Erica Royer, bird keeper at Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation and Biology Institute at Front Royal, reports that three chicks produced in 2018 are doing well. She notes that the sole hand-reared chick fledged and successfully integrated back into the flock, saying “He shows no signs of imprinting on humans, which is valuable to know in case we ever need to assist a dam with rearing her chicks by supplemental feeding or hand-rearing again in the future.” Erica photographed all chicks to record the progression of feather development and to determine when sex-specific plumage emerges. She also saved and carefully measured all nests. This research that is crucial to our field biologists who are monitoring nesting birds in Venezuela and Guyana.
This year, the birds at SCBI started nesting earlier than ever before. In previous years, Front Royal birds started nesting activities in March/April, while this year, three females began displaying reproductive behaviors the first week of February! More chicks have recently joined the flock and breeding activity continues.
Photo by: Erica Royer
The Red Siskin Initiative Special Edition Chocolate bar is now available for sale in four locations. In Venezuela, you can find our feel-good, tastes-good chocolate at Hato Las Caretas (Edo. Guárico, Instagram: @hatolascaretas) and at the Subibaja Store (Instagram: @subibajacaracas) in Altamira Suites-CCS. In the US, you can find it at the Friends of the National Zoo gift shops at Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (Rock Creek Park, Washington DC) (@smithsonianzoo) and in the Sandwich Shop (NYC) (@thesandwichshopbk).
Since October 2018, RSI has held five new training workshops for coffee producers, as part of the Birds and Coffee project. Workshop topics included: understanding coffee trade organizations in our region; training to inoculate coffee plants with beneficial symbiotic fungi called mycorrhizae; application of post-harvest techniques that enhance sustainability; natural spring water resource management and protection; and sustainable wastewater treatment. We continue to provide training and technical support for participating farmers, who have planted more than 600 coffee plants and 50 shade trees since April 2018, to improve agroforestry parcels and achieve Smithsonian Bird Friendly® (BF) certification. These programs will continue for the coffee producers of Piedra de Cachimbo and the nearby community of La Florida. Ten farms in La Florida joined Birds and Coffee in August 2018 following an upswell of popular interest. These producers are committed to improving their bird-friendly practices.
We would also like to introduce several new specialists to the project: Mariana Marcano, anthropologist; Diego Benitez, biologist; Williams Bermúdez, agronomist; and Mauricio Iranzo, sociologist. Their participation in training and workshops has been essential to Birds and Coffee success, and to the growing enthusiasm among participating farming communities. Word is spreading rapidly among other communities who are eager to participate in a future expanded phase of Birds and Coffee. We welcome this groundswell of interest in a project that so clearly benefits coffee farmers, healthy watersheds, thriving bird communities, and expanded tropical forest habitat for all species, especially the Red Siskin.
In November 2018, RSI participated in the University of Texas course, “Ecology and Conservation of Venezuelan Birds” (I Curso de Ecología y Conservación de Aves de Venezuela, CECAV), which was jointly organized by UT in Rio Grande Valley, TX, USA, with the Fundación para el Desarrollo de las Ciencias Físicas, Matemáticas y Naturales (FUDECI) and the private Venezuelan ranch Hato Masaguaral. The course was attended by 25 university students who inspired us with their eagerness to do more to help protect Venezuelan bird species.
Bibiana Sucre, Executive Director of Provita, gave two presentations about Provita’s long-term work on the Yellow-shouldered Amazon and RSI. Bibiana shared recent achievements, long-term results and next steps in both projects and highlighted their importance for the preservation of Venezuela’s rich natural heritage.
For two days in November, 2018, The Instituto de Estudios Superiores en Administración (IESA) in Caracas hosted a forum on “Agroforestry as a productive and sustainable alternative in Venezuela” (Agroforestería como alternativa productiva y sostenible en Venezuela, in Spanish). This forum focused on how to utilize agroforestry for Venezuela’s development, and brought together experiences and ideas via workshops and presentations by specialists in agriculture, ecology and sociology. These contributions will form the basis for a forthcoming Manual on Best Practices in Tropical Agroforestry.
