Colombia is one of the world's megadiverse countries, home to almost 10% of the planet's biodiversity. It is also the country with the greatest variety of birds on Earth, with nearly 2,000 species, including more than 200 migratory and 80 endemic species. That is why Colombia is already recognized as the country of birds.
Half of the birds that breed in the United States and Canada rely for most of their lives on intact habitat in Latin America and the Caribbean. Colombia's diverse geographies include important sites for Audubon's coastal and forest priority species. By focusing on key sites in the country, we help conserve essential wintering areas for these species.
Like other countries on which birds depend in Latin America, Colombia has dynamic social, economic, and political conditions. The end of armed conflict in the country has presented both opportunities and challenges for conservation. Although scientific field research and bird tourism have flourished (prior to the Covid-19 pandemic), unsustainable agriculture, forestry, and mining increasingly threaten essential bird habitats. The region also faces problems related to climate change impacts, such as water and food security.
Where we work in Colombia
How we work in Colombia
Our Regenerative Agriculture strategy in Colombia aims to bring bird-friendly practices to 1 million hectares of productive land, providing habitat and connectivity across landscapes. By incorporating trees and shrubs on farms and reducing the use of chemicals, it is possible to protect wildlife, soil and water while improving productivity and profitability for farmers.
Audubon Americas is implementing this strategy in Colombia through in-depth interventions in the Valle del Cauca region. Working with our local partners, we seek to:
- Prioritize and refine restoration activities and bird-friendly practices to get the highest possible return on conservation investment, using tree and shrub species that benefit migratory birds while supporting local bird species.
- Develop playbooks for different agricultural sectors (e.g., livestock, sugarcane, and rice) that describe practices beneficial to birds, nature, and people.
- Test market-based regenerative agriculture approaches that provide habitat for birds while increasing productivity and benefits for farmers.
- Leverage and influence funding from local partners to increase support for wetland and forest restoration to better support bird and biodiversity conservation.
- Engage communities and stakeholders in building a strong movement to advance bird and habitat conservation throughout the Cauca Valley.
Building a constituency for Birds
With nearly 2,000 bird species spending all or part of their life cycle in Colombia, it is clear that the remarkable biodiversity of this South American nation is essential to the health of bird populations throughout the Americas. Colombia developed its first National Bird Conservation Strategy (ENCA) in 2000, with the goal of protecting the country's most important landscapes for birds. In addition to comprehensive scientific initiatives to guide bird conservation, the strategy promoted activities to facilitate human connection with birds and their habitats.
Two decades later, Audubon has joined forces with the Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute and the Colombian National Bird Watchers Network (RNOA) to update and renew the ENCA. These conservation organizations envision the ENCA as a basis for national policies that integrate Colombia's economic, social, and cultural landscape with the effective conservation of important habitats for birds and other wildlife.
As a first step, the team assessed the challenges and lessons learned in the 20 years since ENCA's inauguration. The second phase, now underway, is geared toward a new strategy by opening a multi-stakeholder dialogue. By engaging a range of interests and emphasizing the broader benefits of conservation, economics and human well-being, we aim to incorporate nature-based solutions into development plans. The final phase, scheduled to begin in 2022, focuses on communication and implementation of the ENCA.
Conservation strategies, public policies, and citizen efforts that protect birds and biodiversity in Colombia are less effective if they occur in isolation. Birds connect the landscapes of the Americas, and the survival of migratory and endemic species depends on our ability to elevate conservation throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. To complement the ENCA, similar initiatives are underway in Chile and Panama, where we are engaging key stakeholders and partnering with strategic allies and communities to achieve conservation and sustainable development impacts at a significant scale.
Colombia's 2030 National Conservation Strategy
A coalition of organizations, including Audubon Americas, the Humboldt Institute, and the National Birding Network, along with other stakeholders, have joined together to formulate a new national strategy that addresses the critical needs of birds in the coming decades.
Learn more about this strategy.
Citizen mobilization for birds
Where birds thrive, people thrive. Birds also provide us with richer, healthier, and more beautiful places to live. The success of our work on behalf of birds and their habitats depends on our ability to mobilize communities to value birds and the places where they live.
One way to do this is through community science. In Colombia, Audubon supports initiatives and activities that engage people in birding while contributing to ornithological science. These include the eBird platform, which allows bird lovers to report and analyze data, as well as census projects such as Global Big Day, October Big Day and Christmas Bird Count. With Audubon's support, some 40 ornithological organizations and birding groups in Colombia participate in these censuses. The population data they collect is often included in research projects that inform conservation strategies.
Audubon's popular birding trails and education programs for guides and informants are other components of Audubon Americas' efforts to build relationships and strengthen the capacity of local communities. The first birding trail project in Colombia was the Northern Colombia Birding Trail, supported by USAID, Patrimonio Natural, and Asociación Calidris. It was followed by three more routes - Central Andes, Southwestern Andes and Eastern Andes - with the support of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (through FONTUR). Each route offers an itinerary of potential birding sites and more than 400 beneficiaries, including guides and tour operators who participated in the training process.
In the context of Colombia's ornithological routes, local guides trained by Audubon have continued to strengthen their capacities through the creation of support networks. One of these is the Red de Informadores de Aves (RIAC), which developed a YouTube channel to promote birds, places and culture, along with other activities related to bird watching and conservation.
Birds as Teachers
In terms of species variety per surface area, Colombia is the most biodiverse country on Earth. Its tropical location, two ocean coasts and four mountain ranges have endowed the nation with countless microclimates that are home to some 1,950 species of birds, more than anywhere else on the planet.
In 2015, the National Audubon Society launched a series of ambitious initiatives in Colombia aimed at connecting local communities with international birders to promote biodiversity conservation and improve human well-being, with an emphasis on preserving important bird habitats. At the heart of Audubon's initiative are efforts to cultivate bird-based tourism as a way to generate economic opportunities that will provide lasting incentives for communities to protect the wildlife and ecosystems that birds need.
In collaboration with USAID, the Colombian government, and our BirdLife International partner, Asociación Calidris, Audubon has developed birding itineraries in four distinct regions of the country. Each of the four birding itineraries consists of Audubon-trained professional guides, locations such as national parks and private reserves, and hospitality tailored to the birding market. The birding trails now active are located in the Caribbean region and in the southwestern, central and eastern Andes, and include IBAs, national parks and more than 100 local communities.