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Colombia

Identifying Birds to Protect Their Habitat

Kids and families in Colombia’s rural coffee growing regions are learning to become birders and bird conservationists through a program supported by the Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, and other local partners, and implemented by local organization Cenicafé. The program has helped more than 750 people in 31 communities learn about birds and forest-friendly coffee growing practices to preserve biodiversity. Participants learn to identify birds and conduct censuses, bird research and conservation methods.

Sixteen-year-old Julián Barros discusses how the program has changed his life.

nature.org:

How did you get involved in Cenicafe program?

Julián Barros:

I was 11 years old when I joined the Cenicafe’s program. Back then we lived in Las Delicias, Lerida, Tolima. We did move to Ibagué (a medium-sized city) for a while, which interrupted my participation in the program, but we moved back and I am back on track.

My father was the one who was invited to participate, but he didn’t have time so he suggested that I attend the first meeting. He said: “You are the one who has a special connection with nature, then you should go.”

I went to school in the mornings, but I also helped my dad at this farm. I helped him with all the coffee growing and harvesting activities. Our farm is six hectares, and five of them are designated for growing coffee.

nature.org:

How much did you know about birds before starting the program?

Julián Barros:

I didn’t know much about birds, just the basics. I liked birds back then because of their interesting behavior. Plus their shiny and intense colors make them so visible, you can spot them right away, even from a far distance. The way they fly to catch their prey and then come back to the same exact spot where they were before…I find this astonishing.

nature.org:

Tell me about something you learned from the program.

Julián Barros:

There hasn’t been a bad moment. In our second expedition I saw a family of toucans and it took me by surprise. I thought the toucans belonged to another region, and I never expected to see them here. I also didn’t know Colombia was the most diverse country for birds in the world.

nature.org:

What inspired you to create sculptures for all the birds you identified?

Julián Barros:

Originally it was my mom´s idea. One day I made a hummingbird out of dough – I´d always been very good at modeling figures with this material – and my mom said: “This is beautiful, you should make them all.” I followed her advice and came up with a tree full of birds.

nature.org:

Tell me about creating them.

Julián Barros:

I made three trees, each centimeters tall. They all have a common base with the same species, and I added different ones in the second and third version. Each tree was inspired by various field expeditions.

I used orange tree wood, dough and stones, and some enamel to preserve the shape of the tiny sculptures.

The first tree has 90 birds and it took me a month and a half. The second one has 130 birds and it took me three weeks. The third one has 150 birds and took me two weeks. I worked at least 8 hours a day.

The most difficult ones were the hummingbirds – they are so small I had to work with a magnifying glass. I used photos and the book Birds of Colombia for reference, as well as all the knowledge I gained in the field.

nature.org:

How did this program shape your views on the environment?

Julián Barros:

I’ve learned nature is perfect, I just didn’t know why.

I had a strong connection with nature and birds, they seemed very special, but I didn’t know why they are so important: they control insects, spread the seeds and serve as biodiversity indicators.

nature.org:

How did this program change your career path?

Julián Barros:

When I joined the program I wanted to study biology because I was delighted by all plants and animals. But I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to study within the biology world. What clicked for me was learning how important birds are. It’s incredible that I had no idea about the vast diversity we have in Colombia.

nature.org:

How has the program changed your behavior?

Julián Barros:

I would have remained ignorant about birds, and I would have chosen to study insects instead.

When I am with my friends we talk about other topics, and while they only have an interest in working and studying, they feel very attracted towards hunting and poaching as well. They don’t have the conservation chip in their minds.

This program opened a huge door in my life -- it opened the window of knowledge and has influenced my career path.


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