LAKE PLACID - In an new effort to protect the Bicknell's Thrush, an alliance of North American scientists and conservationists are funding a team of Dominican biologists to work with the migratory songbird's Caribbean wintering habitat.
The Bicknell's Thrush Habitat Protection Fund at the Adirondack Community Trust has awarded a $5,000 grant to Grupo Jaragua, whose biologists will study the thrush in forested mountains on the Dominican Republic's border with Haiti. The grant recognizes a need to protect the songbird across its entire range, particularly in its threatened winter destinations.
"The Bicknell's Thrush has two homes - one here in North America and the other in the Caribbean Basin," said Chris Rimmer, executive director of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, a research group working to conserve the thrush. "Our efforts to protect this vulnerable songbird can't stop at the water's edge. We need to concentrate our work where the threats are most severe and imminent."
Associated Press Photo
A Bicknell's thrush perches on East Mountain in East Haven, Vt.
Brown, speckled and reclusive, Bicknell's Thrush is one of North America's rarest nesting songbirds. Each spring it makes a 1,200-mile journey north from only four Caribbean islands to breed in restricted high mountain and coastal forest sites in the northeastern United States and Canada. In early fall, the thrush begins a demanding return trip to the Caribbean region.
The Bicknell's Thrush has a polulation of 100,000 or fewer individuals worldwide, which is low for a songbird. The songbird's small population and fragmented distribution may compound its ability to withstand cumulative threats from charcoal production and unsustainable agriculture and forestry practices in the Caribbean, as well as climate change, mercury contamination and habitat loss in North America. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing Bicknell's Thrush as a federally endangered species.
Grupo Jaragua, a non-profit conservation group based in the Dominican Republic, will use the grant to search for Bicknell's Thrush, map their habitat and assess conservation threats in the southern Sierra de Bahoruco, a crucial wintering area for the songbird. Results from the work, which is planned to include volunteers from communities in and around the thrush's habitat, will inform the effective conservation of dwindling forests in this region on the Haitian border.
During the past two decades, biologists have focused most of their research on Bicknell's Thrush breeding grounds in the United States and Canada. The grant to Grupo Jaragua embraces a "full life-cycle" approach to conservation, a strategy researchers use for other migratory wildlife, such as Monarch butterflies and Atlantic salmon.
"Bicknell's Thrush benefits when we work directly with partners on the ground in Hispaniola," said Michael Burger, director of conservation and science for Audubon New York. "We hope this first grant inspires more donations to the fund so that we can continue innovative efforts to protect this remarkable songbird."
Sixto Inchaustegui, a senior scientist with Grupo Jaragua, said the grant would allow his team to establish an essential local presence in a forest under heavy pressure from illegal agricultural expansion and charcoal production. "By better understanding Bicknell's Thrush and its conservation needs," he said. "Jaragua and our partners will more effectively tackle pressing issues that threaten all biodiversity in this sensitive region."
"The grant was made possible by many donations to the Fund from corporations, organizations, and individuals who recognize that conserving local biodiversity may require supporting conservation efforts far from the northern forests," Burger said.