What’s so special about these birds?
To put it bluntly: if the birds are healthy, then the rain forests are healthy, North America is healthy, and we are healthy. This means that migrant birds indicate, or show, the conditions of our environment. We call them an indicator species. In the old days miners would carry canaries into mines. If the mines had poison gas in them, the canary would die or pass out before the gas affected humans. It gave the humans time to escape the mine. The canary indicated the condition of the gas in the mines. Neotropical migrant birds are just like that for us in North America. They are a like a thermometer telling us how healthy our environment is.
Why are they threatened?
Their existence is threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation.
Where there was once a forest, there are now condos, shopping malls and parking lots. The problem is that their habitat and the string of sanctuaries along their migratory route are rapidly disappearing.
The energetic 3″ Ruby-throated Hummingbird, for example, migrates from as far as New England to the South American rainforest. So when this tiny fragile hummingbird is reaching day’s end and seeks shelter in a tree, but sees none, she may never reach her destination. The string of stops along their migratory route enable their migration and allow these amazing birds to exist.
Healthy habitat in the Caribbean, Mexico, and southward and a string of sanctuaries and lots of safe space in Canada and the United States are necessary for Neotropical migrant birds to carry on.
What’s in it for you?
Did you know that birds are natural bug zappers. Birds eat lots of insects. By keeping the insect population low, trees are healthier because they are not being eaten as much by the insects, and so they can produce more oxygen for us oxygen-loving animals. Keeping the insect population down is also good for our health because insects can spread a lot of diseases.
Birds are also excellent plant pollinators. This means that they help plants grow by spreading the pollen that plants need to reproduce. Well-pollinated plants produce more food for us.
Another benefit is that healthy trees keep the world cooler. They are natural air conditioners, thereby preventing global warming.
And, of course, we can’t forget how beautiful they are to look at and to listen to. Neotropical migrant birds are the songbirds of North America. Without them our forests, meadows, and backyards would be virtually silent. Would you prefer to hear the sound of lawn mowers and drive-by traffic or the songs of joyful birds?
What can we do?
The single most important thing we can do to stabilize bird populations is by protecting their international habitats. Their existence is threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation.
Healthy habitats in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Latin Americas that provide unfragmented corridors is a key goal for survival of threatened and endangered species, as well as stabilizing populations of all others in the United States and Canada. Trust for Wildlife is collaborating with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History to further promote our goals and initiatives that complement these critical projects.
RTPI is developing a ‘road map’ which allows educators to identify interested and potentially suitable students and connect them with RTPI. RTPI is simultaneously building relevant local opportunities for high school and college-aged students to get involved with program components located in our area (e.g. area migratory bird banding stations that will become operational in spring 2017, or local amphibian monitoring projects) to build students’ relevant skills and capture their interest. Our Project Wild America Youth Ambassador program (www.projectwildamerica.org), now in its third year, is likewise expanding to provide more opportunities for environmentally-minded students.
The student travel stipends made available by TFW during this current funding cycle have and will be applied to facilitate travel and program participation for two young local people, Taegan Smith and Nick Gunner, who would not have been able to engage in such experiences without financial support. Taegan, an undergraduate at Jamestown Community College, participated in a June research expedition to Panama and is planning to attend SUNY ESF upon graduation for a career in conservation biology. Nick, a recent graduate from SUNY Fredonia with a background in science communication, is starting a small communication business to help area entities better understand and communicate data, using map-based and multimedia storytelling. RTPI is working with Nick on developing educational content to be used in support of our tropical and other relevant conservation research programs. His work will support our upcoming efforts to make ‘Biology without Borders’ a reality by connecting local schools with remote tropical field stations.
The students, teachers and conservation professionals benefited greatly from the availability of RTPI staff on these programs. Without our involvement, students would not have been able to experience migratory bird banding studies, cutting-edge amphibian conservation research, and other wildlife research components during their school trips. Each of the tropical biology courses listed above included a bird banding component, and conservation research opportunities focused on endangered amphibians. Additional student projects focused on mammal tracking, invertebrate and fish biology, and bioacoustics research were offered as time and weather permitted.