The Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) has become a symbol of declining Neotropical migratory forest birds, its population having decreased as much as 50% over its range since the late 1970s. Wood Thrushes breed in forests throughout the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. In September, they fly south to winter mostly in primary, broad-leaved forests at lower elevations from southeastern Mexico to Panama.
Destruction and fragmentation of forests in both breeding and wintering areas are thought to be factors in the species’ declining abundance. Breeding individuals in smaller forest fragments and fragmented landscapes experience more nest predation and more cowbird parasitism and consequently poorer reproductive success than individuals nesting in larger areas and more forested landscapes. Loss of primary forests in the tropics may force birds into secondary habitats, where they may wander and may have higher mortality rates — one of several unconfirmed aspects of this oft-studied species’ biology.
In February 2010, a group of concerned organizations convened a workshop to train Mexican and Central American biologists to generate information about Wood Thrush habitat use and survival on the wintering grounds based on standardized protocols. This workshop trained a cadre of biologists who can study Wood Thrush habitat use and survival as an indicator of a forest patch’s value to wildlife.
The workshop launched an International Wood Thrush Conservation Alliance. The Alliance currently consists of biologists from throughout the Western Hemisphere who are assembling critical information on Wood Thrush survival in the wintering grounds through the implementation of standardized protocols for which training was provided during the workshop. We firmly believe that the Wood Thrush can be used as an indicator species for a forest patch’s value to wildlife, including both Neotropical and endemic forest bird species.
The formation of the Alliance is the first step in coordinating work in the Western Hemisphere for bird monitoring, habitat protection, forest management, landowner outreach, and environmental education that will benefit forest birds and other wildlife.
The organizations that currently make up the Alliance include ANCON (Panama), Belize Audubon Society, BirdLife International, Fundacion Cocibolca (Nicaragua), Fundaeco (Guatemala), Mesoamerican Partners in Flight, National Audubon Society (USA), Panama Audubon Society, Pronatura Sur (Mexico), Pronatura Veracruz, Pronatura Yucatan, Reserva Privada el Jaguar (Nicaragua), Proyecto Desarollo Pesquero Fonseca (Honduras), Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (USA), The Institute for Bird Populations (USA), U.S. Forest Service, and Wildlife Conservation Society (Guatemala program).