First chicks successfully fledge at the Red Siskin Conservation Center, boosting hope for an endangered species!

September 21, 2022 by Bárbara Santana

Today, we are pleased to announce that Red Siskin chicks have been hatched and fledged for the first time at RSI’s new Red Siskin Conservation Center!

“Rescuing, raising, and reintroducing more birds” is one of the five key conservation strategies for saving Endangered Red Siskins, adopted by the Red Siskin Initiative (RSI), an international collaboration of organizations trying to save this iconic red and black bird from extinction.

Today, we are pleased to announce that Red Siskin chicks have been hatched and fledged for the first time at RSI’s new Red Siskin Conservation Center (RSCC)!  The RSCC is a project of the RSI partner and Venezuelan NGO Provita, and is located at Leslie Pantin Zoo in Aragua State, Venezuela.

The mission of the Red Siskin Initiative, says Arlene Cardozo, program coordinator, is “to protect and restore populations of the Red Siskin (Spinus cucullatus), a culturally important and highly threatened bird in Venezuela.” This project, promoted by Provita, also takes conservation actions to reduce illegal trade, restore threatened ecosystems, and promote sustainable agriculture.  

The RSCC was built in 2019, and since then has  received birds either rescued from illegal trafficking or voluntarily surrendered by breeders who have decided to support conservation. Because many are habituated to humans, and are from unknown locations, they are not good candidates for release into the wild, as they would likely be re-trafficked or would not survive in unfamiliar environments.  However, their descendants one day may be, once RSI’s efforts reduce threats to the species.  In the meantime, as part of a scientifically-managed population, they will serve as important insurance against extinction. The road has been long and full of challenges, but after three years, RSCC’s efforts have borne fruit with new hope for the species.

Veterinarian Enrique Azuaje, curator of the RSCC, comments: “These chicks are not like any others. Under their wings lies the valuable treasure of unique genes from  a species in danger of extinction. With their hatching, we have begun to grow a protected source population so important for one day returning this species to where it used to be found in the wild.”

In these three years, explains Azuaje, “the RSCC has rescued a total of twenty Red Siskins. With the arrival of each bird, a learning process continues, which includes everything from husbandry and disease prevention to behavioral analysis. This leads us on a journey that allows us to understand more about the species, which until now had been little studied in human care“.

Thanks to this work, the team has developed innovative methods for providing  the ideal conditions for Red Siskins to reproduce. 

The successful conservation breeding of Red Siskins involved a great deal of knowledge, research and international cooperation, which demonstrate how complex it is to reverse the extinction process for a species”, added RSI coordinator and researcher Arlene Cardozo. 

Currently, the RSCC houses seven rescued pairs of Red Siskins. All individuals have successfully adapted to their new surroundings, a complex process for birds traumatized by capture and perhaps unfamiliar with captivity, “They must overcome the stressful effects of inappropriate housing and transfers, in which the mortality rate is high”, says Azuaje.

A promising future awaits the new fledglings, representing an unforgettable milestone for the Red Siskin Initiative and a great step forward in the conservation of endangered species in Venezuela.