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New plan underway to save South America’s migratory grassland birds

A meeting between government representatives, scientists, and conservationists in Asuncion, Paraguay this month resulted in the adoption of an action plan to provide urgently needed conservation framework for the migratory birds of South America’s disappearing grasslands.

The grasslands of Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia count amount the world’s most valuable ecosystems, and are home to an astonishing variety of species. But the grasslands are disappearing at an astonishing rate as they’re converted to cropland and pasture and afforested with eucalyptus and pine trees for the timber industry. As they disappear, so do their native species.

Of particular concern are migratory birds. Because they are dependent on more than one location, they are even more susceptible to habitat alteration than are sedentary species. One of these, the saffron-cowled blackbird, has suffered a substantial decline due to agricultural, timber, and development activities. Today, it’s estimated to number only 2,500 – 10,000 mature individuals.

Two saffron-cowled blackbirds in Argentina. By Lip Kee Yap

The meeting, which was convened by the UN Environment Programme’s Convention on Migratory species in collaboration with BirdLife International and Asociación Guyra Paraguay, addressed not only threats to birds but the greater impacts of habitat change.

“The CMS action plan does not only address threats to migratory grassland birds in South America. By preserving their habitat, we safeguard many other endangered species.” said CMS Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema. “At the same time we help mitigating climate change because it aims to conserve the grasslands that produce oxygen and act as carbon sinks.”

Many solutions will be pursued. Priority will be placed on identifying, protecting, and managing areas which are inhabited by migratory birds. Financial incentives will be offered to local farmers and ranchers whose land contains critical habitat. Grassland biodiversity research will take place as part of a multi-nation initiative to help to close knowledge gaps on migration routes of the birds and conservation needs of their habitats. Threat assessments will be conducted in the next five years to determine the impact of chemicals and fertilizers on bird populations. Special emphasis will be placed on raising awareness in and encouraging support from local communities.

The CMS action plan is just the first in a series of conservation measures initiated through the collaboration of five countries to ensure the survival of these unique species and the continuation of their habitat.

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