they can (and do) bounce back.
Recent studies of hurricane effects on birds indicate that these storms have both direct and indirect effects on birds. Direct effects are most likely to cause mortality in those birds that have no place to hide, especially aquatic bird such as waterfowl, pelicans, gulls and terns, sandpipers, plovers, herons and egrets. In a severe storm, their habitats will likely be swamped by storm surges, and the strong winds (often most powerful along the coast) will destroy them. Heavy rains, resulting in floods and landslides, will swamp them. Many land birds can avoid the direct effects of hurricanes by hunkering down on the ground or sheltering in low vegetation, but land birds are also killed by hurricanes.
Indirect effects, however, may not only cause mortality but have the longest lasting impact on bird populations. These include loss of food resources or foraging substrates, increased risk of predation, loss of nests and nest or roost sites, and microclimate changes.
In the short-term, birds respond to these indirect effects by changing their diet, habitat, and foraging locations. It should be no surprise that after hurricanes birds will quickly abandon heavily damaged and exposed sites and move into less damaged sites where there is a better food supply and cover from predators. Often birds will wander widely in search of food in the aftermath of storms and feed on foods that are not normally in their diet (as described in Part 1 of this article).
In the first breeding season after a hurricane, breeding is usually disrupted as some species may not be able to find good nesting places, or food may not be sufficient for females to build up the reserves needed to lay eggs and undergo incubation. There might also be shortages of food to feed young. And of course, a number of breeding birds may have fallen victim to the storm. These factors usually result in a decline in breeding success and consequently fewer baby birds post-hurricane for many species, which can shift population age structure.
In tropical climates where some birds breed opportunistically or all year-round, such as grassquits, they can begin to breed again as soon as conditions improve. As vegetation recovers, terrestrial birds may respond to outbreaks of herbivorous insects (e.g., caterpillars) as defoliated plants leaf out, and to increases in flowering and fruiting. These food resource blooms several months or years after a hurricane can eventually increase breeding success as pairs may produce multiple clutches in a season due to abundant food. Similarly, tropical waterbirds such as White-cheeked Pintails may nest opportunistically in the fall in the weeks following a hurricane when heavy rainfall floods wetlands leading to flushes of aquatic macro-invertebrates, the high protein food that females need to lay a clutch of eggs.
Which bird species are most at risk during and after a hurricane? These tend to be those with a diet of fruit, nectar or seeds (hummingbirds, bananaquits, pigeons, doves and parrots, among others). Birds that live or forage in large, old trees – such as woodpeckers, owls and more – may also suffer; sadly, these noble trees often bear the brunt of the storm. Birds that live in closed forest canopy, that depend on a particular “niche” ecosystem with its own peculiar mini-climate, and/or that live in habitats in which the vegetation recovers slowly are all vulnerable.
These vulnerability traits may increase the risk of severe population decline in those species with small populations isolated in small habitat fragments which includes many of the islands’ endangered endemics of course. For example, the Grenada Dove suffered a substantial decline in its already small population as a result of Hurricane Ivan in 2004 (estimated at 180 doves before Hurricane Ivan), although obtaining a precise population estimate was challenging as the doves moved out of their traditional sites and stopped calling. The most recent census (2013) suggests that the dove is still recovering from this loss many years later.
How can we humans help birds after the passage of a hurricane? One important way is by providing food. Hang up bird feeders – including hummingbird feeders, as nectar from flowering plants and trees is likely to be in short supply, and bird seed. This can help birds survive until their natural foods recover. We should not forget water either! There is usually either too much or too little water available after a hurricane. Birds need plenty of clean water to recondition their battered feathers and of course, to drink. Birds do get dehydrated quite quickly, especially in the hot weather. We should also try to replant as soon as possible – both slow- and fast-growing native trees and plants – to provide shelter, food, and nesting sites.
Hurricanes such as Matthew are tests of endurance, resilience and adaptability. With climate change life will likely not get any easier, and we can expect the unexpected. While people can prepare for more intense storms that may come our way in the future, our birds cannot plan for the future. Let us see what we can do to protect our birds – whose lives are literally turned upside down by such storms – and their habitats. And, if the worst happens, let us try to help them recover; it’s the least we can do.
By Emma Lewis, frequent blogger for BirdsCaribbean and member of BirdsCaribbean’s Media Working Group. Find me at Petchary’s Blog! Many thanks to Joe Wunderle and Lisa Sorenson for their contributions to this article.
Well, the Atlantic hurricane season is finally over, and island dwellers in the Caribbean can breathe a sigh of relief. The 2016 season that ended on November 30 was an “above normal” one, with 15 named storms, including 7 hurricanes – the deadliest season since 2005. It was unusual in many ways; a certain storm named Matthew certainly behaved strangely – and extremely badly. Matthew was a long-stay visitor to the Caribbean, moving very slowly, and far to the south; then turning north, as if he was doing a tour of the islands. At that point, Matthew decided to wreak havoc in Haiti, eastern Cuba and the Bahamas before descending on the southeastern seaboard of the United States. Matthew was a high-intensity storm, and he was mean.
An estimated 1,700 people lost their lives as a result of Matthew and damage amounted to some US$10–12 billion. But what of the ecological harm, and in particular the damage to birds and their habitats? The Caribbean is still counting the cost. Matthew made landfall on Haiti’s Tiburon Peninsula on October 4th as an intense Category Four storm – the strongest storm to directly impact Haiti since 1964. Haiti’s infrastructure is weak, and deforestation remains a major problem. Matthew brought very heavy rainfall along with him, and widespread flooding and landslides occurred, taking hundreds of lives. Worse still, the strong winds (well over 100 miles per hour) destroyed forest habitat as well as crops.
