Hopewell Residents take Bird Research to the Tropics
If you are in to bird watching, neotropical songbirds are the cream of the crop. These magnificent creatures materialize for only a few brief months every year, but their appearance is worth celebrating. Bird enthusiasts wake at dawn during a few select weeks in April and May to catch waves of yellow, red, blue, black and white, olive green and orange plumage flickering through the treetops. Some of these birds carry on to cooler climates to breed, but a select number of these migrants find the natural areas of central New Jersey just right for their future brood. Shrub-loving songsters like the prairie warbler and blue-winged warbler and forest dwellers such as the ovenbird, hooded warbler and scarlet tanager are neotropical migrants that commonly breed in our nearby preserves. Right now, these birds are taking flight on cool evenings, to return to the tropics after a summer of rearing young.
Unfortunately, many of these songbirds are in decline. A study by US Fish and Wildlife Service from 1995 concluded that 11 of the 96 neotropical songbird species were endangered, threatened, or of management concern, while 65 neotropical songbird species experienced measurable population declines. These statistics are alarming! Ornithologists and conservationists use songbird populations as an indicator of the ecosystem’s health. For neotropical songbirds, their numbers relay the health of both temperate and tropical forests. While many efforts have been made in the United States to conserve and preserve lands for songbird populations, the same cannot be said for the places these birds winter.
Last year, local researchers Tyler Christensen and Sean Graesser initiated the Nicoya Peninsula Avian Research Station (NPARS), a bird-banding station in Costa Rica, with the mission to contribute to the understanding of neotropical songbird conservation needs. For eight weeks each winter, the NPARS team collects important data on migratory and resident songbirds in tropical second growth and mangrove forests. Last year, the team banded a total 421 birds, many of them migrants and breeders of New Jersey. Northern waterthrush, Kentucky warbler, prothonotary warbler and American redstart were studied by the NPARS team.
This year, they’ll return to the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica to continue collecting songbird data, but will expand their banding efforts to include the migratory ruby-throated hummingbird. A grant awarded by the Washington Crossing Audubon Society will fund a portion of the research, but additional funding is needed to provide for mist nets, additional banding equipment and research supplies.
On Sunday, October 14, join fellow nature enthusiasts, birdwatchers and neighbors at a Potluck Fundraiser to support the NPARS. The event will take place at the Howell Living History Farm from 4 - 7 p.m. Attendees are asked to bring a covered dish or beverage to share, and can expect to enjoy a casual evening of home-cooked food, bucket raffles, music and a short film by local filmmaker Jared Flesher. The suggested donation for the event is $25; RSVP is requested. To receive more information about the research project or the fundraiser, please email Jenn Rogers,