“A tale of two songbirds,
one wild and vanishing,
the other domesticated.
Will this story end happily
in one of the world’s most
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.