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Hurricane affected Caribbean islands come together to welcome birds back

Published:Friday | February 23, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Adrianne Tossas (right) and her students at the University of Puerto Rico assessed the impact of Hurricane Mar?a on the numbers and diversity of birds in mangrove and coastal native forests as part of their IMBD celebration.

The fall of 2017 was hard for the Caribbean; hurricanes pounded the islands, destroying homes, toppling trees and darkening cities. The storms hurt people and nature, damaging forests, wetlands, and the animals that live in them.

Despite these tests, bird fans across the region rallied to learn about migratory birds. At events all over the region, people young and old took time out from rebuilding to connect with nature. It brought people together with each other and with local birds.

These events were part of International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD). IMBD takes place all over the Americas, and is coordinated by Environment for the Americas. Caribbean events are organised by BirdsCaribbean, and take many forms.

Dr Adrianne Tossas shared a study that will find out if Hurricane Maria changed the numbers and diversity of birds with students at the University of Puerto Rico. Ingrid Flores, the Puerto Rico IMBD coordinator, taught the value of wild spaces to migratory birds with schoolchildren at Instituto Las Americas of Caguas, Puerto Rico.

In Haiti, Anderson Jean from Societe Ecologiques Haiti took 150 guests to Les Cayes to learn bird identification. In Cuba, a team led by Alieny Gonzalez visited schools to explain why stopover sites are key to migratory birds. Youths were amazed to learn that some birds can use wind gusts in their favour to 'ride out' a tropical storm and survive. Grupo Jaragua in the Dominican Republic reached more than 1,000 people with bird walks and talks.

On islands hit by hurricanes Irma and Maria, dozens of bird feeders and bags of bird seed were given out to help local birds. These were donated by BirdsCaribbean. "Bird food was in short supply following the hurricanes," commented IMBD coordinator in Puerto Rico, Ingrid Flores. "People and schools were happy to receive these items so that they could help birds in their backyards survive through a rough patch."

"Through IMBD, we work to engage people of all ages to make their homes and towns safe places for birds," says Susan Bonfield, executive director of environment for the Americas. For many islands in the Caribbean, creating safe spaces for birds can also be part of our recovery.