Whimbrel tracked by scientists killed by hunters on Guadeloupe


Scientists at the Centre for Conservation Biology learned today that a Whimbrel that they had been tracking via satellite for two years as part of a migration study had been shot by a hunting party this morning on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe (French West Indies). The bird, named "Machi", had just flown through tropical storm Maria and made landfall on Montserrat before flying to Guadeloupe. Machi had been tracked for over 27,000 miles (44,000 km) back and forth between breeding grounds in the Hudson Bay Lowlands of Canada to wintering grounds on the coast of Brazil. The bird was tracked on seven non-stop flights of more than 2,000 miles. During the spring of 2010, Machi flew more than 3,400 miles directly from Brazil to South Carolina. Machi serves as an example of birds that interact with many landscapes and cultures throughout the year and a reminder of how international cooperation is required for their continued existence.

Machi being fitted with satellite transmitter in August, 2009. (Bart Paxton).

Guadeloupe, Martinique and Barbados continue to operate "shooting swamps", some of which are artificial wetlands created to attract migrant waders for sport shooting during fall migration. It is estimated that tens of thousands of waders continue to be taken annually by hunting clubs on just these three islands. This practice is a throwback to more than a century ago when hunters shot waders throughout the Americas. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed, in part, to protect dwindling numbers of birds that migrate across country borders. Operated as a French overseas department, both Guadeloupe and Martinique are part of the European Union and are not party to the Treaty. Barbados, once a British colony, is now an independent state and is also not party to the Treaty. The last Eskimo Curlew known to science was shot on Barbados in 1963. Wader hunting within these areas continues to be unregulated to the present time. Conservation organisations continue to work toward some compromise that will reduce pressures on declining species.

Worldwide, many wader populations are experiencing dramatic declines. Most of the migratory wader species breeding in eastern North America and the Arctic pass over the Caribbean region during the late summer and early autumn on their way to wintering grounds. When they encounter severe storms, the birds use the islands as refuges before moving on to their final destinations. Hunting clubs take advantage of these events and shoot large numbers of downed birds following the passage of these storms. During the 2009 and 2010 autumn migrations, Machi did not stop on any of the islands but flew directly from Virginia to Paramaribo in Suriname before moving on to winter near Sao Luis in Brazil. It appears that the encounter with tropical storm Maria caused the bird to stop on Guadeloupe.

Tracking map of Machi (2009–2011). (The Center for Conservation Biology).

Machi contributed a great deal to what we know about Whimbrel migration along the western Atlantic. Satellite tracks of this bird over four full migrations linked breeding and wintering areas, defined migration routes, identified important migration staging areas, and demonstrated how these birds interact with major tropical systems. This tracking project is a collaborative effort between The Centre for Conservation Biology, The Nature Conservancy, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, and Manomet Centre for Conservation Sciences.

Written by: Centre for Conservation Biology, Virginia Commonwealth University