Birds Protect Costa Rico’s Coffee Crops

October 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

Millions of people around the world could not imagine starting the day without a cup of coffee. Coffee production plays a major role in the economy of a number of Central and South American countries, including Costa Rica, where ongoing research has highlighted the role local birds play in protecting one of the most lucrative crops in the world – coffee. Stanford University graduate student Daniel Karp and a group of researchers recently published a paper in Ecology Letters where they detail how birds control populations of coffee borer beetles (Hypothenemus hampei) in Costa Rican coffee plantations, increasing the yield per hectare significantly.

Originating in Africa, the coffee borer beetle has spread around the world and is found wherever coffee is grown. This small brown beetle is very destructive and difficult to control, causing an estimated $500 million in damage every year. The female beetle burrows its way into the coffee berry and lays up to 50 eggs. Little white maggots hatch from the eggs and consume the coffee berry from the inside. In coffee plantations where patches of rainforest habitat were left undisturbed, damage by coffee borer beetles was noted to be much less resulting in higher yields.

In determining what contribution birds are making to the coffee economy of Costa Rica, researchers carried out calculations on how much yield could be expected if there were no borer beetles to contend with. They then made a comparison between infested plants left in their natural condition, and infested plants grown inside bird-proof enclosures. It was concluded that, taking the season into account, birds improve yield per hectare by between $75 and $310.

In order to determine which birds were eating the beetles, researchers took bird faeces back to the laboratory at Stanford to test the DNA. One of the bird species identified as a coffee borer beetle eater is the yellow warbler. The research results will be used to show Costa Rican coffee farmers that it is advantageous to protect rainforest habitat on their land – both for the birds and for the coffee crop.

Green Parakeet (Aratinga holochlora)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Native to Mexico, Central America and northern Nicaragua, the Green Parakeet (Aratinga holochlora) has also managed to establish itself somewhat in southeast Texas. As the Green Parakeet is generally considered to be non-migratory, it is unclear whether the self-sustaining population found in Texas is the result of breeding between feral released birds or whether they are the result of wild birds which have moved here from Mexico to take advantage of potential food supplies. Since feral populations of Green Parakeet have been found in other parts of the world, both explanations are quite plausible.

Generally speaking, the Green Parakeet is about 32 cm in length and bright green in color. Though the bird’s entire body is generally described as being ‘green’, one may find that the green on the upper parts is darker while the undersides have a yellowish-green coloring. It also has a long, pointed tail and has a fairly rapid wing-beat. The bird has a compact yellow beak which it uses to feed on seeds, nuts, berries and fruit. Unfortunately the Green Parakeet may sometimes choose to feed on corn and is therefore sometimes considered to be a crop pest. Wild parakeets are most often found in wooded habitats such as scrub, swampy forests, woodlands and forest clearings but they tend to stay away from tropical rainforests. In the cities they generally make use of palm groves and they may be found in flocks of up to 100 birds out of breeding season.

During breeding season the Green Parakeet will usually pair off and find a hole in a tree, crevice, termite mound or cliff face where it can nest. In urban areas they may also make use of holes in buildings. Here it may lay 3-4 eggs between January and April. After breeding season has ended, the birds will generally flock together again and will abandon their nests in favour of a large, communal roost. Unfortunately, populations of the Green Parakeet in the US and Mexico have dwindled somewhat due to the capture of wild birds for trade and the loss of habitat for agriculture. However, several protected areas have been established to ensure the continuance of the species, though more work must be done to prevent the bird from becoming a threatened species.

First Bird Route Opened in Central America

June 13, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

With more and more people trying their hands at bird-watching, there is a greater need to develop sustainable bird-watching opportunities around the world. Some places have a particularly high concentration of birds and this makes them ideal bird-watching destinations. But without some sort of supportive infrastructure in place, it can be difficult, daunting or nearly impossible for the average bird watcher to visit such locations. The first protected zone in Central America is providing bird lovers with the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in a world of color and beauty.

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Striking Beauty of the Quetzal

February 11, 2008 by  
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The Central American country of Costa Rica is bordered by Nicaragua and Panama with the Pacific Ocean to the west and south and the Caribbean Sea to the east. With more than 870 registered species of birds, Costa Rica is a prime destination for birding enthusiasts. The Quetzal is one of the most unusual birds in Costa Rica and bird-watchers are thrilled when they manage to sight one of these rather elusive beauties.

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The World of Antbirds

September 21, 2006 by  
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Flip through a field guide for the South American tropics, and you may be dazzled by the numbers of Antbirds listed. Over 240 species of antbirds live in Central and South America, including the ant-wrens, ant-vireos, and ant-thrushes. These small bird species are dull-colored, in blacks, browns and tans that hide them on the shady rainforest floors. Some species have eyes that are brightly-colored or surrounded with patches of colorful bare skin.

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