Southern Wings: Protecting bird species by restoring habitat

May 2, 2019

by Southern Wings and the Initiative 20x20 Secretariat

Initiative 20x20 partner Southern Wings is an initiative of U.S. state fish and wildlife agencies that facilitates partnerships between them and partners in Latin America and the Caribbean. So far, thirty-two agencies have contributed almost $2.9 million to the conservation of migratory bird species on stop-over sites and wintering grounds. Southern Wings now supports 19 different projects across 12 countries.

A new paper published in the journal Nature Communications highlighted the need to apply conservation actions across the annual life-cycle of migratory birds and that a multi-species approach to prioritizing habitats can provide "guidance on when, where, and what type of habitat should be conserved to sustain populations." This information further emphasizes the importance of the conservation work supported through Southern Wings throughout Latin America and its role in Initiative 20x20.

The Initiative 20x20 Secretariat has chosen to highlight two projects with restoration at their core:

Protecting stopover and wintering habitat for key priority species of shorebirds and waterbirds

Shorebird and waterbird species are experiencing serious population declines. For some researchers understand the biggest threats, but for many others they are still identifying important stopover and wintering sites and developing conservation strategies. For example, the Reddish Egret Working Group has been active and is in the process of developing a hemispheric conservation strategy for this species. Initiative 20x20 partner American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and Pronatura Noreste led the development of a Reddish Egret Conservation Plan for Mexico that identified four priority regions for that country.

Based on the Reddish Egret Conservation Plan, as well as the Altantic Shorebird Conservation Business Plan and the Pacific Flyway Shorebird Conservation Strategy, Southern Wings is targeting Reddish Egret, Wilson’s Plover, Snowy Plover, Red Knot, Long-billed Curlew, and Piping Plover as high priority species. ABC has identified sites where conservation is most urgently needed: Laguna Madre in Mexico, Gulf of Fonseca in Nicaragua and Honduras, and the Ilha Grande estuary and Delta do Parnaíba in Brazil.

ABC is working with a diverse group of partners to identify a conservation strategy that will be appropriate and specific to each of the identified sites. For example, in Laguna Madre our focus is on habitat restoration, biological monitoring, community engagement, and land protection. In Nicaragua, ABC has identified Grupo Quetzalli as a local organization working with shrimp farmers and women’s groups to educate them on bird conservation and reduce impact of shrimping on these species in the Gulf of Fonseca. In Brazil, ABC is working with Aquasis to address the management issues occurring at the Delta do Parnaíba Protected Area in the Ilha Grande estuary. Here, shrimp farming and bivalve harvesting are resulting in habitat loss in important shorebird foraging locations.

In the 240,000-hectare Laguna Madre, Southern Wings will focus on the reforestation of mangrove, fence off key areas to prevent predators from disturbing bird areas, and educate local constituents. The loss of soil on many islands within Laguna Madre continues at an accelerated rate due to erosion-causing waves..One of the islands that has been significantly impacted is the Isla de Pajaros, or Bird Island, which is one of the most important sites for colonial waterbirds in Laguna Madre. PNE and CONANP are proposing the establishment of 600m of containment barriers on the south of Bird Island. In the Gulf of Fonseca, Southern Wings will engage shrimp farmers to identify management practices to reduce impact on shorebirds and their habitat, while not seriously impacting their livelihood, and will advance educational programming in the area to reduce impacts on mangroves and of upstream farming.

Budget: $90,000

Restoration of Migratory Bird Habitat in Ecuador

Ecuador provides wintering habitat for 105 species of neotropical migratory birds, many of them included in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species of Conservation Concern List. Ecuador has the highest deforestation rates in South America over the last 50 years. Annual loss of forests ranges up to 200,000 hectares, caused by increasing human land use. Forest loss is highest in the Andes and the Chocó, prompting Fundación Jocotoco to establish bird reserves here and elsewhere throughout the country where habitat protection is needed the most.

On the eastern slope of the Andes in southern Ecuador, Fundación Jocotoco owns and manages the 3,000-hectare Tapichalaca Reserve. The Reserve’s buffer zone is a matrix of coffee farms that covers 335 hectares. The farmers belong to a coffee cooperative, APECAP (Asociación de Productores Ecologicos de Altura de Palanda), who have started to work with Fundación Jocotoco on the implementation of organic and bird-friendly practices on their farms. This presents a unique opportunity to increase tree cover through the implementation of shade coffee, as many of the farmers see the value of bird-friendly coffee for niche markets and are receptive to bird-friendly practices. The Tapichalaca reserve and the APECAP coffee growing region are within the 1100- 1800m altitudinal range where Canada Warblers are the most abundant migratory species. Other migrants include Cerulean Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush, Blackburnian Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Western-Wood Pewee, Black-billed Cuckoo, Summer Tanager and Olive-sided Flycatcher.

The Ecuadorian Chocó, located in northwest Ecuador, is one of the last remnants of the Tumbes-Chocó- Magdalena Global Biodiversity Hotspot which is characterized by high species endemism and accelerated habitat loss. Only 2% of the original forest in the area remains. The Chocó rainforest is important to numerous wintering migratory birds including Olive-sided Flycatcher, Cerulean Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, Western Wood-pewee and Swainson’s Thrush. The area is also important for threatened resident bird species such as the Great Green Macaw and the Banded-ground Cuckoo. In this region, ABC has established the Choco-Canandé BirdScape, which encompasses the 1,300-hectare Río Canandé Reserve, owned and managed by Fundación Jocotoco.

The Choco-Canandé BirdScape includes a matrix of different land uses such as cacao plantations, oil palm plantations, monocultures (e.g., rice, pepper, plantain, cassava, etc.), pastures, abandoned land, and patches of primary forest. The abandoned land is slowly undergoing a process of natural regeneration, accelerated by reforestation with native trees. Here, Southern Wings aim to turn existing monocultures, pastures and abandoned land into silvopastures and agroforestry systems in eight communities. By introducing trees in pastures, farmers will provide shade and diet supplements to the cattle while protecting the soil from erosion and providing additional habitat and corridors to neotropical migratory birds. By adding trees to their existing monocultures, farmers will generate extra revenues which have the potential to prevent further deforestation

Southern Wings initiated work with the APECAP coffee growers and planted 10,000 native trees on 160 coffee plantations to restore migratory bird habitat. Work also began on a migratory bird monitoring program with more than 40 APECAP members. Currently, 15 members are performing monthly bird monitoring at their coffee farms. In addition, funding supported Fundación Jocotoco in the reforestation of 17 hectares with 9,150 native trees in the Tapichalaca reserve.In the coming years, the project partners aim to establish tree nurseries in eight communities to produce a total of 30,000+ seedlings.

Budget: $68,000

For more information on projects that Southern Wings supports, please follow this link to their 2019-2020 project proposals.