Bird Hero: Weber de Girão e Silva

In 1996, when Weber de Girão e Silva was 21 years old and a biology student at a Brazilian university, he and his ornithology professor, Artur Galileu de Miranda Coelho, discovered the Araripe Manakin, a beautiful songbird found only along a 30-mile stretch of the Araripe plateau of eastern Brazil. After earning his Bachelor's and Master's degrees, Silva has spent his life studying the Critically Endangered species and advocating for its protection. For many years, he has managed the Araripe Oasis Project of the conservation group Aquasis, supported by ABC.  Here is his story, in his own words.

My interest in birds and nature began in childhood. After two years at university studying biology, I chose to study birds after observing a hummingbird that visited my bedroom window every day. Access to an important book on ornithology also helped me make this choice.

When my future wife, Karina, and I were biology students, she managed to get us places on an excursion led by ornithologist Galileu Coelho. Near the end of the trip, Coelho and I heard a bird song like one he had recorded earlier but didn't recognize. After the playback, the unknown bird appeared, causing quite a stir.

I decided to study the manakin and, in the process, began to better understand its endangered status. Also, through working to conserve other birds, like the Gray-breasted Parakeet, which has increased tenfold, it's clear that we need to manage the manakin's habitat, which I am still pursuing today.

I led the first population estimate of the species in 2003, and full censuses began 10 years later. Since 2013, the population has been monitored whenever possible, and the most up-to-date figure is that there are only 213 pairs. The annual number of young fluctuates greatly, especially in response to droughts.

Because it is so beautiful and well-known, the image of the Araripe Manakin has been widely used, making it very popular. For that reason, it is important to lobby the Brazilian government to create a protected area for the bird. With ABC support, we have purchased land for the bird, but more is needed.

The species is restricted to the slopes of the plateau. From the lowlands, the cities are moving forward with new houses into the forests, capturing all the water they can and causing fires. Only a bold intervention project can save this species. I'm halfway through my professional life, and the second half will be devoted to it.

Do you know someone who is a hero for birds? Please tell us about them! Write to us at Illustrations by Christopher Baldwin,