After Dorian, ‘grave concern’ for birds in the northern Bahamas

If you have been paying even the slightest attention to the news over the last few days, you know that Hurricane Dorian unleashed a humanitarian disaster on the Bahamas. At least 50 people have died due to the storm, and the death toll is expected to rise. Our hearts go out to the Bahamian people, and we’re thankful for the aid agencies and others who are stepping up to help.

It’s worth noting that the hard-hit islands of the northern Bahamas are (or were) home to several bird species and subspecies, as well as other wildlife. Their plight should not be forgotten in the aftermath of the storm.

Dorian was “highly likely to have also been an ecological disaster affecting the already fragmented areas of Caribbean pine forest, which support birds and other wildlife that are not found anywhere else on the planet,” says Professor Diana Bell, an expert on Bahamian conservation at the University of East Anglia.

Dorian slammed Abaco and Grand Bahama Islands, the two large islands in the northern part of the archipelago, with sustained winds of 185 mph (298 km/h), wind gusts over 220 mph (355 km/h), and significant flooding.

Matthew Gardner, a bird researcher with the University of East Anglia, gave me the run-down on several endemic and near-endemic bird species and subspecies and their potential fates.

“Due to the severity and prolonged battering taken by the northern Bahamian islands, we currently have concerns for a multitude of species depending on the scale of damage to the habitat, which is yet to be fully revealed,” Gardner says. “The levels of flooding on Grand Bahama are a particular concern where the large areas of forest that died as a result of the storm surges of Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 have still yet to recover and further losses on this scale could severely impact endemic bird species as well as the rest of the community of the unique Northern Bahamian Pineland habitat.”

Gardner concludes: “I would like to add that I am hopeful that the action of conservation agencies, particularly the Bahamas National Trust, who we have been closely involved with and their dedicated staff who we are all thinking of at the current time, will be able to step in and address some of these fears. I must stress this is still a developing situation, but at the current moment there is grave concern about the future of these species until we can get a better picture of the impacts and how the species are coping in the aftermath of the storm.”

Scroll through the slideshow below for summaries about several Bahamian birds. Many thanks to the talented and prolific photographer Dubi Shapiro for sharing his photos of many of these birds.

Update: BirdsCaribbean is raising funds to assist the Bahamas National Trust in their work to help birds survive and clean up and restore vital habitats. Here’s how you can help. 

Read more from BirdsCaribbean about the devastation, including the threat of a serious oil spill on Grand Bahama. 

Bahama Swallow

Bahama Swallow
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This species, endemic to the Bahamas, looks similar to the Tree Swallow but has a deeply forked tail. The IUCN Red List considers it Endangered due to logging and development. “Bahama Swallows are cavity nesters,” according to Neotropical Birds. “Natural nesting sites are cavities in trees, but they also will use cavities associated with human habitations, including horizontal pipes, the housing around street lights, and nest boxes.”

Gardner says, “We are particularly concerned by the highly uncertain population status of the species before the storm and that breeding will be severely depressed in the coming year by a shortage of breeding sites, as the bird is a cavity nester in old and dead trees, which will have blown down. Nesting sites were already thought to be a limiting factor on the population of swallows, particularly on Grand Bahama, where the local extinction of the West Indian Woodpeckers had exacerbated this problem. Considering the inevitable mortality in the population as a result of the storm, our uncertainty on the size of the population to begin with, and the depressed breeding success in the coming years from competition with other species for the limited remaining nest sites, this is a source of great concern for the bird going into the future.”

Photo by Craig Nash (Creative Commons)


 
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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and BirdWatchingDaily.com. He joined the staff of BirdWatching (formerly Birder’s World) in 2000 and has worn many hats over the years: reporter, story wrangler, photo editor, managing editor, and now editor. Originally from Omaha, he lives with his wife and two daughters in Milwaukee and holds a Bachelor’s in journalism from Marquette University. You can reach Matt at (617) 706-9098 and [email protected].

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