Going South

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 13, 2010

remaining forests and other more open habitats of tropical America during the winter. There, they feed on a bountiful variety of tropical insects and the forests’ fruits—mango, guava and papaya.

Have you ever wondered why Missouri’s Baltimore orioles love grape jelly so much? It’s because they’ve been eating the soft, sweet, fruity-fruits of the tropics all winter. While on their overwintering grounds, you might see 20 orioles in one tree, a flock of 100 Tennessee warblers foraging along the forest edge, or hundreds of scissor-tailed flycatchers leaving their night roost to spend the day foraging for insects in the countryside.

But these living gems are treasures in the midst of a complex world. Latin America’s abundance of natural riches is in direct contrast with the poverty of the people who live off the land, raising most of their own food. Central America has been changing from independent farming to large-scale agriculture and non-sustainable timber harvesting. The population of Latin America and the Caribbean during the next 40 years will increase by 100 to 350 million people, putting added pressure on an already stressed land.

Coffee that was once planted in the shade of the rain forest canopy can now be grown in full sun, thus allowing the clearing of the overstory forest. Pineapple, oil palms and organic banana fields are popping up in lowland areas to supply burgeoning world demand. These changes weigh heavily on the survival of birds and other species in one of the most biologically rich regions of the world. Losing just 1 acre of tropical habitat for wintering migrants is equal to losing 8 acres of North American nesting habitat.

Forming alliances

Since 2007 I have worked with Brad Jacobs and Audubon chapter leaders creating the Avian Conservation Alliance of the Americas, also known as Alianza para la Conservación de Aves de las Américas. ACAA, a citizen conservation alliance, is a partnership dedicated to protecting land in Central America.

Pico Bonito National Park and the Honduran Emerald Reserve in Honduras are areas ACAA currently supports. Pico Bonito is the second largest national park in Honduras, approximately the same size of my hometown, Kansas City. These areas are home to many of Missouri’s migratory birds and are critical for their winter survivorship.

Without a healthy environment to live in for eight months, the birds will not be fit enough to return early to their northern nesting sites, or healthy enough to raise their young.

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