The Oropéndolas Negras 


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A Wounaan Bird Count will show the world the biodiversity conservation the Wounaan people have practiced for generations.
- Chief Rito Ismare



The Wounaan Bird Count

The next Wounaan Bird Count is

January 5, 2022

Due to COVID-19 concerns, the 2021 count was completed entirely by Wounaan birders in Puerto Lara. In-person attendance from visitors outside of the community for the 2022 count is currently pending the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations in Panama. Be on the lookout for any updates.

  • 116 different species
  • 921 total birds seen or heard
  • 14 volunteers
  • 24 hours of birding
  • 12 kilometers covered

The third official Wounaan Christmas Bird Count took place in Puerto Lara, Darien on January 5, 2021. This year it was held with face masks, social distancing, reduced group sizes, and included only local participants. However, the community of Puerto Lara’s enthusiasm and love for birds led to a successful count of 921 birds representing 116 species! Four groups, each consisting of four birdwatchers, ventured out for six hours to observe the birds in the area. Two of the groups walked along predetermined birding routes, one group observed the birds that visited the community, and one group went by boat to better see the numerous birds found on the estuary. Overall, they traveled 12 kilometers and saw 10 species not seen on the previous Wounaan Bird Counts!

Highlights of the day were: a rufescent tiger heron, black oropendolas, five blue cotingas, keel-billed toucans, and whooping motmots. However, the most exciting observation was a boat-billed heron nest complete with parents and a chick!

Today, Puerto Lara's conservation is on the map of this century-old citizen science tradition.  One of six Christmas Bird Counts to take place in Panama, it is the only one in Darién Province, so far. The Wounaan bird group, Oropendolas Negras, began observing and counting birdlife in July 2017.  In 2018, they were joined by the all-women Wounaan bird group, the Tangaras Azules. Together, they have identified more than 275 species in Puerto Lara and have carried out six internationally recognized counts thus far - a practice Christmas Bird Count in 2018, two World Migratory Bird Day counts, and official National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Counts in 2019, 2020, and 2021. They are looking forward to the next Wounaan Christmas Bird Count!

Counters preparing for the big day
Celebrating the count with dance
Wounaan art - it's for the birders!

The Oropendolas Negras

The Oropéndolas Negras (Black Oropendolas) is the first ever team of Wounaan bird watchers. On January 5, 2018 they carried out the first bird count in Wounaan territory.

In July 2017, ten volunteers from Puerto Lara joined Wounaan cultural experts and Wounaan National Congress leaders to learn about birdwatching from Native Future volunteers Janice Jorgensen and Robert Mesta.  By the end of the three days, the community of Puerto Lara asked for more and the volunteers formed themselves into the birdwatching group, the Oropendolas NegrasSince then, on a monthly basis, they are out with Darien bird specialist, Ismael (Nando) Quiroz identifying the birds of their community by sight and sound.

Participating Wounaan are also weavers, carvers and members of their local ecotourism associations. They look forward to hosting fellow bird enthusiasts from around the world!



Wounaan, young and old, are participating in Native Future sponsored trainings to identify and count the avian biodiversity of their community, Puerto Lara. They are learning their birds in Spanish, English and in their native language Wounaan meu.


In partnership with University of Georgia ecological anthropologist Dr. Julia Velasquez Runk and Wounaan Cultural Experts, the Wounaan Bird Count is developing a Puerto Lara bird list and educational materials that will teach their children the cultural significance of their birdlife in their native language. 


Rainforest Conservation

Panama is habitat for more than 1,000 different species of birds; at least 600 of them are found in the Darien, such as the Oropendola Negra. Already, Panama has lost 40% of its forest cover.

More than 50% of Panama's remaining tropical forests are found in Indigenous territory and protected areas. Their stewardship is often the only reason much of Panama's forests are still standing.

The Wounaan community of Puerto Lara shares territory with the ecologically important and threatened Filo Tallo de Canglon Hydrological Reserve.  A vast network of mangrove and Darien tropical forest wetlands that is rapidly being lost to development, Puerto Lara at its western most edge is one of its best hopes for protection.

If we want to protect rainforest biodiversity, let's invest in the people who are already conserving them.