In 2008, Cornell University in the United States began a scientific study entitled Golondrinas de Las Americas, a collaborative effort aimed at better understanding the reproductive life histories of one genus of swallows, the Tachycinetas, a group of nine birds whose breeding grounds collectively span the length of the Western Hemisphere – from Alaska in the north to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina in the south. Soon after the project’s initiation, members of the project teamed up with local Dominican biologists to begin a long term study on one of these birds, the threatened Golden Swallow (Tachycineta euchrysea sclateri) now thought to be solely endemic to the island of Hispaniola. A methodology was implemented to study the birds within Parque Nacional Juan Bautista Pérez Rancier (Valle Nuevo) by erecting a network of artificial nest boxes, a framework that had been previously successful with other congeners. These nest boxes would mimic natural tree cavities often created by woodpeckers, but differ in that their design would allow researchers to easily gain access to the nest and thus a large amount of potential information regarding the demographics, survival, and reproductive success of the species. Additionally, the nest boxes would be equipped with predator guards that in turn offer the Golden Swallows a safe and reliable place to raise and fledge their young – a critical element in developing an effective conservation plan for the species.
In an effort to support local stewardship over this endemic bird as well as secure the longevity of the research, the Golden Swallow Project has fundamentally grown from a basic scientific study to a multifaceted collaboration. An array of groups and organizations are taking responsibility for different aspects of the project, including educational outreach on the community level, partnerships with local universities, nest-box monitoring, and study-site amplification. The goal is to maintain and promote unity amongst all of these stakeholders and the people they represent through their common interest – the preservation of their endemic wildlife.
The Golden Swallow (GOSW) is a rare and poorly known passerine endemic to Hispaniola, an island within the Greater Antilles archipelago of the Caribbean (Raffaele 1998). Members of the Hirundinidae family, GOSW are small aerial insectivores best described by their Spanish common name, La Golondrina Verde (The Green Swallow), as the iridescence on the crown, nape, mantle, and back is more a metallic green than gold. These passerines have long wings that allow them to hunt for prolonged periods of time in the air while making extremely fast adjustments in flight to catch their food. Incapable of excavating their own nest cavities, GOSW have been observed nesting under the eaves of houses, within tree cavities (Bond 1943), and in holes within abandoned bauxite mines (Fernandez & Keith 2003; Townsend 2008). Two subspecies of GOSW have been described (Cory 1886), with the nominate subspecies (T. euchrysea euchrysea) in Jamaica thought to have been extirpated from the island in the late 1980’s (Raffaele 1998, Graves 2014, Proctor et al. in review). The remaining race, sclateri, is found predominantly in the Cordillera Central and Sierra de Bahoruco mountain chains of the Dominican Republic and within the Massif du Nord, Massif de la Hotte and Massif de la Selle in Haiti (Raffaele 1998; Townsend 2008). GOSW population trends have shown evidence of decline over the past few decades (Dod 1992; Birdlife International 2000; Keith 2003); though some localized populations may have recently stabilized (Rimmer 2004). Some authors attribute this decline to habitat loss and degradation within specific montane forests (Keith 2003) – a concern echoed by scientists studying the congener T. cyaneoviridis in the Bahamas (Allen 1996). Others have highlighted increased nest depredation by invasive mongoose and rats (Townsend 2006). As a result of these aforementioned pressures, GOSW is a species of conservation concern currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN’s Red List (IUCN 2013).