Author Archives: Maria

2020: Breeding begins at the Red Siskin Conservation Center
07 Jul

2020: Breeding begins at the Red Siskin Conservation Center

The first breeding season of the recently constructed Red Siskin Conservation Center (RSCC) in Venezuela is officially underway!

The species is most reproductively active between the months of April and October, coinciding with rainy periods in its native range. Therefore, we timed the first captive breeding attempt ever for conservation purposes in Venezuela during this same period. RSCC Coordinator Leonel Ovalle-Moleiro, DVM, and technical adviser Enrique Azuaje, DVM, placed five pairs of red siskins together; three of the pairs are composed of experienced adults and the other two pairs are younger birds. All were cessions from private breeders or confiscations from trappers. The facility and protocols have been designed to reproduce this critically endangered species in the most natural way possible, using food, nesting, and perching elements from their native habitat. The goal is clear: increasing the population so that they may be reintroduced into the wild in the future.

In this first attempt, Leo and Enrique are testing a minimal-intervention approach, encouraging natural reproductive behaviors as much as possible. A diverse coalition of partner organizations is advising conservation breeding at RSCC, including avicultural organizations such as the Red Siskin Specialists and Aviculturists Network (ReSSAN) in Venezuela, the National Finch and Softbill Society in the US, and the Queensland Finch Society in Australia, as well as experts from Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, the Avian Protection and Education Conservancy (APEC), and other international zoos and conservation centers with extensive experience in captive breeding for conservation purposes. 

 In February, aviaries were supplied with nesting materials. In March birds were started on a nutritional plan specifically designed to promote reproductive readiness by combining a variety of seeds, supplements, and natural plants. The behaviors and preferences of the birds are carefully documented to increase our understanding of their reproductive biology and to inform potential adjustments and improvements to RSCC protocols.

Now that the rainy season has started, our pairs are showing interest in breeding: they are manipulating the natural materials they’ve been offered (twigs, fibers, bark, and cotton), and have started building nests.  Leo and Enrique are carefully recording their observations and experiences to evaluate the effectiveness and continuously improve.

We hope to have more interesting news to share about these busy pairs soon! 

Photos: A) Leonel and Enrique evaluating the birds, B) A nest built by a female Red Siskin, C) Male Red Siskin during the evaluation

Meet the ReSSAN
01 Jul

Meet the ReSSAN

To meet our Conservation Strategy goal of “Promoting the sustainable management of the Venezuelan Red Siskin,” we have developed alliances with national and international aviculturists, to unite our combined knowledge and expertise in Red Siskin conservation. The result is the Red Siskin Specialists and Aviculturists Network (ReSSAN), an action network comprised of aviculturists and the scientific community. We all share a common interest in conserving wild Red Siskin populations, and we have agreed to pursue it through responsible and sustainable captive breeding practices.

ReSSAN focuses on exchanging experiences and validating protocols to help the ex-situ conservation program at the Red Siskin Conservation Center (RSCC) in Venezuela. Are you a breeder who wants to make sure your passion supports this bird in the wild, rather than further endangering it? There are many ways to help. We invite you to visit the webpage, check out our most recent accomplishments, and participate in our discussion forum! 

Link: Red Siskin Specialists and Aviculturists Network (ReSSAN)

Saving Red Gold on ABC Magazine
29 Jun

Saving Red Gold on ABC Magazine

“A tale of two songbirds,

one wild and vanishing,

the other domesticated.

Will this story end happily

in one of the world’s most

challenged countries?”

By Howard Youth, ABC Magazine

So begins the fantastic article published by our American Bird Conservancy partners in the spring issue of the ABC Magazine, entitled “Saving Red Gold” authored by ABC’s Senior Writer and Editor, Howard Youth. He takes us on a journey that begins with a visit to the 3,200-acre Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI); to the Small Animal Facility specifically. They were welcomed by “17 Red Siskins — half the North American zoo population — the males breathtaking blazing-red with black heads and wings, and the females gray, patched with red”, Howard comments. They also talked to Erica Royer, the keeper, who has been working with the siskins since 2016. Erica showed them a used nest unlike any other ever found in the Red Siskin northern South American range.

