Saving Darwin’s Birds

Galapagos Conservation Trust partners with Dr Sarah Darwin to shine a light on the threats facing Darwin’s birds

Vermilion flycatcher - © Prof W. G. Hale/Galapagos Conservation Trust

Dr Sarah Darwin, one of Charles Darwin’s great-great-granddaughters is spearheading a campaign, led by Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT), the UK’s only charity to focus solely on the conservation of the Galapagos Islands, to shine a light on the threats facing the lands birds of Galapagos.

This collective group of birds, which include the finches and mockingbirds, and fondly known as “Darwin’s birds”, first grew to fame due to Charles Darwin’s visit in 1835 and subsequent theory of evolution by natural selection. Approximately 80% of the birds founds in Galapagos are endemic and therefore cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Devastatingly, nearly half of these are now at risk of extinction (according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species).

Dr Sarah Darwin, who is a botanist said, “As an Ambassador of Galapagos Conservation Trust, I am aware of the incredibly important work that the Trust has undertaken since it was launched almost 25 years ago. I have been fortunate to visit the Galapagos Islands on several occasions, as part of my work as an artist and scientist. I observed many of these land birds at close quarters whilst undertaking fieldwork in Galapagos, some eating the very plants which I was trying to study! I can see the pressing need for urgent action to protect them in their native habitat.”

Floreana mockingbird - © Dr Luis Ortiz Catedral /Galapagos Conservation Trust

Galapagos Conservation Trust partners with leading scientists to support impactful conservation programmes across Galapagos Archipelago, one of the most ecologically important places in the world. A major focus of GCT’s work looks to protect Darwin’s birds at risk of extinction, including the critically endangered mangrove finch and Floreana mockingbird, along with many more listed as vulnerable including the little vermillion flycatcher.

Due to threats from invasive species, introduced by humans, such as rats, feral cats and the Philornis downsi fly, the number of land birds has been steadily decreasing, with less than 100 individuals left within some species, such as the beloved mangrove finch.

Scalesia forest habitat- © Galapagos Conservation Trust

GCT supports projects looking to restore habitat such as Scalesia forest, removing invasive plants like the blackberry bush, mora, which grows in such dense thickets that it prevents the birds from reaching the ground to feed. There are also projects to monitor nests and use insecticide treatment to stop the P. downsi fly, which feeds on chicks in the nest resulting in deformation and death. As the majority of land birds in Galapagos are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else on Earth, they are even more vulnerable to these invasive species.

GCT is running a Land Birds Appeal to raise money towards its work in protecting the Galapagos Islands, and to continue supporting these vital projects. Dr Sarah Darwin describes the Galapagos as “a truly inspiring and precious place, which I believe, we have a duty to protect”.

You can see more information about GCT’s land bird projects and donate to the appeal at galapagosconservation.org.uk/land-birds-of-galapagos

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