Last week started off with the distinct satisfaction of delivering the results of our first set of faculty-led projects at Palo Verde. We seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief after pulling it off. Now we’ve traded out the perpetual mosquito swatting and sweat dripping of the tropical dry forest for misty winds and Three-Wattled Bellbird and Quetzal sightings in the cloud forests of Monteverde.
For a few days our focus shifted towards conducting community research, specifically by surveying residents of San Luis near our lodge at the University of Georgia Costa Rica campus. I had the pleasure of being part of a group that took a particular interest in the Three-Wattled Bellbird. This bird, locally known as Pájaro Campana, has a remarkable call that few will fail to note because it ends with a reverberating ‘bonk!’. Between protected areas in the Monteverde region and the coastal mangroves on the Pacific side lies the Corredor Biológico Pájaro Campana which seeks to enhance connectivity between the high elevation breeding zone of the Pájaro Campana and the lower elevation zones through which they migrate after reproducing.
Wild avocados called aguacatillos are a crucial food source for Pájaro Campana, one of the most sought out birds of the region, perhaps only second to the Resplendent Quetzal. Pájaro Campana is considered the most effective disperser of aguacatillos, closely linking it with the persistence of an important food source for a whole suite of species. One of the main actions occurring in the biological corridor is the planting of aguacatillos to provide stepping stones of habitat for the Pajaro Campana during its migration.
The community of San Luis de Puntarenas, next door to Monteverde, lies within the biological corridor. My group sought to determine how familiar San Luis’ residents are with the bellbird, why they value it and how willing they are to engage in the planting of aguacatillo trees to benefit the bellbird. So we set out into the community for a single day to get our answers by knocking on doors, well, actually by calling out “Upe!”, tico style, from the gate in the hopes of being invited in. We were always greeted warmly and with overflowing enthusiasm for the bellbird. It is clear that this charismatic bird has made itself known among local residents. Yet, we found an important disconnect. While most people knew the Pájaro Campana by its call and appearance and loved opportunities to see and hear it they didn’t know what it ate. After sharing with them that aguacatillos are its preferred food, most were ready and willing to plant aguacatillos on their land and even more eager to do so if some resources like fertilizer, saplings, and labor were provided.
Our findings highlight a crucial gap in effectively creating habitat for the Pájaro Campana and clarify the need for education focused specifically on the ecology of the bird. For me, this highlights the fact that in conservation efforts studying the species of interest, its needs and interactions, and establishing corridors and protected areas to benefit the species is far from enough. Understanding the perspective of the people, the human dimension of the work is a necessity. Research can and should be so much more than the cold hard quantitative data. After these few days immersed in doing community surveys, my mind is churning with ideas for incorporating community research and more outreach events in my work when I return home.