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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

There were two counts in 2022!

Christmas Bird Count
January 5, 2022
Puarto Lara

  • 117 bird species
  • 713 total birds
Global Big Day
May 14, 2022
Rio Hondo

  • 124 bird species
  • 1,470 total birds

This has been an important year for Wounaan birdwatching. The community of Puerto Lara hosted the 5th annual Christmas Bird Count on January 5th, 2022. The CBC represents an opportunity for Wounaan communities like Puerto Lara to promote sustainable ecotourism and to document the health of their bird populations. This year, 713 individual birds were spotted, representing 117 different species.

May 14, 2022, the second internationally-recognized bird count–Global Big Day–was carried out by Wounaan birdwatchers in the communities of Rio Hondo and Platanares. Three teams counted 124 species of birds, and 1,470 individual birds. The highlights? Four new birds added to their list including a Crested Eagle! As noted on E-bird, “Always rare and infrequently seen; any day with a Crested Eagle deserves a gold star.”

Twenty-four Wounaan birdwatching guides in Rio Hondo and Platanares are training to identify birds by their scientific names as well as their English and Spanish common names and in their native language, Wounaan meu. Some guides have started to use the birdwatching app Merlin to identify birds by their calls. Increased use of technology and photography will allow for a more complete assessment of the bird populations in this important stopover for migratory birds.

With their communities, Wounaan birders are also preparing to receive and guide ecotourists. The community of Platanares operates a small birdwatching hotel, with a restaurant to provide tourists three meals a day. One guide-in-training says that ecotourism represents an opportunity to provide "an improved quality of life" for their children, and for the community, while also protecting the biodiversity of their forests. Through trail improvements and reforestation, these communities are preparing for the upcoming tourist season and demonstrating the value of native stewardship.

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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!

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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. 

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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.

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