WITH LESS than 260 remaining on a single island, the Bahama Oriole is the rarest bird in The Bahamas - and one of the rarest in the world.
To inform conservation efforts, the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) is working with University of Maryland scientists to gather vital information on the endangered species.
Of the six endemic bird species found in the Bahamas, the Oriole is the most threatened. It once lived on Abaco as well, but disappeared from that island in the 1990s. It has a black head and body with yellow underparts.
“Previous studies indicated that the Oriole relied on coconut trees for nesting, and was in serious decline because these trees were dying from lethal yellowing,” according to BNT Science and Policy Director Shelley Cant-Woodside. “The current research is key to understanding the biology of this amazing species. We now know that the Bahama Oriole is not completely reliant upon coconut trees, but uses other trees in residential areas and in the pine forest. This is an important find if we want to ensure a secure future for this very rare bird.”
Research on the Oriole was last conducted in 2011. The current University of Maryland team is led by Dr Kevin Orland. Their work is funded by the American Bird Conservancy, a Virginia-based group that promotes bird conservation throughout the Western Hemisphere.
The current research aims to survey populations of Bahama Oriole on Andros; determine the number of nesting pairs in residential and forested areas; confirm whether coconut trees are the preferred nesting tree; and capture the basic biology of the species, including food sources and predators.
The researchers are also training Bahamians in field research and promoting a wider appreciation of this rare bird, which is threatened by forest fires, logging, introduced diseases, invasive species, and the potential effects of climate change in terms of sea-level rise and changes in habitat.
Latie Smith and Lehron Rolle, two participants in the BNT’s ongoing bird guide training programme, are working with the Oriole researchers on Andros. The bird guide programme is a joint venture with the National Audubon Society to train Bahamians as nature guides.
Recent College of the Bahamas graduate Shannan Yates and BNT Science Officer Scott Johnson are also helping the researchers to band birds so as to track their movements.
“A lot of work still needs to be done,” Ms Cant said, “but through partnerships like this, coupled with local stakeholder involvement, more reliable information will be obtained to help improve conservation measures.”
The progress of this initiative can be followed on the Bahama Oriole Project Facebook page.