if aves they are everywhere, have different colors and shapes, emit different sounds and have the enviable ability to fly. No wonder we humans feel so connected to the symbolism of beauty and freedom. Knowing no boundaries, birds participate in seed dispersal, pollination, and pest control. They are also messengers of the level of environmental quality and animals that are easier to observe and record than medium and large mammals. For all these reasons, experts have consulted by: a planet celebrate the bird watching tourism due to its potential for conservation and local development. Without standing forests there are no branches to land on, no fruit to propagate, no life to cultivate.
Brazil has the second largest number of recorded bird species in the world: 1,971, second only to Colombia, according to the Brazilian Committee for Ornithological Registration. And it ranks first in America in the inglorious list of endangered birds, with 166 species listed. In the world, only Indonesia surpasses our country on the Red List of Threatened Species on a global scale drawn up by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). “This reinforces the importance of a society more involved in preserving the environment and bird watchers are prime examples of this involvement,” emphasizes Pedro Develey, Executive Director of SAVE Brasil (Sociedade para Conservação das Aves do Brasil).
O bird watching has grown in Brazil: there are already 50,000 observers in the country, Pedro estimates, given the lack of official data on the subject. The growth potential is enormous. In the United States, the practice brings together 45 million observers, who move more than $40 billion a year, according to figures released by the US agency. United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, the value is equivalent to a third of Brazil’s agricultural exports in 2021 ($120.59 billion). While monocultures of soy and cellulose and cattle grazing in the country are causing deforestation and loss of biodiversity, Birdwatching moves the economy by promoting ecosystem conservation and making natural areas visible†
“You only keep what you know and what you like. The taste of being in the natural environment, seeing the birds, makes the tourist value of that environment. Every observer is a conservationist because he needs the environment to be able to observe the birds,” he says.
Golden Sarucuá: a rare species seen in the APAs of Barreiro Rico and Tanquã-Rio Piracicaba, in São Paulo. — Photo: WikimediaCommons
The practice consists of observing native birds, identifying and photographing them in natural spaces. In the world there are about 11 thousand species. Some observers set goals such as observing and recording all types of hummingbirds, toucans, bem-te-fish and other species. “This is very healthy. It’s like creating a large collection of birds, but to maintain them, you also have to maintain their natural habitat,” explains Pedro, noting that it has been scientifically proven that in nature benefits human health and bird watching is one of the ways to make this contact.
Interest in conservation
Birdwatchers’ commitment to environmental conservation was instrumental in establishing two Environmental Protection Areas (APAs) in São Paulo: Barreiro Rico and Tanquã-Rio Piracicaba. “In birdwatching, there was pressure to create protected areas in that region,” said researcher Andréa Soares Pires of Fundação Florestal de São Paulo.
All in the name of preserving local biodiversity, including four species of birds that are only found there, points out Valdir Felipe Paulete, biologist and birdwatching guide at APA Barreiro Rico. They are: red-legged, golden-breasted, bullet-billed woodpecker and giant duck. “These species represent the importance of this forest, how much it has been preserved for a long time and how important it is for biodiversity,” he explains.
Another example of conservation influenced by birdwatching was the creation of the Rolinha-do-Planalto Nature Reserve, a 593 hectare area purchased by the environmental organization Rainforest Trust and managed by SAVE Brasil in partnership with the State Institute of Forests of Minas Gerais, General . The reserve was created in 2018 from an effort to protect the last 12 specimens of the plateau pigeon, which were sighted there after the species was considered extinct 74 years earlier.
Bufador Woodpecker: Important for local biodiversity, species led to the establishment of Environmental Conservation Areas (APA) in SP. — Photo: WikimediaCommons
Collaborating with science
By including photos and lists of observed species on public access platforms, such as eBird and WikiAves, observers also contribute to the generation of information about the avifauna. The data is accessible to researchers, who feed their scientific production with it, in a collaboration of citizen science†
The Morro do Diabo State Park, in São Paulo, had 70 unpublished bird records by 63 birdwatchers over a decade, biologist Andréa Pires says in her article “Collaborative monitoring: ‘citizen science’ attributes new values to people and Conservation.” Of the total, seven were unpublished records, that is, of birds that had never been cataloged in the region, such as the bluebird and the tiê-de-banda.
