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Connecting Communities Across the Continent Through Birds – Cuba

2012 June 6
by Marta del Campo and Seth Inman

The House Sparrow was the bird most sighted at the Plaza de Armas, just across the Museum of Natural History in La Habana, Cuba. Photo by Raymond Belhumeur

Let’s take an imaginary flight to the Caribbean, perhaps as if we were migratory birds in the fall of the Northern Hemisphere. In these islands, we would discover so many people of all ages who want to learn about birds; both their year-long resident species and those that spend only the winter on the islands. The National Museum of Natural History in Habana, Cuba, has had a strong influence on the growing appreciation of and education about birds among Cubans. Every year they participate in the Endemic Bird Festival and lead many additional inquiry based projects and workshops for youth throughout the year. This year, one of their projects was an activity where kids spent some time drawing outside the museum, attracting the public with their artwork, and inviting them to come watch birds in a nearby city square. One never has to go far to learn about birds! All you need is the will, and a little time. This activity helped build a list of 17 species of birds seen that day, and raise awareness of birds and their urban habitat. The birds were right there in the capital city. Participants did not have to go far to watch them.  They just looked around to observe the beautiful birds. A little bit of art and a little connection to local children made people raise their eyes and start looking at the birds around them. This activity was part of the workshop “Birds, Urban Trees, and Me.”

Youth participated in activities at the museum, and invited people passing by to join the bird observations at the Plaza

Another inspiring activity that the museum arranged, also a part of this workshop, took place in a nearby park. Here, young participants had a specific question about the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a species of woodpecker that spends its winters in the Caribbean and the rest of its time in the US. They wanted to know if this bird had a preference for some trees in this park over others, so they checked 60 trees of 10 different species and found only a couple types of tree had the signature pecking holes of the sapsucker. The results of this simple study stimulated a wonderful discussion among the participants about the relationship of birds and their habitat. Generating awareness about how certain trees and not others could help birds. When you observe birds, do you also come up with questions about them and their habitat? Curiosity. What a wonderful quality!

Recently, Cuban biologists and educators who lead many citizen science and environmental education projects throughout the island visited the Cornell Lab. We hope that they will take new ideas and knowledge about birds and about our different programs and citizen-science projects to their communities in Cuba. Our collaboration strengthens the Lab, as we learn from strong and creative research and educational initiatives in Cuba, and they have an opportunity to learn from the Lab, our programs, and our scientists. It is so wonderful to collaborate with diverse groups across the globe. We can all help each other, as well as the birds, all over the world.


Youth observed the characteristic holes made by the migratory Woodpeckers on local trees

Next time, I will tell you about our collaborators in Uruguay, in South America. What wonderful activities connected to birds and their habitat they are holding in their communities!

If you would like to learn more about some of our partner organization across the continent and the Caribbean Islands, visit

Until next time!

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