Battered Caribbean islands come together to welcome birds back

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Coordinators in Cuba (Alieny Gonazalez and Ianela Garcia) talk about the importance of stopover sites for migratory birds with a youth club in Cuba. (Photo: Alieny Gonzalez)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The fall of 2017 was hard for the Caribbean. Hurricanes beat on our islands, destroying homes, toppling trees and darkening cities. The storms hurt both people and nature, damaging forests, wetlands, and the animals that live in them.

Despite these tests, bird fans across the region rallied to learn about migratory birds. At events all over the region, people young and old took time out from rebuilding to connect with nature. It brought people together with each other and with local birds.

These events were part of International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD). IMBD takes place all over the Americas, and is coordinated by Environment for the Americas. Caribbean events are organized by BirdsCaribbean, and take many forms.

Dr Adrianne Tossas shared a study that will find out if Hurricane María changed the numbers and diversity of birds with students at the University of Puerto Rico. Ingrid Flores, the Puerto Rico IMBD Coordinator, taught the value of wild spaces to migratory birds with school children at Instituto Las Américas of Caguas, Puerto Rico.

Dr Adrianne Tossas (right) and her students at the University of Puerto Rico assessed the impact of Hurricane María on the numbers and diversity of birds in mangrove and coastal native forests as part of their IMBD celebration. (Photo: Adrianne Tossas)

In Haiti, Anderson Jean from Société Écologique d’ Haiti took 150 guests to Les Cayes to learn bird identification. In Cuba, a team led by Alieny Gonzalez visited schools to explain why stopover sites are key to migratory birds. Youth were amazed to learn that some birds can use wind gusts in their favor to “ride out” a tropical storm and survive. Grupo Jaragua in the Dominican Republic reached more than 1,000 people with bird walks and talks.

On islands hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, dozens of bird feeders and bags of bird seed were given out to help local birds. These were donated by BirdsCaribbean.

“Bird food was in short supply following the hurricanes,” commented IMBD coordinator in Puerto Rico, Ingrid Flores. “People and schools were happy to receive these items so that they could help birds in their back yards survive through a rough patch.”

“Through IMBD, we work to engage people of all ages to make their homes and towns safe places for birds,” said Susan Bonfield, executive director of environment for the Americas. For many islands in the Caribbean, creating safe spaces for birds can also be part of our recovery.

Migratory shorebirds like Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings rely on Caribbean beaches and wetlands for a safe haven during migration and overwintering. Photo: Max Schwenne
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