Saving the critically endangered São Paulo Marsh Antwren

São Paulo Marsh Antwren
São Paulo Marsh Antwren occurs in the São Paulo metro area, home to 21 million people. Photo by Elis Simpson

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The city of São Paulo sprawls across the coastal plateau of southeastern Brazil. It’s hardly a landscape where scientists would expect to discover a new bird species.

But in 2004, Brazilian ornithologist Dante Buzzetti identified a small, secretive bird in a marshy area about 30 miles from the city center. Now the race is on to protect the remaining habitat for the São Paulo Marsh Antwren, a critically endangered species that lives in the shadow of South America’s largest metropolis.

Over the past century, as this city of millions has expanded, the antwren’s wetlands habitat has dwindled. The remnant marshes where the bird is found are nestled in a matrix of vast eucalyptus plantations, cattle pastures, and small patches of original forest.

The São Paolo Marsh Antwren typically occurs in pairs or family groups of four. The birds do not fly far and spend much of their time foraging for insects. Pairs travel close together and communicate with infrequent, short, and quiet calls.

Researchers estimate that the total antwren population numbers between 250 and 300 individuals, concentrated in a total area of about 350 acres. The remaining wetlands where they live are vulnerable to development and invasive plants, and the few birds that remain need immediate conservation action to survive.

ABC and the Brazilian environmental groups SAVE Brasil and Guaranature are working with the local community and the municipal government in Guararema to preserve essential habitat for the antwren and, in the process, to protect some of São Paolo’s few remaining marshes for posterity. With strong support from many residents of Guararema, the venture is off to a strong start. Creating the first protected marshes in the area could serve as a model for protecting more of the antwren’s habitat and creating natural urban oases for human residents as well.

As the antwren shows, some of the most important areas for rare species are within or near urban areas, in South America and elsewhere.

A version of this article appeared in the February 2018 issue of BirdWatching magazine.

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This story was provided by American Bird Conservancy, a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas.

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