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Saving Our Shared Birds

Dr. Sarah RockwellBy Sarah Rockwell, Klamath Bird Observatory Research Biologist

I just returned from the 5th International Partners in Flight Conference at the beautiful Snowbird Resort outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. This meeting brought together scientists and natural resource managers from various sectors with a lofty goal: to set a vision for the conservation of birds in the Western Hemisphere.

The theme of the week was full life cycle conservation—thinking about how to protect birds and their habitats not only where we encounter them in the North, but also on their migration and at wintering sites in Mexico and Central America. We separated into groups defined by connected breeding and wintering habitats, and each group identified conservation priorities and proposed several specific projects to address existing threats to birds and habitat. We put special emphasis on identifying areas where overwintering migrant species and Latin American endemic birds overlap, in order to maximize the benefit of our conservation dollars.

Forty-some participants from Latin America attended the meeting to add their expertise and contribute to the discussion. In the working group I attended (western coniferous forest birds migrating to Mexican oak-pine highlands) there was a consensus that one of the biggest threats facing birds on both sides of the US-Mexico border is non-optimal forest management, relating to fire and logging practices. For example, Lewis’s and White-headed Woodpeckers in Oregon, as well as Thick-billed and Maroon-fronted Parrots in Mexico, rely on standing dead trees for nesting cavities—and some fire management and logging practices do not leave enough of these snags standing, which limits breeding sites for these species.

As a group, we designed a top priority project involving demonstration sites in all three regions (North America, Mexico, and Central America) where different landscape-level forest management practices can be tested and their effects on bird populations measured. Such a large-scale, multi-national cooperative research effort is new, unique, and exciting.

The Latin American presence at the conference was salient outside of work hours as well. Following daytime meetings and evening networking and social events, someone always managed to find some speakers and then the salsa music would begin! I met folks from Klamath Bird Observatory’s international partner organizations for the first time—Luis Morales of the San Pancho Bird Observatory in Nayarit, Mexico, and Pablo Elizondo from Costa Rica Bird Observatories—and I enjoyed a few turns around the dance floor with each of them. There was even an open mic night, where people read poems and performed songs (often bird-themed) in both English and Spanish.

I was most impressed by the collaborative atmosphere at the conference and the international partnerships that formed as people joined together to help save our shared birds.