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Nature conservation projects

Part of SWAROVSKI OPTIK’s core activities involves exciting people about the beauty of nature and encouraging them, as guests, to treat it with consideration and respect, and to protect the diversity of species. With the situation for wildlife becoming increasingly dire due to altered habitats, environmental pollution, and many other man-made factors, SWAROVSKI OPTIK is demonstrating its commitment to threatened birds and other wildlife by participating in science-based conservation programs. One such project is the Canada Warbler International Conservation Initiative, launched by BirdLife International in 2013 as a new project within their global Preventing Extinctions Programme.


Neotropical migratory species breeding in temperate forests in North America and wintering in tropical forests in Central and South America have shown serious declines in their populations over recent decades. An important part of these losses are due to pressures on the forest ecosystems they inhabit, caused by logging, conversion of forests into pastures and cropland, forest fires, urbanization, and hunting and capturing for the illegal pet trade. One of the most charismatic and beautiful groups of Neotropical forest migrants is the Wood Warbler (family Parulidae). Several species in the family are considered to be of global or regional conservation concern, including the Golden-cheeked Warbler Setophaga chrysoparia, Kirtland’s Warbler Setophaga kirtlandii, Cerulean Warbler Setophaga cerulea, and the Golden-winged Warbler Vermivora chrysoptera. Concern for these species has triggered global initiatives for their conservation that have benefited both the target species and additional species of conservation concern through a suite of habitat conservation measures. While the breeding ranges of these four species are relatively restricted, the Canada Warbler Wilsonia canadensis has a wide breeding range, which stretches over a large part of Canada and southward into the northern United States of America. Given this extensive breeding range, it is particularly worrying that the Canada Warbler is suffering a significant decline in numbers. Although not yet considered Globally Threatened, the decline has led to the species being listed as a Bird of Conservation Concern at a national level in the USA (USFWS 2008: Birds of Conservation Concern 2008) and is considered “Endangered” in Canada (COSEWIC 2012).


The Canada Warbler is a distinctive species of the family Parulidae. The male’s plumage is vibrant, while females and younger male birds that are still not sexually mature have a much more discreet coloring. The Canada Warbler predominantly inhabits the boreal forests of North America, mainly the boreal region of south-east Canada and the north-east of the USA (Reitsma et al. 2010). They can be found in an extremely large variety of forest types during the breeding season. Although the Canada Warbler mainly prefers wet mixed forests, offering well-developed undergrowth, it also inhabits moor areas, red maple trees, cedar bushes, as well as swamp and alluvial forests dominated by black spruce trees. The species is a Neotropical migrant that leaves its breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere to spend the non-breeding season in the southern hemisphere, primarily in northwestern South America, in rainforest and cloud forest between about 500-2000 m/1,640- 6,562 ft in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, with small numbers also reaching Bolivia, and a few birds perhaps wintering in southern Central America (deGraaf & Rappole 1995, Reitsma et al. 2010). It is assumed that the species migrates only over land, crossing the south of the USA and Central America. During its migration it prefers to seek shelter at forest edges, in areas bordering rivers, and in well-developed undergrowth.


Although not yet officially classified as a Globally Threatened species, the Canada Warbler’s population trend is decreasing significantly (Fig. 1). Data from the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) suggest that, between 1968 and 2007, the population decreased by 4.5% per year, which is the equivalent of losing approximately 85% of the population during that time (COSEWIC 2008). In addition, in the last two decades, the population has decreased by 5.4% per year, which is equivalent to a 43% reduction in the population during that time. These falls are even more apparent in the eastern breeding grounds, which is where most of the population choose to breed (COSEWIC 2008). The main reasons for the species’ decline are still unclear. However, it is believed to be mainly the result of the high mortality rate caused by the loss and degradation of habitat in its breeding, migration, and wintering grounds.


Knowledge of a species’ ecology and demography throughout its lifecycle is the key to understanding the factors leading to population decline or limited population growth. Until now, there has been no wide-scale action to fill these key information gaps and to start to address the decline of the Canada Warbler. The Canada Warbler project was launched in June 2013 during BirdLife International’s World Congress in Ottawa, Canada. The aim is to devise a global lifecycle conservation strategy for the species, combining wintering and migration stopover information with a national Canadian recovery strategy. This can help launch immediately priority research and urgent conservation actions.


1) Establish a “Canada Warbler Conservation Partnership” that plans, develops, and coordinates the implementation of a full lifecycle conservation strategy. 

2) Determine winter distribution, identify important wintering and migratory stopover habitats and priority areas for conservation sites, and identify threats and harmful impacts. 

3) Improve understanding of the characteristics of high-quality wintering habitat and habitat management in the wintering grounds. 

4) Communicate the importance of Canada Warbler conservation and habitat management to key stakeholders. 

5) Implement high-priority conservation actions identified in the full lifecycle conservation strategy.

Though focusing on the Canada Warbler as “a flagship” for biodiversity protection in Boreal Forests, the project generally has a multi-species, landscape conservation approach, coordinating with existing and new partnerships, and builds upon existing conservation initiatives and plans. 


At the beginning of the project, a range-wide planning meeting was held at the fifth Partners in Flight Conference in Utah (USA) in August 2013. 23 participants representing 22 organizations, including three national BirdLife Partners, 10 other NGOs, five government agencies and four universities attended the event. During the meeting it was agreed to form the “Canada Warbler International Conservation Initiative,” which it subsequently achieved. The results of the range-wide planning meeting and financial support provided by SWAROVSKI OPTIK have been used to leverage additional funds from the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and the US Forest Service-International Programs (USFS-IP). This has helped compile valuable data on the Canada Warbler’s wintering range and ecology. More recently, a very successful regional workshop for the non-breeding range states of the Canada Warbler was organized and ran from September 30 – October 2, 2014 in Bogota, Colombia. Participants at the workshop came from 10 countries in South and Central America, and also included Canadians. The workshop resulted in the identification of valuable information regarding the status and distribution of the species during the non-breeding season. This is now being used to develop a new International Species Conservation Plan. The Canada Warbler project has already received wide attention from the media, with coverage on many websites, and in bulletins and newsletters, reaching a broad public throughout the world.


The next steps in the project include finishing a first draft of the Canada Warbler Conservation Plan and undertaking further ecological research in Colombia and searches for the species during its spring migration in Honduras and Nicaragua (February-March 2015). A workshop is also being organized for the breeding range states of the Canada Warbler in Canada, which will be held in March 2015. The results of this workshop will also been incorporated into the International Species Conservation Plan that is being developed.

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