Shade grown coffee plantations in Neotropical regions are a great example of how conservation goals and human interests can be combined. This form of agroforestry involves growing a combination of crops, such as coffee, bananas, and cocao, under a mature forest canopy instead of clear cutting massive areas of forest. Shade grown coffee plantations are considered to be highly sustainable because they provide a host of commercial goods while also supporting a rich assemblage of biodiversity.
A variety of research has shown that Neotropical wintering birds frequently inhabit shade grown coffee plantations and that these areas support higher abundances and diversity of migrant species than any other agricultural habitat. In a time where deforestation is rampant throughout the tropics, shade grown coffee plantations may be crucial for providing Cerulean Warblers with important forest habitat on their wintering grounds. Cerulean Warblers have been observed foraging in shade grown coffee plantations since the mid 1990s, which initially suggested that they may be able to use this habitat.
A study by Dr. Marja Bakermans and her colleagues showed further evidence that shade grown coffee plantations provide Cerulean Warblers with suitable wintering habitat. Cerulean Warbler densities were 14x greater in shade grown coffee plantations than in undisturbed forest sites. Additionally, their body condition improved significantly over the course of the wintering season, which the researchers interpreted as a sign that Cerulean Warblers were healthy and doing well in these areas. Other research has shown that shade grown coffee plantations that incorporate a diversity of different plant species and feature suitable canopy cover and tree height can provide Cerulean Warblers and other migrant songbirds with very suitable wintering habitat.
Shade grown coffee plantations have the potential to positively impact many species of migrant songbirds, including Cerulean Warblers. They are especially important because they affect the survivorship of these birds on their wintering grounds, where there has been significantly less work done to understand threats to their populations. You can help support Cerulean Warbler conservation by making a conscious effort to buy shade grown coffee products. By doing so, you will be supporting less intensive agroforestry practices that have been shown to have both economic and ecological benefits. Be sure to check out the video on the right, and remember, it's for the birds!
One of the ways in which we can all collectively contribute to conserving threatened species of songbirds such as the Cerulean Warbler is by participating in citizen science. Citizen science consists of the collective efforts of the public to provide species data for scientists, who can then use this information in scientific studies. You can contribute to the conservation of Cerulean Warblers by participating in citizen science in a number of ways. The two ways that I will highlight here are eBird and Breeding Bird Surveys.
eBird is a real-time, online program that allows users to catalogue bird sightings with respect to both species and location. It is a powerful tool for conservation biologists because it provides an extensive database of species abundance and location for nearly every species of bird and can be analyzed over different time scales. Anyone can sign up for eBird, and the interface makes it easy to input bird sightings periodically as you see them. I would encourage anyone with any degree of interest in birding to make use of this online program, as any data you can contribute will provide scientists with useful data that will help contribute to understanding and conserving many local species. In the case of Cerulean Warblers, this kind of information is especially useful because of how difficult they are to witness in nature and the precarious state of their populations. The next time you feel like going for a walk outside, why not take a hike on some of the beautiful trails around the Queens University Biology Station and help conserve Cerulean Warblers in the process? For more information about eBird and how you can sign up, click here.
The North American Breeding Bird Survey is an annual avian survey that aims to collect long term data on the abundance and population status of breeding birds throughout North America. Voluntary participants run a selection of survey routes across a wide range of habitats and record the total number of bird species seen or heard along their routes. The routes covered each year are quite extensive and provide researchers and conservation managers with useful data for assessing the health of breeding bird populations over time. Routes are typically run during the peak of the breeding season (first 2 weeks of June) each year. The North American Breeding Bird Survey is a great resource for scientists to track the abundance of Cerulean Warblers in their breeding range over time and determining where this species is declining or doing well. I would encourage birders of any skill level to participate in this survey in order to help monitor populations of these inconspicuous songbirds. For more information about the North American Breeding Survey, click here.
The More You Know...
Cerulean Warblers are small and inconspicuous songbirds that feed and nest high in the tree tops during the breeding season. Due to this, it can be difficult to think about ways that we can individually help protect these elusive birds despite their prevalence in the Kingston region. The path to making a positive impact, however, is simple: be aware. Take the time to become informed about the lifestyles of Cerulean Warblers and other local migrant species, and you will find that is easy to contribute to their protection. For example, informing local property owners you may know that own areas with mature forests used by Ceruleans may help them make informed, beneficial management decisions. Alternatively, participating in Lights-Out campaigns and making active decisions to turn off your lights can positively impact Cerulean Warblers by reducing mortality from hitting windows. These initiatives, as well as the ones listed above, provide a useful guideline for how you can help to conserve cerulean warblers. Indeed, it will take the efforts of many individuals if we hope to save this charismatic species.