Guest blog by Imogen Kempton
The Floreana mockingbird, although the smallest of the four Galapagos mockingbirds, has huge historic significance. It was the first mockingbird described by Darwin, and his observations of the differences in the three bird species, all derived from a common ancestor, was used as part of his evidence for evolution by natural selection. However, less than 100 years later, it sadly became extinct from Floreana, the island from which it got its name, due to habitat loss and predation by invasive species, such as feral cats and invasive rats.
Thankfully, small numbers of the Floreana mockingbird still live on neighbouring islets- Champion and Gardener, where such invasive species are not present. Galapagos Conservation Trust is working with the Galapagos National Park, Island Conservation and the local community to reintroduce the species back to their home on Floreana island. Their reintroduction is part of a bigger project to restore Floreana to the same magnificent ecological diversity previously experienced by Darwin. The plan is to remove invasive rats and cats to allow the ecosystem to recover and subsequently reintroduce lost species.
So far, the team led by Dr Luis Ortiz-Catedral, have been tracking the numbers of Floreana mockingbirds that exist across the two islets (Champion and Gardener), finding their numbers fluctuate between 250-500, depending on favourable weather conditions for breeding. Their studies are also looking at the ideal habitat for the birds to thrive in. One important discovery was the positive impact of the availability of Opuntia megasperma flowers between January and February on chick survivability.
Along with these findings, the project has mapped key sites to re-vegetate in the lowlands of Floreana for mockingbirds to thrive in after invasive mammal removal. They have also undertaken behaviour surveys on Champion and Gardner to understand family groups and ensure they are not split up during reintroduction. Additionally, essential work with the local community to ensure they have ownership of the project has continued. One notable highlight was their involvement in building new chicken coops and other buildings to house their livestock, to both protect them once the eradication takes place and to allow the habitat on the island to regenerate.
The next steps of the project are to continue surveying and collecting data all year round to understand the mockingbirds’ habitat requirements and begin eradicating invasive species from Floreana. The latter will be a major milestone as to date, no project has successfully eradicated invasive species from such a large, inhabited tropical island. However, work is progressing well, with trial strategies to protect native wildlife from the bait used in the eradication phase being undertaken. The trials are going well, helping the team understand the ideal conditions for keeping at risk species captive during this crucial phase of the project.
We have a number of projects that will benefit from your kind support, including the Floreana mockingbird, mangrove finch and vermilion flycatcher projects, so donate today to help save Darwin’s land birds.
Other ways to help the land birds of Galapagos!