Viewpoint: Saving the feathered jewels of Cuba



By Michael J. Good

I had an opportunity to be an ambassador to Cuba 19 years ago and led my first Cuba bird survey in a country whose ecology I have now come to love as deeply as my own home. During February 2022, I am looking forward to leading a Cuban bird survey with my friend and colleague Jim Wright, author of the recently published book “The Real James Bond” and a team of birders for Caribbean Conservation Trust. 

I have come to know Cuba’s vital importance to the ecological stability of America and our continent’s bird populations. For example, 80 percent of the black-throated blue warbler population overwinter in Cuba and there are over a hundred species of birds, including many of our eastern warblers, that winter in Cuba too. Cuba and America are connected by our birds. 

America must allow Cuba to thrive socially and ecologically. A degraded Cuba and the uncertainties of climate change create an unprecedented national security threat to our nations if we cannot find solutions to the current economic threats from the Cuban embargo. America’s government must end the Cuban embargo because our economies are both dependent on healthy and thriving ecological systems. 

Over these decades of work in Cuba, I have met some of the most hard working and creative people, seen the dedication of the Cuban people and have watched them overcome the complexities of political upheaval and now the COVID-19 madness instigated by the former American president. 

Nothing over the last four years has made much sense and the degradation of Cuba, out of total spite and malice, is one of the most colossal blunders of American national policy, one with potentially devastating ecological ramifications for our collective bird populations and posing a serious national security threat to both Cuba and America. 

During my amazing years of travel in Cuba, I have met some of the most intriguing, talented people and ornithologists, all dedicated to a deeper understanding of Cuba. Almost the entire eastern U.S. bird flyway travels to or through Cuba. America is connected to Cuba ecologically and therefore America must find political pathways that maintain the ecological stability currently found in Cuba. Cuba’s ecology and ecological health is vital to the ecological security of the U.S. 

Cuban and American ornithologists are also increasingly concerned about the illegal Cuban caged bird trade currently allowed to function in the open throughout Cuba. Migratory birds breeding in North America are caught in nets and other despicable ways along the northern coastlines of Cuba during the fall migration. These wild birds are then sold and bought by Cuban people and sold through the illegal bird trade.  

Because of these unchecked policies, wild bird populations are suffering because the Cuban government has decided to turn a blind eye to the destruction of migratory birds. This makes no sense because of the ecotourism generated in Cuba each year by the bird-watching industry. In America, we enacted the vitally important Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and this is exactly what ornithologists would like the Cuban government to do – pass laws to stop the possession of wild birds and stop the caged bird trade. This unchecked practice is devastating thousands and thousands of vitally important birds who die needlessly every year in Cuba when they should be performing ecological services, like eating pest insects or making us all happy by singing in our forests for the tourism industry. 

“Why Cuba?” has been a question often asked of me over the years. First of all, I had the opportunity to study wintering neotropical bird populations on a pelagic island where many of our eastern American breeding ducks, warblers, vireos and flycatchers cohabitate forests, fields and waters with Cuba’s endemic species. Understanding these interactions and relationships helps me as a biologist to explain better to students the intricacies of migration and an opportunity to photograph the jewels of Cuba so you can see them too. 

 

Michael J. Good is the president of Down East Nature Tours in Bar Harbor and lead biologist for Caribbean Conservation Trust in Hamden, Conn., which is committed to the conservation of native and migratory birds and their habitats in the greater Caribbean region, specifically in Cuba and Puerto Rico, and including all islands within the Caribbean basin. The CCT’s regional scope includes the study of neotropical migrant bird species moving between North America and the greater Caribbean region, focusing on birds from the East and Midwest of the U.S. 

 

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