Taking Flight! Children’s Love of Birds Inspires Hope for the Amazon

Field Notes From the Amazon

Oct. 30, 2019 CONAPAC partner communities celebrated the first el Gran Sui Sui” bird festival

Taking Flight! Children’s Love of Birds Inspires Hope for the Amazon

Authors:  Brian Landever, Director of CONAPAC & Christa Dillabaugh, Director of the Morpho Institute

What happens when you mix 1000+ students, 250 teachers, 75 binoculars, 26 remote Amazon rainforest communities, a host of international partners, and one ecolodge?  An incredible bird education project in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon! 

Most recently, 26 remote Amazon rainforest schools and communities participated in the first ever bird festivals in the Peruvian department of Loreto.  Teachers, students and families awoke early to travel on foot and by boat to festival sites along the Amazon River to celebrate their newfound passion for birds through art, music, and dance. 

Thanks to CONAPAC and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, students from pre-school to high school are learning about their local birds and how to protect their Amazon habitats.  They are taking to the forest and riverbanks and are engaging in outdoor, project-based activities that focus on the region’s bird species, behavior, nesting, diet, habitat, cultural stories, and more. During the bird festivals high school students engaged in activist theatre, portraying stories of birds fighting to retake their habitat after being encroached upon. Other students shared their beautiful and detailed portraits of favorite birds and carefully crafted replica bird nests.  One high school senior rapped about birds’ beauty and the tragedy of losing them. Another 14-year-old young woman’s dramatic poetry about respecting birds in nature left watchers teary-eyed. Groups of younger students were happy to be included too, sharing well-practiced songs about birds’ beauty. One mother even rose to share an unsolicited folk song about the Blue-gray Tanager.

The impact of this collaborative effort is visible. Children are showing excitement for the natural world, and their parents are following suit.  Most importantly, these activities are showing concrete increases in bird conservation. Students are heard stopping their classmates from killing birds, and their parents are reporting no longer hunting birds in unsustainable ways.  

This all began in 2015, when the Morpho Institute partnered with CONAPAC’s Amazon Library to sponsor the first bird education teacher training. We invited Lilly Briggs, from Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) to lead the workshop with Explorama Lodges naturalist guide and bird expert, Lucio Pando. What has happened since is nothing short of miraculous!   

In 2017, CONAPAC formalized a partnership with the CLO “Celebrate Birds” citizen science team.  Led by  Karen Purcell, Amazon teachers began co-developing bird conservation instructional materials that are engaging, fun, and culturally sensitive.   In 2018, teachers were invited to attend bi-monthly meetings with the CLO team.  A WhatsApp group was formed for excited teachers to share their photos and to motivate one another.

In early 2019, the impact of the program was visible when students presented unsolicited, elaborate skits and dances related to bird conservation during CONAPAC’s visits to their communities. Thousands of photos of class projects began to fill the WhatsApp group.  As the instigator of this effort, The Morpho Institute couldn’t be happier with the results.  More importantly, the project’s major funder, the JBQ Charitable Foundation has stated that their funding could not have been used in a better manner!

The most recent teacher training workshop, hosted by Explorama Lodge on the Napo River, was opened by the Amazon teachers themselves.  Just like their students, they came prepared with creative songs, photo-realistic sketches of birds, and enthusiastic presentations of what they had accomplished to date with their students. The entire week was festive, productive, and further prepared the teachers with strong class curriculum. The students in turn are receiving motivated class sessions and can see that they have become part of something that is expanding and being appreciated worldwide.

Today there are 250 dedicated Amazon teachers working with CONAPAC and CLO to implement an impressive bird education program with dynamic lesson plans, geographically relevant instructional materials, creative communication methods, and culturally embedded evaluations!   The culmination of our efforts in addition to the recent bird festivals has surpassed everyone’s expectations.

The potential for this program to have a positive environmental and social impact is clear. As it gains more attention in Peru and internationally, it will add momentum to the global movement to respect and conserve the Amazon rainforest. We are excited that students and community members will greatly expand the database of birds from this region using CLO’s eBird citizen science tools.  The Peruvian Board of Education has even expressed interest in implementing the CONAPAC/CLO training and materials in other areas of Peru! 

The Morpho Institute is proud to support this growing movement via our Amazon Binocular Project. When children hold up a pair of binoculars and focus on a familiar bird for the first time, their faces light up with glee. When binoculars are left in their communities, students become experts on the behaviors and habitats of their local birds.

You can support this effort to give Amazon students the tools they need to deepen their appreciation of their local birds and support their teachers in taking bird education to new heights!

If you would like to give the gift of binoculars, please donate to the Amazon Binocular Project:   https://morphoinstitute.org/amazon-binocular-project/

If you would like to support Amazon Teacher Training Workshops, please donate to CONAPAC at www.conapac.org

SPECIAL THANKS to Phil Kahler and the students at Tuatlin Valley Academy for their support of this effort. And to our Peruvian ABP partners and extraordinary naturalist guides, Percy Reyuna and Cesar Sevillano, for sharing their love of birds with Amazon students! And also to Pam Bucur, from Explorama Lodges, who helps us keep organized and get the binoculars where they need to go!

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