The Wood Thrush Hylocichla mustelina has become a symbol of declining Neotropical migratory forest birds, its population having decreased significantly over much of its range since the late 1970s. Wood Thrushes breed in forests throughout the eastern United States and southern Canada. In September, they fly south to winter mostly in primary, broad-leaved forests at lower elevations from southeastern Mexico to Panama.
Destruction and fragmentation of forests in both breeding and wintering areas have been implicated as factors in the species' declining abundance. Breeding individuals in smaller forest fragments and fragmented landscapes experience more nest predation and more cowbird parasitism and consequently have poorer reproductive success than individuals nesting in larger areas and more forested landscapes. Loss of primary forests in the tropics may force birds into secondary habitats, where they tend to wander and may have higher mortality rates -- one of several unconfirmed aspects of this oft-studied species' biology.
In February 2010, a group of concerned organizations convened a workshop to train Mexican and Central American biologists to generate information about Wood Thrush survival rates and habitat use on the wintering grounds based on standardized protocols. This workshop trained a cadre of biologists who can study Wood Thrush survival as an indicator of a forest patch's value to wildlife. Participants in the workshop explored the potential to use the Wood Thrush as an umbrella for forest bird conservation in southeastern Canada, the eastern United States, southern Mexico, and Central America. The workshop was a first step in building an international alliance to coordinate work in the Western Hemisphere for bird monitoring, habitat protection, forest management, landowner outreach, and environmental education, all of which will benefit forest birds.
The workshop was conceived in a meeting between the USDA Forest Service's International Program and Northern Research Station and BirdLife International, with Pronatura Veracruz and the U.S. National Audubon Society representing BirdLife in conducting the workshop. The workshop and its follow-up activities support the goals and objectives of the USDA Forest Service's Wings Across the Americas Program, BirdLife's Flyways Initiative, Audubon's Atlantic Flyway Conservation Initiative, and many other programs of the participants. The workshop was led by three primary trainers: David King of the U.S. Forest Service's Northern Research Station, Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and James Saracco of The Institute for Bird Populations. Participants came from a variety of conservation organizations in the region: ANCON (Panama), Belize Audubon Society, Fundacion Cocibolca (Nicaragua), Fundaeco (Guatemala), Mesoamerican Partners in Flight, Panama Audubon Society, Pronatura Sur, Pronatura Yucatan, Reserva Privada el Jaguar (Nicaragua), Proyecto Desarollo Pesquero Fonseca (Honduras), and Wildlife Conservation Society (Guatemala program). We expect each of the organizations that participated in the workshop to be engaged in follow-up activities, and we plan to recruit more organizations in these countries and also in Canada. Together, these organizations can launch a partnership that will promote the study of Wood Thrush survival as an umbrella for forest conservation throughout the range of the species.
Specific objectives of the workshop:
- Share techniques for monitoring Wood Thrush and establish monitoring protocols for next winter season
- Share techniques of habitat characterization for Wood Thrush
- Establish database management and data sharing protocols for the project
- Improve capacities at the hemispheric level for the conservation of the Wood Thrush
- Determine next steps for moving the alliance forward, including funding options