The Caribbean has an incredible diversity of forest-dependent endemic birds – unique species that need forests for all or part of their lifecycle. Did you know that the Cuban Bee hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world, the Jamaican streamertail has the longest tail of any hummingbird and Barbados Bullfinch are renowned for their problem-solving behaviour?!
But, the majority of these Caribbean forest birds are also declining and many are threatened. Hurricane Ivan wiped out about a third of the Grenada dove’s population, there are only an estimated 50 wild Puerto Rican parrots remaining and Semper’s warbler hasn’t been seen in St Lucia since 1961.
Of the 169 Caribbean forest-dependent endemic species, 26% are threatened and an overwhelming 53% are in decline. These assessments means that even though most of the endemics are not considered threatened, most species are not doing well. Yet for a staggering 95% of these species, we know that the data underlying these assessments are either of poor or of unknown quality. This suggests a general lack of research and, good quality data.
Without reliable data it’s hard for us to know how these species might respond to changes in their environment and, whether we need to start managing them. Unfortunately, throughout the world we’re seeing that common species are increasingly undergoing population crashes. The alarming lack of data for many Caribbean forest endemics suggests there’s a real risk that species could move into threatened categories before we even realise they’re in trouble.
Why should you care about conserving endemic forest birds? Apart from having an inherent right to exist, birds provide multiple services that humans rely upon. For example, they save us money by reducing pests and pollinating crops, and provide income to many people through nature tourism.
Find out here how you can help increase our knowledge of Caribbean endemics by contributing to an exciting new citizen science project to analyse audio recordings to identify these species.
By Ellie Devenish-Nelson and Howard Nelson.