Last Search for the Jamaican Golden Swallow

Spoiler alert: the search occurred about three years ago. We didn’t find any Golden Swallows.

If you were a regular visitor to this site in the first half of 2015, you probably remember the slew of posts we had on the Smithsonian Institution’s expedition to Jamaica to search for the subspecies of Golden Swallow (a type of bird, in case that needs clarification). The only other known population of this species is on the island of Hispaniola, in the countries of Haiti and Dominican Republic, but the Jamaican population hadn’t been seen in about thirty years, and Justin, John and I were tasked with scouring the final remote areas of the Jamaican mountains that hadn’t been rigorously checked yet.

We camped for two months in the bush, and used Ithaca, NY as a home base for preparations and data analysis. In early 2016 we shared the formal results of our work in this informal setting, waiting to share the peer-reviewed material once it was published. And this past weekend, the Journal of Caribbean Ornithology finally published our manuscript! Part of the delay is explained by the fact that the team of editors (Justin is Managing Editor now, by the way, and I’m an Editorial Assistant) have been waiting to put together a Special Issue of the journal that focuses on Caribbean forest endemics––that is, species that are found only on certain Caribbean island forests. These species are normally at risk due to forest degradation and/or introduced predators. In fact, 40% of Caribbean forest species are categorized by the IUCN as Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened. That’s 64 unique species of birds that will increasingly be in need of further habitat protection.

As for the Golden Swallow, which was endemic to Hispaniola and Jamaica, our paper suggests that the Jamaican subspecies be declared extinct. As unfortunate as this is, our paper highlights the need for further research on Hispaniola to ensure that the remaining population of the Golden Swallow doesn’t continue to decline. The Journal of Caribbean Ornithology is open access, which means I can put the link to the first volume of the new Special Issue on Forest Endemics here and you can immediately access any of the articles in the peer-reviewed journal for free. A rare treat, if you like reading scientific literature!

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