Beginning today, the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB)[1], the largest single organization devoted to wildlife conservation within the Caribbean, launches month-long activities celebrating the frequently ignored, but never-the-less wealthy and diverse Caribbean culture as this relates to wild birds. These festivities, under the theme "Celebrating Birds in Culture," will form the 8th annual Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival (CEBF), which will commence on Earth Day 22 April [2] through to International Biodiversity Day on 22 May [3]. Building on previous festivals by the Society, this year’s festival will go to the heart of Caribbean cultural heritage by providing numerous opportunities to focus on both popular culture that has been inspired by, and referenced birds, such as the music of the legendary Reggae artist Robert Nesta (Bob) Marley with his song "Three Little Birds" to more historical and anthropological perspectives on the value of birds beginning with the early pre-Columbian societies of the region.


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In launching this year’s festival, Dr. Lisa Sorenson [4], President of the SCSCB, noted that "birds have long been revered in Caribbean native cultures. Birds were celebrated as sacred because they could "effortlessly bridge the sky and earth." Although the Tainos hunted birds for food, kept parrots, and prized feathers, they lived in harmony with nature, and fish, birds, and other wildlife were abundant." Sorenson also said that the important theme of "Celebrating Birds in Culture" is one that the Society will continue to further emphasize and investigate in the Society’s biennial conference to be held this summer in Antigua in the Eastern Caribbean. The theme of that conference is "Beyond the Beach—Birds and Tourism for Sustainable Islands." Sorenson remarked that as the Caribbean seeks to break away from the traditional sun, sea, and sand tourism image, the Caribbean is ideally poised to reinvent itself as a top bird-tourism destination which could potentially revolutionize community-based tourism and related rural livelihood programs on the islands.

According to historians, there is a fascinating diversity of popular, folk, and traditional use, and valuation of wild birds and other wildlife that needs to be captured, properly documented, publicized, and celebrated. Sorenson notes that the Caribbean islands have approximately 208 resident species of bird, of which an astonishing 72% are found nowhere else on the planet. Historian and anthropologist Dr. Lynne Guitar [5] remarked that these birds have served as personal companions, food, inspiration for religion, the performing and visual arts, and folk-legend for the more than 5,000 years that the Caribbean has been inhabited. "And today we have many of our birds as key national symbols, not only because of their beauty and their uniqueness to our respective territories, but also because in many ways they embody our aspirations of flight to greater heights and achievements as a people".

Over its 8-year history the primary purpose of the increasingly popular Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival has been to increase public awareness of the region’s exceptionally rich and threatened bird life, using the Caribbean’s celebrated endemic birds as flagships of nature conservation as a whole. The annual Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival, which has attracted tens of thousands of participants since its inception, has been described by many as an effective vehicle for environmental education and as an appealing program for engaging the wider Caribbean society to appreciate nature in ways that are fun and interesting [6]. Festival activities include a diverse array of public events including nature hikes and bird-watching excursions, seminars, photographic exhibitions, art, song and costume competitions, church services, tree plantings, theatrical productions, media campaigns, and public discussions and debates, all in recognition of the region’s rich natural-cultural heritage and bird life [7].

Sheylda Díaz-Méndez, Regional Festival Coordinator remarked, "This year we are again excited to see what our incredibly creative local organizers and partners, that bridge so many language, dialects, cultures, and backgrounds, will bring to this uniquely Caribbean festival of nature. We are very excited about the continued growth of the Festival and will, as in the past years, have a stream of activities designed to get people out of their houses to enjoy wild birds and all of nature. But we will also be mindful of the fact that the Caribbean’s natural beauty, its birds and their habitats are still at risk of being lost [8]. So unquestionably one of our messages to the public will be that we must all work to safeguard what is our collective unique natural heritage from the factors and forces that might destroy them."