The discovery could provide hypotheses for scientific research into phenomena such as the threat to these birds’ natural habitats and climate change that could force their migration, Andréa adds. “The erosion of species is latent and we can no longer do without daily information from these sites,” defends Andréa, adding that more than half of the records (36) were originally published in one of them, such as WikiAves.
According to 2019 data, WikiAves has already been cited in at least 80 publications, helping to identify bird occurrences in different areas and internal migrations, in addition to providing information for the Red Book of the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio). on endangered species. By promoting birdwatching, the site is one of those responsible for the increase in the practice in Brazil. In 2020 alone, 3,560 people registered, last year more than 40,000 observers joined the platform – a 50% increase from 2019.
According to Pedro, the observers working in Brazil represent a number up to a thousand times greater than the number of ornithologists (scientists specializing in birds) currently working in the country, which is very important to improve the production of scientific knowledge.
Citizen science: Observers also contribute to the generation of information about the avifauna. — Photo: SAVE Brazil
Development of the local economy
Hosting bird watchers, cities with well-preserved natural areas are developing with ecotourism. Inns, restaurants, craft professionals and specialized guides are in high demand, boosting the local economy. Such is the case in the municipality of Boa Nova, in Bahia. Since birds were threatened by the practice of hunting these animals, the city received a project from SAVE Brasil in 2002, which resulted in the creation of the Boa Nova National Park.
Today it is one of the largest birding destinations in the country, with the slogan “Boa Nova, paradise for birds”. Inns and restaurants opened and former hunters and bird breeders in the region became guides, such as Sidiney Vitorino da Silva, known as Sidy. “I was a bird breeder, I learned this practice from my grandfather, from my father… It was that thing that was passed down from generation to generation,” he says. “But after I got to know birding, that chain in my family was broken. Today we fight to keep it.”
Sidy says Boa Nova was fundamental in his ecological training. It was in the city that is home to more than 400 species that he learned about the variety of birds and the appropriate conditions under which they occur in specific biomes, from the caatinga to the Atlantic forest. And pass that knowledge on now. In addition to working as a guide, he is also a bird watcher and creates exhibitions of the photographs, which he presents to children in schools, thus planting the culture of conservation in the new generations.
Another performance by Sidy is introducing the tie bird, a rare species and a local symbol, to farmers in the region. He explains the difficulties the animal faces and the importance of preserving its natural habitat so that the species is no longer threatened. The guide is proud to see Boa Nova flourish and be a part of its sustainable development. “The city breathes birdwatching today. It specializes in serving this audience that comes from outside to bird watch and grew with it. We’ve taken a step forward.”
Like Sidy’s practice, Pedro believes that: Birdwatching can encourage even greater environmental commitment† “If a birdwatcher finds an important area for a particular species, they should ask themselves if that spot can become a protected area, find out who owns it, if it’s a private area, and talk about it,” he suggests. Integration of civil society organizations and participation in municipal environmental councils facilitate dialogue on the subject and make it possible to influence the development of government policy. Pedro also remembers the importance of donating to environmental NGOs, as is the case with SAVE itself. “Conservation costs,” he says.
Event “Vem Passarinhar”, held by SAVE Brasil in a leisure park in São Paulo. — Photo: Forest Foundation of Sao Paulo
Another challenge is to popularize the practice, which usually brings together people with high purchasing power, who are able to travel, purchase and maintain high-quality optical equipment. In the Birds, free observation events that take place all over Brazil, guides accompany interested groups, borrow binoculars and encourage cell phone recordings.
Pedro recalls that during the most recent event promoted by SAVE in São Paulo, in conjunction with the City Hall, about 100 people came to Parque Anhanguera to visit “passarinhar”. And he shares the NGO’s dream of creating a birdwatching center in Paraisópolis, the second largest peripheral community in the city.
For those who have no plans to go deep into the forest for the time being, how about the birds of the street, the neighborhood and the city itself? Andréa, from Fundação Florestal de SP, gives tips on mobile applications that help in the mission of bringing birdwatching closer to our daily lives. With Merlin it is possible to identify a bird from a captured photo, while in BirdNET the identification is done via audio, encouraging the distinction of birds by sound. Just walk around with your eyes and ears open. “Let’s go bird watching!” she invites.