With the tropical afternoon light shining through the fields and trees near their homes, a group of children admires a stately West Mexican Chachalaca, a turkey-like bird of dry thorn forests. They are part of an environmental education project called Sal a Pajarear in the Mexican state of Jalisco. The group, which operates in coastal villages, was founded a little over a year and a half ago, and in that time some 115 students, aged 8 to 11, have learned about the importance of a healthy ecosystem by watching birds. They’ve also managed to become the state’s leading eBird checklist contributors.
Sal a Pajarear, which translates to “Go Out Birding,” is led by Francisco Ramirez from the nonprofit Club El Tamarindo. The project began with the help of Cornell Lab of Ornithology board member Claudia Madrazo and is supported by the Fundación de la Costa de Jalisco. It’s an effort to get locals invested in the area’s remarkable bird life.
Project coordinators visit villages to choose instructors (typically teachers interested in ecology) and train them to identify birds. Once ready, those instructors go to local schools to give an introductory presentation to the pupils. They each select a group of 10 interested students.
This group of students spends three days together, playing games as well as learning about birds, binoculars, and field guides. In order to fit in with the children’s daily lives, the project continues as a series of monthly outings that last from 90 minutes to 2 hours, and some go birding more often than this. The instructor later uploads the group’s sightings to eBird.
The results entered so far are enough to make any North American birder envious. En route to becoming the top eBird contributor in the state, Sal a Pajarear has held workshops for some 900 children and sighted more than 18,000 birds. They’ve seen a total of 201 species and logged 375 hours in the field. Among the participants’ favorite birds are the chachalaca, Citreoline Trogon, Lilac-crowned Parrot, and Orange-breasted Bunting.
Ramirez explained how the project has changed both the instructors’ and the participants’ lives. The children no longer hunt birds, he said, and have begun sharing information from the project with their peers and family. On outings, they make a point of picking up trash, and have also organized other environment-related activities, such as releasing baby sea turtles hatched from eggs collected by Fundación de la Costa de Jalisco.
Some students are learning the scientific nomenclature and are convinced they will become biologists or ornithologists someday. “We are contributing with our grain of sand for the planet’s conservation,” Ramirez said, “and these children will spread the seeds to multiply their effect.”
Originally published in the Winter 2012 issue of BirdScope.
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