Additionally, Howard recounts in the article the beginnings of the Red Siskin trafficking and the motivations that led to the decline in wild populations of this bird so prized by Venezuelans. First, they were wanted for their vibrant red feathers: “By the late 1800s, Red Siskins were being imported in large numbers, not only as pets but also to feed the feather trade, with dead birds’ plumage providing a splash of cherry-red to hats and other accessories”, explains Youth. Then they were demanded to cross-breed with canaries, and that the spring took the red color of the Red Siskin.

Yellow canary x Red Siskin crosses yielded

birds that were at best orange, until the

secret ingredient was found….”

Then, Howard takes us to Venezuela, a country he describes as “a culturally vibrant and biologically diverse nation that in recent years has been among the most economically and politically challenged countries as well.” And arrives at the Red Siskin Conservation Center (RSSC), located within the Leslie Pantin Zoo in Paya. “We have created an essential infrastructure to rescue, rehabilitate, raise, and one day, reintroduce this species in a sustainable way,” commented Miguel Arvelo for the article. Miguel outlined the importance of the long-term purpose of the housing center of Red Siskin populations that will hopefully yield birds for reintroduction into the wild and serve to prevent their extinction.

The author also highlighted the valuable work of Provita in Venezuela, by boosting the project with the clear goal of rescuing the Red Siskin from extinction: “Despite day-to-day challenges, Provita is making headway to save some of Venezuela’s rare wildlife, and the Red Siskin is at the top of the list, in part because it prominently features the country’s culture. The Cardenalito graces the country’s currency and pops up in songs, poetry, and art. Yet few young Venezuelans have ever seen one in the wild. Hopefully, that will change soon. Once captive-bred populations increase, his plan is to release birds on farms and in natural areas in northern Venezuela, including two areas where the Red Siskin Initiative is working with farmers: Piedra de Cachimbo and La Florida.” Which finally takes us to the agricultural communities located between Henri Pittier and Macarao National Parks in north-central Venezuela, where the article talks about the joint progress of the ABC, Smithsonian Institution, and Provita partners in the implementation of agroforestry practices to preserve the forests by working with farmers and help them get their harvests certified.

Many thanks to ABC and especially to Howard Youth for putting so much effort and dedication, and showing in such a delicate way the RSI work, we are deeply thankful and proud of our achievements. Thanks also to Erica Royer, Brian Coyle, Kate Rodríguez-Clark, Miguel Arvelo, and Andrés Anchondo, for contributing to this work; and special thanks to the whole Venezuelan team for always keeping the commitment and motivation.

You can read the full article HERE.

Zoo Miami: Welcome to the Red Siskin Initiative family!
15 Jun

Zoo Miami: Welcome to the Red Siskin Initiative family!

We are overjoyed to announce that Zoo Miami recently cemented their status as a key RSI Silver supporter with a generous gift to cover core operations and coordination, which are essential for long-term programmatic sustainability. Over the next three years, this gift will support a variety of crucial activities and participants: strategic and operational planning, fundraising, technicians and specialists, planning and execution of field activities, training and education, and internal and external communications with partners and various stakeholders.

We are deeply grateful to Frank Ridgley and all our friends at Zoo Miami for their trust in our work and for sharing our vision of rescuing the Red Siskin. This gift was made possible thanks to the mutual work between the Zoo Miami, the RSI team, our partners from APEC, and the collaboration of the National Zoo and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (NZP / SCBI).

 Our alliance with Zoo Miami began in 2018 when a new exhibit dedicated to Red Siskins was established in Miami. This beautiful exhibit features a Bird-Friendly Coffee theme, promoting agroforestry practices that support habitat for Red Siskin and many other residents and migratory bird species.

