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. 

Other songbirds

Other songbirds
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Like the spindalis, a few other fairly common songbirds occupy Grand Bahama and Abaco as well as other parts of the Bahamas and points south. They include:

• Bahama Mockingbird. This species is more widespread than its name suggests. In addition to the Bahamas, it can be seen in Cuba, Jamaica, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and is a vagrant to Florida. Before Dorian, the bird was widespread on Abaco, and a few records existed for Grand Bahama. It’s also found on many other Bahamian islands.

• Thick-billed Vireo (pictured above). It’s widespread in the Bahamas and also occurs in Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean. Grand Bahama and Abaco were strongholds for the population before the storm.

• Northern Red-legged Thrush. Red-legged Thrush is found from the Bahamas to Cuba to Puerto Rico (and just recently a couple have wandered to Florida). The Northern birds are found on Grand Bahama, Abacos, Andros, New Providence, Eleuthera, and Cat Island in the Bahamas, and some authorities consider them a distinct species. They were common on Grand Bahama and Abacos before the storm. We hope they’re still common now.

• Bananaquit. This widespread bird of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America has an amazing 41 subspecies. While the species as a whole is not threatened, the Bahamian subspecies may have been impacted by the hurricane.

Photo by Dubi Shapiro


 
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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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