Youth Perform Bird Mortality Study in Galapagos

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Youth Perform Bird Mortality Study in Galapagos

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In 2000, Charles Darwin Foundation initiated a study about bird mortality rates on Santa Cruz Island’s main roads (Puerto Ayora – Canal Itabaca and Puerto Ayora – Garrapatero) and shared their findings with local authorities. Their hope was to inform the public and jumpstart a speed reduction plan that would reduce the amount of roadkill on the island. Unfortunately, mortality rates continued to increase.

Last year a member of EPI’s Mola Mola Eco-club in Galapagos wanted to renew the effort with his own survey project and community awareness campaign. The idea came to José Balladares in his preparation for EPI’s 2015 Alumni Summit in Costa Rica, and he refined the idea as a presentation on the problem of bird mortality for one of his classes in high school. His friends in the Mola Mola Eco-club jumped at the opportunity to have an impact in their community, and together, they started the project.

The goal was set: raise local's consciousness of roadkill and at risk bird species through a systematic community awareness campaign. Before approaching community members, particularly motorist and public transit police, the students wanted to ensure they could provide a consistent study of bird mortality – the data to back up their awareness actions – so the Mola members organized, studied survey methodology, and collected preliminary information with help from Gustavo Jiménez-Uzcátegui, an ornithologist and researcher from the Charles Darwin Foundation who has worked on the issue of bird mortality since 2005.

Over the next four months, eco-club leaders performed five surveys of the road, documenting road-caused moralities, species, locations, and more. On a couple of the surveys, the youth even rode bikes to gather their data! The exercise, time outside, and the time with each other made the surveys fun, but the work had a serious purpose, and the youth took it seriously. On each survey, they noticed that the majority of the birds they found dead on the highway were endemic and native species: yellow warblers, barn owls, and finches.

The students used the data to create a heat map and were intrigued to discover that the road between Los Gemelos and Santa Rosa experienced higher mortality rates, while the road nearing Puerto Ayora had lower rates.

Based on these findings, the students now wonder if flowering times and locations of certain species of plants that function as attractive food sources correlate with their mortality data and heat map. The students know that with more accurate data they can determine if there is a relationship between birds’ feeding times and locations with bird road mortality rates. With funding, their research can continue.

As the first step in the awareness campaign, the students will share their findings with local authorities with the intent to influence speed limits, traffic regulations, infrastructure planning, and other factors that have unintended consequences on wildlife. With the help of local authorities, the students plan to develop a program of information that will target locals, visitors, and most importantly motorists. Through these students’ committed actions, bird mortality on Santa Cruz Island could see a significant decrease, a huge step in the conservation of endemic bird species in the Galapagos.

If you’ve got ideas on how EPI can publicize and resource this initiative, please let us know! Like our Executive Directors says...

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