Helping saffron-cowled blackbirds in Argentina

This is a saffron-cowled blackbird video from Argentina.

From BirdLife:

The chronicles of the Saffron-cowled Blackbird

By Aves Argentinas, Fri, 18/12/2015 – 20:02

“People don’t look after what they do not love, and they don’t love what they do not know” – and this is exactly what we want to change!

From bird lovers and scientists alike, one hears the same comment: “It’s becoming harder and harder to observe the Saffron-cowled Blackbird in the wild”. Habitat loss, increased encroachment of agricultural land, pressures from illegal trapping and high levels of parasitism from another bird (Shiny Cowbird) seem to have condemned this species to certain extinction. Aves Argentinas (BirdLife Argentina) was not willing to stand idly by. They needed to take urgent measures, and so they did.

Introducing the Colony Guardians

For several months, Aves Argentinas had been very concerned about the Saffron-cowled Blackbird, typically found in natural grasslands and in the wetlands of the Argentinian plains. Today, only a few sites of suitable habitat remain.

Adrián Di Giacomo, researcher at CONICET took the lead to start a coordinated project to save these birds, calling on numerous institutions in order to save them. All across the country, various groups began joining the project, some of which had already started working to conserve the species.

The first step was to decide for which conservation measures would be most effective – all the experts gathered in various workshops. Existing research served as fundamental base for the project and it was concluded that having a group of trained volunteers carrying out the measures would work best.

Firstly, the so-called Colony Guardians would watch over the nests and fledglings, drive away predators and parasite species like the Shiny Cowbird and most importantly, deter potential illegal bird traffickers just by being present.

Secondly, they would collect data: for instance, they would record behaviour of the colonies, measurements, weights and take samples. Recording everything that happens around the nests would provide valuable information to protect them.

Mission failed?

The spring of 2015 was a year full of hope and expectations. Aves Argentinas wanted to put hands to work as soon as the colonies appeared. Initially, this eagerness lead them to a problem: the Saffron-cowled Blackbirds didn’t seem to appear anywhere, much less its nests. The walks through rural roads were frustrating and almost no individuals were seen.

They even launched search campaigns for birdwatchers through social media and put up posters wherever they could. But the data simply wasn’t coming in.

This continued until the first sightings began to arrive from the south of Entre Ríos. The knowledge of the area by members of Aves Gualeguaychú was instrumental and soon enough reports of individual nests and colonies began to arrive.

Simultaneously, news arrived from the fields of a producer associated with the Grassland Alliance (Alianza del Pastizal) in the Corrientes province. Here, the first Saffron-cowled Blackbird nest of the province was found.

In total, Aves Argentinas found more than 40 nests. Today, in Entre Ríos we can rely on two Colony Guardians that give their time to protect the birds. On the other hand, camps have been set up in the Corrientes areas to watch over the nests.

The threats: from parasites to poachers

However, not everything was smooth sailing. Most of the nests were suffering from high levels of parasitism from Shiny Cowbirds. The Cowbird lays its eggs in the nest of the Blackbird, and as the parasitic chicks grow faster, they monopolize the food retrieved by the bird’s parents. By doing this, they lower the chances of survival of young Blackbirds and the majority of the chicks do not survive.

On the other hand, Aves Argentinas witnessed many cases of nest predation by lizards, foxes, snakes and other animals that were decimating the colonies.

However, the most unexpected and worrying problem turned out to be the capture of Saffron-cowled Blackbirds for the illegal trafficking and trade of birds. Although scientists were aware that it was an illegally hunted species, they didn’t expect such an uncommon species to be affected so severely.

In the few weeks of field work, the team suffered at least four intrusions from “trappers”. In one of these occasions they were able to register what had happened, but were unable to avoid the capture of several specimens.

Luckily they identified the vehicles and filed a criminal complaint to the Fiscal Unit of Environmental Research (UFIMA). In the rest of the cases the Colony Guardians were able to act in time, managing in one instance to free the captured animals. The strong cooperation of provincial and municipal authorities, as well as of local police forces proved to be essential.

The more the merrier: help us succeed

Of all the nests guarded until now, no more than ten fledglings managed to succeed. It is a number that is too low to avoid the extinction of the species for the time being which means the work must continue.

In 2015 Aves Argentinas worked to raise awareness with residents and landowners, who kindly assisted and showed interest. It’s expected that throughout 2016 this will become a fundamental aspect of their work as their support is essential to save these birds from the brink. The work undertaken by Alianza del Pastizal and by rural societies is also of critical importance.

Aves Argentinas expressed to be very happy with the work achieved this season but they know that the hardest part lies ahead. The Saffron-cowled Blackbird Project (Proyecto Tordo Amarillo) is beginning and we invite you to join them!

After years of work, SAVE Brasil has managed to bring bird-friendly beef with the seal of the Grasslands Alliance into the markets of Porto Alegre, the capital of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. But why is grass-fed beef such good news for birds? Here.

Meet the guardians watching over Argentina’s threatened nesting sites. In Argentina, there are only 600 Saffron-cowled Blackbirds left, and nest predation is sabotaging their chances of population recovery. But this looks set to change thanks to the incredible dedication of Colony Guardians – volunteers who camp out at the nesting sites to watch over the eggs and chicks: here.

2 thoughts on “Helping saffron-cowled blackbirds in Argentina

  1. Pingback: South American cowboys help wintering birds | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Bird conservation in Argentina, 100 years | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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