This event formed part of the project “Sowing shade, harvesting water” (“Siembra sombra, cosecha agua” in Spanish), started in August 2018 and funded by the British Embassy in Caracas (@UKinVenezuela), a longstanding supporter of Provita and RSI. Luis Arrieta is RSI’s field agronomist who runs the project that aims to preserve water and forests through the expansion of shade crop farming practices in the communities of Piedra de Cachimbo and La Florida, in Vargas state. We thank Provita staff for their hard work and commitment: Ada Sánchez-Mercado, Angélica Ramos, Mariana Marcano, Diego Benitez, Williams Bermúdez and Mauricio Iranzo.
On November 1st 2018, the Associated Press (AP) published an article by Fabiola Sánchez on the Red Siskin Initiative, “Venezuela’s Vanishing Red Bird Gets a Coffee Pick-Me-Up” (”Esfuerzos titánicos para salvar ave diminuta en Venezuela” in Spanish), which was picked up by international news media including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Fox News, and others. The article celebrated RSI’s work to save the Red Siskin, its habitats and other species that depend on those habitats, with a focus on the success of our Birds and Coffee project, which helps coffee farmers achieve Smithsonian Bird Friendly® (BF) certification, and aims to expand in order to create a wildlife corridor that would connect multiple protected areas in the region. Several RSI members were interviewed for the article, including Mike Braun, co-founder; Miguel Arvelo, Coordinator; Luis Arrieta, Birds and Coffee Project Technician; and Jhonathan Miranda, field ornithologist.
AP also visited the community where the Birds and Coffee project is focused, Piedra de Cachimbo, in Vargas State, as well as Zoológico Leslie Pantin, in Aragua State, where the Red Siskin Conservation Center (RSCC) is located.
We are grateful to the entire AP Team, including Fabiola Sánchez, Ricardo Nuñes, and Fernando Llano, for their interest and for contributing to red siskin conservation by highlighting successes that Venezuelans at home and abroad can all take pride in.
We are thrilled to share wonderful news about construction of the first Red Siskin Conservation Center in Venezuela, based at Zoológico Leslie Pantin in Turmero (Aragua). Construction began in mid-July, led by Provita and Federico Pantin, who is not only supervising extensive facility renovations across the entire zoo, but is also the zoo’s head veterinarian.
The 200 m2 center will include space for birds, research, staff offices and supplies/maintenance. It will also have a large aviary and central courtyard, designed to allow plenty of sunlight and to simulate natural conditions, while ensuring security.
We couldn’t be happier with this major RSI milestone, which was made possible thanks to a grant from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a key ally of RSI, and the partnership with Zoológico Leslie Pantin. This grant was awarded jointly to the Department of Animal Programs at the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), and to Provita, a partnership that will ensure excellence in animal welfare and conservation science.
New genetic data on Red Siskin populations in captivity and in the wild was received in August. Karen Holm,DVM, a George Mason University (GMU) PhD student is leading the analysis of these data as part of an internship at SNZP&CBI, co-supervised by Kate Rodriguez-Clark and Dr. HC Lim,Karen’s primary supervisor at GMW. These data will inform management of both captive and wild populations, allowing us to avoid inbreeding and promote the maintenance of genetic diversity.
The RSI coordination team (Kate Rodríguez-Clark, Mike Braun, Brian Coyle, Miguel Arvelo and Ada Sánchez) met this summer in Washington, D.C. for a three-day work meeting. They evaluated progress on the Strategy for the Global Conservation of the Red Siskin with respect to the activities accomplished so far and those planned for 2018.
As we move into the next version of our conservation strategy, we will continue to focus on six major work areas, with clear leadership in each: 1) understanding Red Siskins through research, led by Mike; 2) reducing the impact of traffic, led by Ada; 3) increasing habitats through bird-friendly agriculture, led by Brian; 4) connecting with stakeholders, led by Miguel; 5) raising and releasing Red Siskins, led by Kate, and 6) RSI sustainability (partner relations, marketing, fundraising), led by Miguel.
On July 19, Kate Rodriguez-Clark andMiguel Arvelo, RSI’s Venezuelan coordinator hosted a table informing National Zoo guests about RSI. Visitors learned not only about international efforts to save this bird, but also about the coffee-flavored chocolate that supports the Initiative. Free samples were a big hit! Thanks to FONZ and Exhibits for all their help, particularly Helen Moore, Michelle Stauder, Scott Posey and John Davis, for ensuring outreach materials were top-notch.