White-collared Swift research in Cuba

At Birders’ Exchange, we get applications for equipment donations from all sorts of worthy projects from all over Latin America and the Caribbean. Many projects concentrate on changing the attitudes of the people and educating youth. Others look to habitat protection with the hope that a whole suite of species can be protected, avian and otherwise. It seems that in the U.S. and possibly Canada, much of the current research is on habitat and suites of species – e.g., grassland birds, boreal forest birds, etc. Maybe we know a lot about most North American breeding species already? In many areas that Birders’ Exchange supports, that is not necessarily the case.

In Cuba, little is known about the White-collared Swift (Streptoprocne zonaris), a charismatic species of the subfamily Cypceloidenae which is distributed in Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The first two Cuban nesting sites of the species were reported in a cave and a waterfall in Topes de Collantes, a protected area in the mountainous region of Guamuhaya, in Cienfuego, with original population estimates from research in the mid 1980s totaling 300 individuals.

Until Nina Montes and her colleagues began their research, there had been no studies on the population dynamics of White-collared Swift in Cuba. With no population monitoring, their status on the island was unknown, thus undermining necessary conservation strategies for this species and the management of the natural area where it resides. Nina’s recent population estimates show approximately 60 individuals, a precipitous decline. Loss of forested area and transformation of flying habitat are considered the main causes of this decline.

Little is also known on the reproductive biology of this species, due mainly to the inaccessibility of their nest sites, and difficulty of detection in field studies. Although it is widely documented nesting on cliffs, behind waterfalls and in associated caves with adjacent water, the detailed study of these birds takes patience, perseverance, and good equipment.

Bioacoustics characterize this species and establishing the relationship between the vocalizations and behavior of White-collared Swifts is essential in determining accurate population size, as are behavioral observations and direct counts in the shelters the birds enter for reproduction, rest and refuge. Nina needs recording equipment, good digital photographic equipment, a binocular harness strap to keep her bins close while climbing, and a large backpack to carry all her gear.

Luckily, your donations have helped to fulfill most of those needs, however, there is additional equipment required. Nina needs a pedometer and a clinometer, as well as a portable weather station, like the meters made by Kestrel. As you may imagine, microsite conditions play a huge part in determining which sites are suitable for successful swift reproduction and Nina and her colleagues hope to learn as much as they can about site conditions in order to protect this amazing, and little understood species. Your help would be most appreciated.

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Hello my dear friends.

Last weekend I went to Topes de Collantes, the place where I work.

I used the camera from BEX for the first time. A friend photographed me working. I also achieved photos of the swifts, especially in behaviors that I had not been able to report; for example when the couples clean the feathers in the night, and protection.

I also began the study of the climate in two of the caves where the swifts sleep and nest.

I am very grateful of Birder’s Exchange. Without its help it would be very difficult to do my work. Equally I feel very committed with Birder’s Exchange and all that is in my hands to be able to help this project will be given.

Thank you for everything. We will continue to keep in contact.

NINA (Rosalina Montes, Cuba)