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Reviving a rainforest helps keep migratory birds' winter home wild

Carolina Herrera

Posted November 29, 2012 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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 Wondering where that brightly colored songbird that visited your yard during the summer disappeared to when the temperature dropped? Many songbirds and other migratory birds spend the cooler months in Latin America’s tropical rainforests, so preserving their winter habitat is essential to their survival. That’s one reason why NRDC partnered with the group Osa Conservation to help Revive a Rainforest on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. With the support of our members we’ve been helping to restore 50 acres of degraded tropical rainforest by planting carefully selected native tree species.

Six hundred and fifty species of birds make North America their home and breeding ground. While some of these birds are permanent residents many are migratory, with migration paths varying from short, medium to long. Approximately 350 species breed in the US and Canada and then winter all the way in Latin America and the Caribbean where they need to find sufficient food and safe nesting locations.  The Yellow Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, and the Canada Warbler are just three of the many species that journey long distances during their seasonal migrations to Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.

 The Yellow Warbler, known for its brilliant egg-yolk yellow color and prominent black eyes, was one of the earliest winter migrants to arrive in the Osa Peninsula this year. Some of the Yellow Warblers can even make this long journey without stopping! Back in its northern breeding grounds, this bird’s nests are often taken over by the Brown-headed Cowbird, but the warbler comes back and re-builds its nest right on top of the old one, resulting in nests that are sometimes six tiers high.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Yellow Warbler_Nick Saunders.jpeg                                     Yellow Warbler

The Tennessee Warbler migrates from the Canadian Boreal Forest to South and Central America, including Costa Rica. Despite its name, this bird only passes through Tennessee during its migration. The closest its breeding range actually gets to Tennessee is northern Michigan and it summers only in southern tropical forests. This deceptively named warbler is known as a nectar thief that gathers nectar from the base of the flower tube, consuming the nectar without actually helping in pollination.

 Tennessee Warbler_Nick Saunders.jpeg                            Tennessee Warbler 

The Canada Warbler also breeds in the Canadian Boreal Forest, but spends much of it time in its wintering grounds further south.  Male-female pairs of this colorful songbird have been observed together all the way in Central America, suggesting these active little warblers remain together year round.    

Canada Warbler_Nick Saunders.jpeg

                             Canada Warbler

 Unfortunately, these beautiful backyard songbirds and their habitat are threatened by expanding unsustainable development. In the Canadian Boreal Forest, the nesting ground for more than half of all North American migratory birds, tars sands oil development threatens critical migratory bird breeding grounds. Meanwhile, in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, rapid tourism growth and unregulated development puts pressure on their winter forest homes. 

Thanks to our members’ support, we’re helping our partner Osa Conservation restore and protect 50 acres of degraded land in the Osa that was deforested decades ago for use as a low-grade cattle pasture and later as a cultivation area for exotic species (check out our new video). Using up to fifty different native tree and plant species, Osa Conservation is reviving a critical green corridor to help strengthen the Osa’s network of protected areas. Osa Conservation’s experts utilize innovative reforestation techniques to bring back the biodiversity of this important forest habitat. They’ve created tree nurseries with over 100 native species, some of which are quite rare or even endemic. To accomplish this, they carefully collect seeds by hand from native trees in nearby healthy forest lands and plant species they know will help attract the region’s most spectacular wildlife. Osa Conservation’s experts also employ the help of local forest dwellers by building nesting boxes for fruit-eating bats and birds – expert re-foresters in their own right that contribute to the natural seeding of the forest.

 Doing this work helps protect the winter homes of birds like small songbirds by ensuring they have places to nest and food supplies to sustain them until they make the long journey back north in the spring. So while you’re waiting for your favorite backyard birds to return, help us Revive a Rainforest to keep the Osa Peninsula wild!

 This blog post  was co-written with Denée Reaves

Photo credit for all images: Nick Saunders


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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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