Photo: Jhonathan Miranda

Zoos allies support the Red Siskin
01 Jun

Zoos allies support the Red Siskin

As part of the second objective of the Red Siskin Conservation Strategy: “Rescuing, raising and reintroducing more Red Siskins,” we have been building alliances with zoological institutions around the world. We are thrilled that the following institutions have recently added Red Siskin flocks to their collections:

  • Zoo Miami hatched their first clutch of Red siskin chicks! The two chicks hatched on May 3rd. Photo: Zoo Miami’s first Red Siskin chicks, at 10 days.

Photo: Zoo Miami’s first Red Siskin chicks, at 10 days.

  • The National Aviary fledged four chicks in their Breeding Center during spring 2020! Senior Aviculturist, Jennifer Smith says: “These females were first-time dams, but have been doing a tremendous job and have each raised two chicks.” Staff is starting to see more involvement from the sires as well, with more nest-building and chick-feeding activity.

Red Siskin fledglings. Photo: The National Aviary

  • The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), which established a Red Siskin captive-bred flock in 2016 has fledged 6 chicks so far during this 2020 season. The flock started breeding this year in January, earlier than ever before! One of these chicks had to be hand-reared because its dam abandoned it the day before hatching. It needed feedings once per hour from 5:00 AM to 6:00 PM for a couple of weeks until it fledged. Bird staff continues to develop various methods for increasing breeding success, such as supplemental feeding in the nest, placing chicks with surrogates, and improving diets. 


We anticipate the addition of multiple new partners in 2020/21 and welcome interest from others. Any zoological institution interested in supporting the conservation of the Endangered Venezuelan Red Siskin is invited to join the RSI zoo network. Please contact Erica Royer at for more information.

“Birds and Coffee,” organic and Bird Friendly
15 May

“Birds and Coffee,” organic and Bird Friendly

Our “Birds and Coffee” project has succeeded in its goal of engaging 39 coffee growers in the idea of win-win agroforestry to benefit both wildlife and their bottom lines!  Together with the growers recently formed the Civil Association of Agroforestry Producers – Piedra de Cachimbo and Florida (ACAFLO, in Spanish) – which serves as a formal organization to support and accompany the organic and Smithsonian Bird Friendly ® certification process for coffee crops. All members are committed to implementing organic and biodiversity-friendly agricultural practices.

In December 2019, all 39 farms (165.42 hectares) obtained Organic Certification compliant with the US standard (USDA-NOP) and the Organic Standard of the European Economic Community (EEC). Additionally, 13 out of these 39 farms obtained Bird-Friendly ® certification, following the standards of the Smithsonian Institution. This achievement is a valuable business opportunity that enhances coffee profits and conserves habitat for Red Siskins and other species.

By 2021, we aim to expand the project’s impact area to 400 hectares by establishing model plots in adjacent areas and expanding the training and technical assistance program that we started in 2017. Likewise, we will help organize outreach events that bring local environmentally-minded buyers together with ACAFLO producers, to promote their organic products.

Golden-winged Warblers and new Red Siskin populations in Venezuela
15 Apr

Golden-winged Warblers and new Red Siskin populations in Venezuela

Thanks to support from the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), we have been able to continue our search for the Golden-Winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) in Venezuela. Between December 2019 and February 2020, when winter migrations occur, field specialists Jhonathan Miranda, Lisandro Morán, and Katiuska González executed field trips in various locations of northwestern Venezuela.

We are happy to report that the 36 days of field effort paid ff: the team detected the Golden-Winged Warbler in three new locations! Even more exciting, during this fieldwork, we discovered two new populations of Red Siskins and sighted around 11 individuals in total. We also found two new species for this region: The Masked Mountain-Tanager (Buthraupis wetmorei, listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Species) and Crowned Chat-Tyrant (Ochthoeca frontalis). This discovery of new Red Siskin and Golden-Winged Warbler populations is very encouraging and increases our knowledge of these species while strengthening collaboration between ABC and RSI.

