Surrounded by exotic landscapes and hundreds of bird species, Colombian Caribbean’s first-ever birdwatching route officially opened on February 1st—and it’s already attracting plenty of attention, including a nice feature in the Colombian newspaper El Espectador last week. The South American country is known for having one of the most diverse populations of birds in the world (the count is more than 1,900 species) but sadly, around 6 percent of that total is considered endangered due to a significant loss of habitat.
The new Northern Colombia Birding Trail could help this threatened habitat. It covers an area of nearly 50,000 acres of very delicate tropical dry forests throughout four key spots: Los Flamencos Sanctuary, Los Besotes Ecopark, Sierra de Perijá National Park, and the Tayrona Natural National Park. This territory is just the remainder of a much bigger space that has been receding aggressively in the past few decades. Tatiana Pardo, a journalist for the Colombian newspaper El Espectador, describes it thusly:
This ecosystem used to cover more than nine million hectares in Colombia, but today only 8 percent of it exists. (...) Of that, only 0.4 percent is part of the National System of Protected Areas.
The trail doesn’t only hope to help conserve habitat and species—it is also expected to help improve the income of the local communities by generating new jobs. In fact, more than 40 farmers and indigenous people from the Wayuu tribe and neighboring towns have been trained to work as bird guides at the brand-new route right now. The path will attract thousands of visitors each year, John Myers, director of Audubon for Latin America, told El Espectador:
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are 48 million birdwatchers in the U.S., and they spend about $82 billion dollars a year. At least 17 percent of these people make at least one international birdwatching trip a year. Colombia’s potential in this field is huge and the idea is that local people benefit the most working as field guides.
Those are interesting numbers, indeed. However, for Colombian and visiting enthusiasts it ultimately all comes to the joy of spotting birds. In the words of José Luis Pushaina, one of the guides of the trail:
I have birdwatching fever and I don’t want to recover from it. Birds are my present and, I hope, also my future.
Audubon's Martha Harbison recently went to Colombia and spent some time with the guides—her resulting feature will be published in the upcoming March-April issue.
Editor's Note: Colombia's birding trail is a joint project between Audubon's International Alliances Program, conservation organization Patrimonio Natural, and bird conservation organization Calidris.