The hurricane was a huge setback for reforestation efforts in Haiti, which had achieved 17 per cent tree cover – almost half of this forest in the Grand’ Anse Department (also the nation’s “breadbasket”). Sadly, this southern region was one of the worst affected by Matthew. As a result of the loss of trees there, bird populations suffered terribly. Dead birds (doves, woodpeckers etc) were found. It is feared that during Hurricane Matthew birds had no safe place to weather the storm, and large numbers perished. In the aftermath, the already degraded habitat was largely destroyed, offering little or no food or shelter for surviving birds.
Reports from the Bahamas were also quite grim, post-Matthew. Grand Bahama took a direct hit from the storm’s eyewall and suffered extensive damage. In some areas, almost all homes were damaged or destroyed and there was widespread flooding. Fortunately, there were no casualties – on the human side. However, bird guide Erika Gates reported the loss of all native mature trees (Poisonwood, Gumbo Limbo, Mahogany, and more) at her Garden of the Gates bird sanctuary and in the Westend and Freeport areas. Nevertheless, many small bushes remained, providing food for the birds after the storm.
Pericles Maillis reported from New Providence that he had hundreds of starving White-crowned Pigeons on his farm after the hurricane. “Black clouds” of them fed ravenously on cracked corn he put out, a food source that they normally do not come to like other doves.
There is always hope. Many migrants were observed two days after the storm, Erika reported. She surmised they must have survived by staying low on the ground, or in limestone cavities. Despite sustained high winds for more than eight hours, many wading birds such as ibises, egrets and herons – with their long, fragile legs – seem to have survived. One wonders how and where they sheltered! Hummingbirds such as the Bahama Woodstars and Cuban Emeralds were scarce for a while, however, due to the lack of nectar, and some birds appeared to have changed their feeding habits, at least temporarily; for example, the Greater Antillean Bullfinch was observed feeding on seed, instead of fruit. Other birds such as the Black-Throated Blue Warbler fed voraciously after the storm, almost ignoring the presence of humans close by. Some warblers were even seen feeding from trash cans!
Roaring winds, endless heavy rains and tempestuous seas – all those who have lived through hurricanes have vivid memories of this frightening and unnerving experience. The aftermath is often depressing and harrowing. How our fragile birds survive the storm and adapt to stressful conditions afterwards is nothing short of a miracle. In some ways, perhaps, they are more resilient than we humans!
Check out this link with side-by-side UAV (drone) photos that show the impact of Matthew on structures and tree cover. You can pan around in the photos and see that in the area covered there are no trees at all left standing. It is possible that the impact on birds and vegetative cover here may be longer term than other places with larger forest reserves – and lower daily demand for wood as fuel.
By Emma Lewis, frequent blogger for BirdsCaribbean and member of BirdsCaribbean’s Media Working Group. Find me at Petchary’s Blog! Many thanks to Jim Goetz, Anthony Levesque, Erika Gates, and Lisa Sorenson for their contributions to this article.
The Bahama Oriole (Icterus northropi) is the most endangered bird in the Bahamas. It is now restricted just to the Andros Island complex. There may be as few as several hundred individuals left, making it also one of the most endangered endemic birds in the entire Caribbean. Of greatest concern is that the oriole was driven from the Abaco Islands in the 1990s for unknown reasons. It is one thing to have a known killer lurking, but in the case of the oriole, what caused it to go extinct on Abaco is unknown. We hope to help preserve this charismatic and colorful species on Andros, which surprisingly is not that difficult to observe on certain parts of the island. Like many tropical birds, both the females and the males have elaborate coloration – both sexes are jet black with bright yellow patches over much of the body.
We began the Bahama Oriole Project last year with the overall goal of preventing the extinction of this beautiful oriole. The project is a collaboration between the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and the Bahamas National Trust (BNT). We have conducted several field trips to begin to determine how many orioles are left, and to learn what the major threats are to this species. We also need to learn much more about where the oriole spends its time throughout the year, including what it eats, how widely it ranges, and what its preferred habitats are for feeding and nesting. The last published estimates suggest as few as 300 individuals may remain. However, in May 2016 our field team, including students from the Bahamas and from UMBC, discovered previously unknown breeding populations deep in Andros’ vast pine forests. For several reasons, we are guardedly optimistic that good science and dedicated conservation measures can save this species from extinction.
Our first need is to recruit a PhD student to lead this research effort for the next five years. The student would be advised by Kevin Omland in the Biology Department at UMBC, in collaboration with researchers in the Geography Department at UMBC (Collin Studds and Matt Fagan) and researchers at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (Scott Sillett). The student could choose to focus on any one or two aspects of the project including: 1) population size estimation and habitat usage, 2) breeding ecology including cowbird parasitism and predation by introduced predators, 3) remote sensing and details of habitat usage in breeding and non-breeding season (in relation to fire and climate change), and 4) conservation genetics of populations on three different parts of Andros. Please contact Kevin Omland (firstname.lastname@example.org) and send a CV and short paragraph on research interests. The application target date for full consideration by the UMBC Biology Department is Jan 1, 2017.
We are grateful for the support and advice given to the project by BirdsCaribbean, and we plan to give updates on the project through blog posts and newsletter items. Meanwhile, we invite you to come to Andros to see all the great migratory and endemic birds there! Be sure to add to our knowledge by posting all sightings of Bahama Orioles to eBird Caribbean and to the “Bahama Oriole Project” on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BahamaOrioleProject/
Finally, the project needs ongoing assistance with everything from housing to transportation on Andros, so please consider either monetary or in-kind donations to the project through BirdsCaribbean. Thank you!
By Kevin Omland, Ph.D., Professor, Biology Dept., University of Maryland, Baltimore County