Protecting the Birds of Galapagos webinar 2022

Thank you so much to everyone who attended our ‘Protecting Birds of Galapagos’ webinar on 21 April 2022. We hope that you agree that it was a fascinating and informative session, shedding light on the most urgent issues facing Galapagos landbirds and the great steps been taken to remove the threats and restore the biodiversity that we have lost.

If you missed the webinar or want to watch it again, you can catch the recording below.

The webinar focussed on the landbirds of Galapagos – from Darwin’s finches to the bright and colourful little vermilion flycatcher. Landbirds, such as the finches and the mockingbirds, inspired Charles Darwin’s ‘theory of evolution by natural selection’, and they continue to contribute to science today. These iconic species are still evolving, adapting to food availability and changes in climate.

They are, however, under threat. The introduction of invasive species, such as the avian vampire fly (Philornis downsi), feral cats, and blackberry plants, are devastating these bird populations by infesting nests, eating young, and reducing foraging and nesting opportunities. Invasive species, combined with climate change and increased human presence, are putting huge pressure on the endemic birds of Galapagos, to the point where some of these populations are hanging on by a thread.

A photo of a male Little vermilion flycatcher - a small red and black bird - perched on a branch with its back facing the camera.  It has a small pink plastic ring on its left leg, which illustrates one of the monitoring techniques used to monitor the population of this rare endemic species.
A male little vermilion flycatcher, listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. © Chris Moakes

Charmian Caines, GCT’s Chair, was our host for the evening. She introduced our webinar and GCT’s Landbirds Projects. After highlighting the three greatest threats that the endemic landbirds of Galapagos face (invasive species, climate change, and increasing human presence), Charmian handed over the presentation to our experts who are working on efforts to protect the rarest species of bird life.

The importance of conserving biodiversity

The first talk was by Jen Jones, GCT’s Head of Programmes, who gave an excellent presentation on the biodiversity crisis that we are facing globally. As we look into the future on how we can build resilience against climate change, Jen highlighted just why we need protect the biodiversity we still have, and work on restoring the biodiversity that we have lost. 

Island species are far more vulnerable to extinctions. Whilst they make up only 5.3% of the earth’s landmass, they have experienced over 75% of bird, amphibian, mammal and reptile extinctions.  Jen’s key message is that we need global efforts to conserve biodiversity and, if we want to have maximum impact, we need to be working on islands. 

Following Jen’s talk, there was a short video from some of GCT’s partners explaining why they thought it was important to protect the landbirds of Galapagos. You can watch this below.

“We are at a time in history when we can intervene and successfully prevent the extinction of these wonderful species and, in doing so, develop techniques that can be applied elsewhere in the world.”

Luis Ortiz-Catedral, GCT Partner

Restoring Floreana island to its former ecological glory

Roland Digby, Floreana Mitigation Officer at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, gave an insightful talk about one of the most ambitious projects that GCT currently supports: the restoration of the whole of Floreana island.  Floreana, which is home to about 140 people, has seen 13 local extinctions thanks to invasive species with a further 55 species threatened. By eradicating invasive threats, and re-introducing some of the locally extinct species, the project aims to be the first large habitable tropical island to have its habitat restored and species re-introduced to it. We hope that, with successful mitigation of human impact, eradication on invasive threats, and reintroduction of locally extinct species, this programme will act as a template for other conservation projects globally. 

He also talked about the exciting next steps, including the planned reintroduction of the woodpecker finch to Pinzon island which, if successful, will be the first time a finch has been reintroduced to another island.

“The translocation [of the woodpecker finch] is both important in restoring lost species to Pinzon and improving biodiversity, as well as additionally allowing us to trial the techniques that will be needed when returning the locally extinct species of passerine to Floreana after the eradication in 2023.”

Roland Digby

A large, sweeping landscape photo of Floreana Island.  In the foreground is a a variety of small trees, which extends into the horizon, illustrating the Island's rich biodiversity.
Floreana island © Jen Jones

Finally, Birgit Fessl, Coordinator of the Galapagos Landbird Plan at the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), gave us a great update on the exciting fieldwork been done to save some of Galapagos’ rarest birds. This includes the mangrove finch, which only has a population of around 100 individuals, and the little vermilion flycatcher, which is nearing extinction on islands such as Santa Cruz.

CDF’s habitat restoration programme currently focuses on removing invasive plant species to allow restoration of native forest habitat interspersed with open areas for breeding and foraging. The team have also been involved with hand-rearing chicks and applying insecticide to nests to protect young birds from avian vampire fly (Philornis downsi) infestation. With proven success of the insecticide, GCT are now supporting projects that are working on developing long-term solutions to reduce numbers of the fly, as the implementations of such management plans will be crucial to safeguard these endangered birds in years to come.

“It is also important to see all these projects as a holistic management . . . This holds for the vermilion flycatcher, but it also goes for the mangrove finch project and for any of the conservation projects. Working together, the different institutions learning from each other is super important.”

Birgit Fessl

A photo showing local workers and GNP rangers removing re-sprouts of blackberry from one of the managed plots. The thick wall of green blackberry plants in the background shows the extent of their work, and how much there is to remove.
Local workers and GNP rangers removing resprouts of blackberry from one of the managed plots. © David Anchundia.

Great steps are been taken to protect the rare birds of Galapagos. There is still a long way to go, and we continue to need your support as we seek with our partners to restore the habitats of Galapagos and revive the species in an environment they need in which to thrive. 

Finally, here’s a video from some of GCT’s staff explaining why they think it is important to protect the landbirds of Galapagos.

Written by: Molly Allen, GCT Communications and Marketing Officer

How you can help

Please donate to our restoring habitats appeal to help us save the endangered landbirds of Galapagos from extinction.