Keeping an eye on migratory birds – nature’s endurance athletes

Welcome to Belize, a little Central American country cornered between Mexico and Guatemala, known mainly for its coral reefs, paradisiacal beaches and lush virgin tropical rain forests…but it is also an important piece in the Neotropical bird migration route puzzle.

In the south of the country, in the Toledo District, Ya’axché Conservation Trust (one of Fauna & Flora International’s partners) is fighting to preserve the natural riches and biodiversity of this remote piece of Latin America.

With an extremely small population of only 300,000 people (especially low when compared with neighbouring countries), currently the preservation status of the Belizean forests is extremely good. However rapid population growth and a lack of effective regulations and enforcement are putting the country’s biodiversity under threat.

This is why outreach and environmental education activities are such an important part of Ya’axché’s agenda, with Belize’s migratory birds the subject of a full project funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service under the auspices of the Neotropical Migratory Birds Conservation Act.

As part of this project, Ya’axché has helped to set up Bird Clubs in four of the communities we work with in the Maya Golden Landscape: Indian Creek, Medina Bank, Golden Stream and Trio.

These groups consist of members of the communities who meet up to monitor and observe the birds that live in their surroundings. The clubs also often get together to take field trips to other locations to learn about bird species that are not present in their area. For instance, in the last few months, they have visited places like the Belize Zoo, Crooked Tree Nature Sanctuary and the Mayan ruins of Nim-Li Punit and Lubaantum.

So it is no surprise that these Bird Clubs are planning to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day! On Saturday 12th May, they have scheduled a visit to BFREE (Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education) to watch the bird banding activities, which is especially interesting at this time of year, when the Neotropical birds are stopping off in Belize during their annual migration back to their breeding grounds in North America. Moreover, bird banding is an excellent way of getting a closer look at birds that, otherwise, would be too elusive or fast for adequate observation.

And on Sunday 13th and Monday 14th May, the clubs are organising awareness-raising activities at the schools in their villages. These include presentations as well as talks and bird walks for kids on the community lands.

This is a great opportunity to talk about the role of birds as pest controllers and seed dispersers, and their unbelievable travelling exploits between hemispheres…but also to explain the importance of good agricultural practices in protecting these animals that play such an important role in agriculture.

This is especially important in these areas where most livelihoods directly depend on the land and the services that the surrounding ecosystems provide.