BirdLife Partner

Protecting Panama’s Important Bird Areas

Of Panama’s 88 Important Bird Areas (IBAs), 27 are formally protected at the national level in their entirety, while four others are protected in part. Of the globally important sites, 26 are protected at the national level, in whole or in part. Since the initial phases of the IBA program, PAS has been working for the conservation of IBAs in Panama, especially those that contain threatened, endemic, and biome-restricted species. Two of these sites, both globally important and unprotected, were determined to be of particularly high priority for protection: El Chorogo-Palo Blanco, important for the endemic species of the western lowlands of Panama, and the Upper Bay of Panama, the most important area for migratory shorebirds in the country.

With an area of 1,000 ha, the El Chorogo-Palo Blanco IBA is the largest area of intact forest remaining in Pacific western Panama below 1000 m altitude. The forest extends for approximately 10 km along the ridge forming the Panama-Costa Rica border, and contains the best remaining example of the original avifauna of the western Pacific lowlands. A total of 28 threatened, endemic or biome-restricted species are present, nine of which are not found in any protected area. El Chorogo is the best site in Panama for the globally Near Threatened and nationally Critically Endangered Baird’s Trogon and for White-crested Coquette, Golden-naped Woodpecker, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper and Spot-crowned Euphonia. The globally threatened Turquoise Cotinga (Vulnerable) and Yellow-billed Cotinga (Endangered) have also been recorded, and the Great Curassow persists. Several nationally threatened subspecies are also found here.

El Chorogo-Palo Blanco was considered to be the highest priority IBA for conservation because of the high number of threatened and endemic birds found only there, and because it is essentially unprotected and critically endangered by ongoing deforestation. In 2001 PAS was able to purchase 83 ha at the site with financial support from the Amos W. Butler Audubon Society of Indianapolis through the American Bird Conservancy; to date, a total of 283 ha have been purchased by PAS and its associates and established as private reserves. Additionally, PAS and other environmental associations have nominated the El Chorogo-Palo Blanco IBA for Wildlife Reserve status, a proposal currently being evaluated by the National Authority for the Environment.

Just east of Panama City lies the Upper Bay of Panama IBA, an area that includes mangroves and extensive tidal mudflats (up to 3 km wide) extending for 70 km to the mouth of the La Maestra River. This is one of the most important staging and wintering sites for migratory shorebirds in the Americas, with an estimated 1.3 million small shorebirds passing through during each autumn migration. Western Sandpiper is by far the most abundant species, and it is estimated that 31.5% of its global population passes through the area each year. Significant numbers of Semipalmated Sandpiper, Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers, Willet, Whimbrel, and Short-billed Dowitcher also use the area. The largest concentrations are found in the western part of the site, the end closest to Panama City and, thus, the part most threatened by urban development as the city spreads eastwards.

In 1998 PAS proposed the Upper Bay of Panama for protection as an important wetland under the Ramsar Convention. After securing funds for the additional studies required in support of this proposal, which included extensive work with the rural communities that surround the IBA, the site was included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance in 2003. Then in 2005 the site became the first in Central America to join the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network as a site of Hemispheric Importance. PAS continues to work closely with a cluster of communities, offering workshops and awareness programs to its residents; we also offer educational programs to a number of Panama City primary schools located near the mangroves.

The Panama Important Bird Area Program was the first large-scale project that PAS embarked on, and one that has guided most of our efforts in these 14 years. Although we’ve accomplished a lot, there is clearly much work left to do. A number of globally important IBAs still lack any type of protection, and even National Parks are protected mainly on paper. So PAS continues its work on research, environmental education, community involvement, and raising public awareness on the importance of preserving our birds and our natural heritage for future generations of Panamanians.

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