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The Preservation of Migratory Bird Habitat on
Grand Isle, Louisiana

Sometimes thousands of birds, representing about 100 species, including 35 species of warbler, literally fall out of the sky.

Mr. Arabies' 2010-2011 5th Grade Class (Grand Isle School Native Plant BioLab).  These students are planting the seedlings they have grown.

As our only accessible and inhabited barrier island, Grand Isle is dear to the hearts of many in Louisiana, and our visitors who come to enjoy the Gulf’s bounty. Few may realize, though, that other visitors rely upon the island: birds.

The magnificent oak forest that once cloaked the island has provided a refuge for that amazing group of small land birds that actually undertake to fly across the Gulf twice a year, in one of the earth’s most spectacular migratory spectacles. Much of the forest is now gone, but a few significant remnants remain, providing refuge to birds and a shady respite to those of us who live upon or visit the island.

Working with partners, The Nature Conservancy of Louisiana has preserved several small tracts of forest totaling about 41acres, and has worked with local companies and residents to encourage restoration of former forests and promote environmental education through planting trees with school programs; such as, the Grand Isle School Native Plant BioLab.  Students collect, propogate, nurture seeds from native Grand Isle trees and shrubs that make up the upper and understory of the maritime forest.  The students then plant on private and public lands the seedlings they have grown. Grand Isle has long been recognized as one of the most important stopover sites for neotropical migratory birds flying across the Gulf of Mexico on their annual migration to and from North America. The trees on Grand Isle are often their first resting stop before or after making the five hundred mile flight across the Gulf. We consider the conservation of this habitat a top priority; providing shelter during migration is a key component to conservation of these birds, many of which have experienced dramatic population declines.

The number of birds that are saved by the forest on Grand Isle when adverse weather conditions coincide with migration is phenomenal. During groundings or “fall outs” hundreds, sometimes thousands of birds, representing about 100 species, including 35 species of warbler, literally fall out of the sky, overcome with exhaustion, to seek refuge. The forest provides life-sustaining food and cover allowing the birds to rest and refuel before continuing the flight.

Only ten percent of the original wooded habitat is left on Grand Isle. These tracts of maritime forest are the largest remaining stands of live oak-hackberry forest on any barrier island on the Gulf. The rarity of this Chenier forest makes it globally unique and critically imperiled. Such forests need protection as unique ecosystems. With your partnership on this important project, we make a difference.

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