The Caribbean has 170 bird species that are endemic – that is, living nowhere else on the planet. There are 28 endemics in Jamaica alone. This is why habitat conservation – and, if needed, restoration – is so crucial. We are small islands; the birds have nowhere else to go! Here is BirdsCaribbean’s report on the annual Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival – an opportunity, this year, to educate ourselves on how to provide the habitats that our beautiful birds need to thrive.
June 2, 2015 — From the grand opening of an ornithological center in Puerto Rico to birding by boat at remote cays in the Grenadines, Caribbean birds were celebrated in more ways than ever during the past month. The 14th annual Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival (CEBF) included dozens of events on over 20 Caribbean islands. This unique festival focuses on the bird species that are endemic to—found only in—the Caribbean. Each year, events organized as a part of this festival reach more than 80,000 participants throughout the region.
This year, the theme of “Restore Habitat, Restore Birds” inspired new activities and direct action to restore habitat on many islands. In St. Martin, over 100 seedlings of the native, but endangered, lignum vitae tree were distributed as part of a heritage tree habitat restoration project. At many events, attendees learned about the special relationships between endemic birds and native plants and trees.
BirdsCaribbean, the largest organization devoted to wildlife conservation in the Caribbean, spearheads the annual festival. Local organizations and coordinators (on each island) create events that reflect their unique birds and culture, finding new ways to engage their communities. In The Bahamas, 1,200 people were reached in a single day by a pop-up bird education station in a shopping mall. On Antigua, a movie about birds—complete with popcorn—was a big success with primary school students. On the islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, persons participated in bird monitoring, a photo competition, school presentations, an art competition, bird spelling bee competition, guided bird walks with schools, face paintings and much more!
“Over thousands of years birds have created – literally spread and planted – the forested lands that Caribbean people have benefited from,” explains Leo Douglas, President of BirdsCaribbean. “Now it is time not only to recognize birds as forest builders but to save these unique island species. It is we, the people, who must focus on restoring forests, wetlands, and other habitats for the benefit of human communities. Everyone of us needs wood, potable water, breathable air, medicines and other products that natural habitats provide.” Douglas further notes that the best habitats for Caribbean birds are also those that provide the highest quality water and fish nurseries, among other goods and services essential to Caribbean life.
The Caribbean is home to 173 species of birds that are endemic, or found nowhere else in the world. Many of these species live only on a single island, and many are endangered or threatened. These birds are the most unique examples of the Caribbean’s natural heritage, and they often occupy specialized niches in the ecology of the islands where they live. They may also be the key to attracting bird-loving tourists to the region.
“Highlighting habitat restoration has made this year’s festival particularly effective,” said Sheylda Díaz-Méndez, Regional Coordinator of the CEBF. “Throughout the region, individuals have realized that preserving and restoring natural heritage is critical to the health and prosperity of their communities and a real part of their cultural identity. We tapped into a movement that is growing rapidly.”
After a wildly successful 2015 festival, there are undoubtedly at least a few new bird enthusiasts out on the trail with binoculars in hand. Surely many people will look up and see a familiar bird in a new light, knowing it is unique to their island. Local coordinators will compare notes on which activities were most popular, and hopefully take a well-deserved break. Then the planning will begin for next year’s festival.
For more information please contact: Sheylda N. Díaz-Méndez, Coordinadora, Festival de aves endémicas del Caribe (Regional Coordinator, Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival), Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds, Tel: (787) 458-5406, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. or Scott Johnson, Chair, BirdsCaribbean Media Working Group and Education Officer, Bahamas National Trust, Nassau, Bahamas. Email: email@example.com; Tel: 242-393-1317
- BirdsCaribbean is the largest regional organization devoted to wildlife conservation in the Caribbean. It is a non-profit organization whose goals are to promote the scientific study and conservation of Caribbean birds and their habitats, and to promote greater public awareness of the bird life of the region. For more details, see: http://www.birdscaribbean.org.
- Countries taking part include: Antigua, Anguilla, The Bahamas, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Martin, Saint Andre (Columbia), Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The initiative is supported across the region by a variety of organizations including schools, churches, environmental NGOs, government conservation departments, private sector organizations, universities, and concerned groups and individuals.]
- Dr. Leo Ricardo Douglas is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Institute for Sustainable Development and visiting lecturer in the department of Geography/Geology. Leo holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University, New York City. He has taught about conservation conflicts and biodiversity at Columbia University and Bard College in New York. Dr. Douglas has recently published research on how Caribbean parrot feeding habits improve food availability for important native pollinators and seed-dispersing birds – thus benefiting local ecosystems overall.
- Lisa Sorenson is also the Executive Director of BirdsCaribbean. Dr. Sorenson also coordinates the West Indian Whistling-Duck and Wetlands Conservation Project, a public education and awareness programme on the importance and value of the regions wetlands and birds. Sorenson, who is a adjunct professor at Boston University MA, is an ecologist and conservation biologist, who has been working in the Caribbean for 25 years.