Before coming to Costa Rica, I had never heard of the three-wattled bellbird. But not long after I arrived in Monteverde I heard the male bellbird’s unique call: a “bonk” followed by a squeaky gate sound. One can often find the bellbird by following its call, and at this point almost everyone in our group has seen one in person. The males are distinct, with white heads, brown bodies, and three wattles hanging from their beaks to attract females. They can most often be found in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, right by where we are staying.
Around 20 years ago, the community started to notice a decline in bellbirds, and a scientific study, led in part by Debra Hamilton, confirmed what they were seeing. In an effort to save this keystone species, the Bellbird Biological Corridor was born. At the Monteverde Institute, Deb taught us that deforestation and habitat loss is driving the bellbird population decline, but like most conservation challenges, solving this issue is not as straightforward as planting trees and moving on. The solution does not only involve bellbirds either. Other species inhabit the same areas and may benefit from reforestation and the biodiversity that comes with it. The Bellbird Biological Corridor stretches from the mountains of Monteverde down the Pacific slope until the Gulf of Nicoya and aims to connect ecosystems and habitats in order to preserve the staggering amount of biodiversity in the region, including the bellbird.
Deb also taught us that the bellbird migrates, and spends part of the year in the lowlands on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. Lack of habitat in the lowlands impacts the same birds that can be found in Monteverde most of the year. This past week, we made the same journey as the bellbirds and traveled down to the Gulf of Nicoya to plant trees. The lowlands were extremely hot and humid and differed drastically from the Monteverde cloud forest that we had gotten used to. Despite the heat, and the abundant bugs, we planted trees on farms to both add to the Bellbird Biological Corridor, and act as windbreaks and riparian buffers.
When we weren’t planting trees, we had time to explore and learn about the area. We were in a rural part of Costa Rica and we were surrounded by wildlife. We woke up every morning to a new chorus of birds, but they were just background music compared to the screeching of the howler monkeys. The mango trees surrounding our rooms were gathering places for the monkeys, raccoons, and skunks; and we ventured to a nearby swamp and saw crocodiles and a variety of coastal birds.
I enjoyed exploring the new habitat and seeing where the bellbird spends its time away from Monteverde. It was interesting to compare the two areas and see how two incredibly different habitats can host the same species of bird, and provide a connection between them.