Photo: Golden-winged Warbler, Reinita alidorada by Jhonathan Miranda

Feature paper and cover in Animal Conservation
08 Apr

Feature paper and cover in Animal Conservation

The scientific journal Animal Conservation has decided to feature an RSI article in its April issue!: “Social network analysis reveals specialized trade in an Endangered songbird”. Every month, Animal Conservation selects an article to appear on its cover and to be the object of additional expert commentary, thereby highlighting the article to their readership and to the wider conservation community. We would like to thank Dr. Elina Rantanen for the invitation, and the experts Susan M. Tsang, Damien Farine and J.S. Kahler for taking the time and share their valuable insights about our research. 

This article takes on greater urgency now as the world examines possible links between the COVID-19 pandemic and wildlife trade, and represents an opportunity to build new alliances and engage larger audiences. 

We invite you to read the full Feature PaperIllegal wildlife trade networks: finding creative opportunities for conservation intervention in challenging circumstances” and share.

If you have any comments, please contact us:

Cover Photo by Leonel Ovalle-Moleiro

Red Siskins make it on Smithsonian Magazine again
07 Apr

Red Siskins make it on Smithsonian Magazine again

In April 2020, the Smithsonian Magazine published the article “Heavily Trafficked Songbirds Have a Path Back to Resiliency authored by Joshua Rapp Learn. The Red Siskin Initiative wants to emphasize that the Red Siskin is a success story in the making. Wildlife trafficking is a pernicious threat to many species across the globe. We are taking a multipronged approach based on strong stakeholder engagement to understand and reduce the threat, protect habitats and breed birds for reintroduction. We are simultaneously recovering this beloved species while also its cultural value and the lessons learned help us to promote the conservation of habitats and ecosystems where today live many threatened and endemic species.

Researchers are working on learning more about trafficking rings in an effort to potentially recruit some of the breeders and other players to help with siskin conservation. Meanwhile, working with Provita, a conservation partner in Venezuela, plans are underway to reintroduce the birds to parts of their former range in Venezuela to bolster the fast-dwindling wild population.

This is a great opportunity for the Red Siskin Initiative, Iniciativa Cardenalito to spread the word about the species’ conservation and communicate the interesting findings of the research about the unsustainable extraction of wild red siskins. This research also brings important attention to trafficking as the entire world suffers through a global pandemic linked to the illicit trade of wildlife as the source of zoonotic disease.

We would like to thank Michael Braun, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Warren Lynch, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Brian Coyle, Smithsonian Conservation Commons, Kate Rodríguez-Clark, Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park and Conservation Biology Institute, and Ada Sánchez-Mercado and Arlene Cardozo from Provita NGO for their collaboration in the article.

If you wish to learn more about this project, click here to read the article Social network analysis reveals specialized trade in an Endangered songbird(2019), published in Animal Conservation. 

In 2020 we continue promoting sustainable use: Phase III is on!
21 Mar

In 2020 we continue promoting sustainable use: Phase III is on!

We are grateful to Neotropical Bird Club (NBC) for awarding a 2020 Conservation Grant to the Red Siskin Initiative. This is the third consecutive NBC award in support of RSI research on the illicit trade of the red siskins. 

During this next phase of research, we will increase sampling and expand the project’s scope with help from a growing community of red siskin aviculturists in Venezuela and globally who are passionate about conservation. This avicultural alliance is partnering on education, donating birds, supporting action and contributing to research by distributing surveys among a greater number of national and international groups and societies. In recent years, RSI has consolidated the Red Siskin’s Specialists and Aviculturists Network (ReSSAN, Red de Especialistas y Avicultores Amigos del Cardenalito (REAAC) in Spanish), with scientists and conservation experts who are united in their commitment to the conservation of the Red Siskin and the promotion of good practices among their peers.

The network continues to grow and adding allies in Venezuela and the world, strengthened with the support of the Federación Ornitológica de Venezuela, The American Federation of Aviculture, the National Finch and Softbill Society, Queensland Finch Society and others.  In addition to activities above, together we are developing a protocol for captive breeding for conservation purposes, adding experiences of aviculturists and specialists, as a first step towards the preparation of a manual of Best Practices for Captive Breeding that promotes the sustainable management of captive populations.

Thanks to the Neotropical Bird Club for their trust and support. Stay tuned to our website and future newsletters to learn more about the progress of this interesting project.