Rare Cerulean Warbler To Benefit from New Colombian Conservation Easements

Trumpeter Swan. By: Alan Wilson
Cerulean Warbler. By: Frode Jacobsen

(March 1, 2011) American Bird Conservancy and Fundación ProAves, the leading bird conservation organizations in the U.S. and Colombia respectively, have secured thirteen new conservation easements in Colombia with private landowners that will protect important habitat for the Cerulean Warbler – North America's fastest declining neotropical migrant songbird.

Thanks in part to the generous continued support of the Amos W. Butler Audubon Society over three years, the new easements complete a critical first phase of consolidating the Cerulean Warbler Corridor, which protects key habitat located between two bird reserves near the Andes Mountains in central Colombia – the Pauxi Pauxi Reserve at the northern end and the Cerulean Warbler Reserve at the southern end .

“The Cerulean Warbler is North America’s fastest declining neotropical migrant songbird. Saving this bird is going to require a concerted and continuous effort in both North and South America,” said Benjamin Skolnik, who manages ABC’s Colombian projects.

“The local communities have been very receptive to the conservation needs of this bird. Implementing a conservation easement is not terribly difficult once we show the local landowners how they can practice conservation and still make a living from the land,” said Heidy Valle, who runs the easement program with ProAves.

After meetings with ABC and ProAves to learn the benefits of permanent land protection, farmers and private landowners on thirteen tracts of land totaling 312 acres in the Cerulean Warbler Corridor inserted conservation easements into the deeds for their farms to guarantee future habitat for Ceruleans and more than 20 additional neotropical bird species. These species include the Golden-winged, Tennessee, Black-and-white, Mourning, Canada, Blackburnian, and Black-throated Blue warblers.

The easements required conservation of forested land on each site, which includes reforestation and a ban on timber harvesting and hunting. ProAves was able to provide the participating landowners with fencing materials, saplings for reforestation, and other ways to improve their properties.

In addition, ProAves provided to communities in the corridor a new brochure designed to educate landowners and local authorities about the easement program and the benefits it can provide.

“We are pleased that ABC and ProAves are making use of a cutting-edge tool for conservation. So much more land can be protected through easements than through outright purchase from willing sellers,” said Mary Ellen Gadski of the Amos W. Butler Audubon Society in Indianapolis.

The sky blue Cerulean Warbler breeds from the Great Lakes region to Georgia, and west from Wisconsin to Louisiana, with particular concentrations in the Appalachians and Central Hardwoods region. It is the only globally threatened neotropical migratory songbird that winters exclusively in South America, primarily in the subtropical humid forests of the Northern Andes of Colombia and Venezuela. It is threatened by fragmentation and habitat loss on its wintering grounds, and by hazards such as mountaintop mining and collisions with communication towers and tall buildings on its breeding grounds and during migration. The Cerulean was formerly one of the most abundant breeding warblers in the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys, but is now one of the country’s most imperiled migrant songbirds. Overall, Cerulean Warbler numbers have plummeted by almost 70% since 1966.

In the last four years, ProAves, with ABC support, has been working to gather data about the Cerulean Warbler across its wintering range in South America. Thanks to this work and contributions from a coalition of experts from multiple institutions called Grupo Ceruleo, the Conservation Plan for the Cerulean Warbler on its non-breeding range was published in 2010. We now know that the Cerulean Warbler occurs at high elevations in central Colombia and that these specific areas have been severely altered by agricultural activities, resulting in loss of over 90% of the Cerulean Warbler’s preferred wintering habitat. Based on this information, ProAves identified a critical area for the Cerulean Warbler with an exceptionally high population density in primary forest and shade-coffee plantations in an inter-montane valley beside Serranía de los Yariguíes, near the city of Bucaramanga in central Colombia. ABC and ProAves purchased four tracts, including a coffee farm, totaling 527 acres in 2006, and a 2,861-acre property in 2007. These properties have among the highest densities of Cerulean Warblers in Colombia.

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