The High-Speed Hummingbird Collisions of Monteverde

Rose Marie Menacho Odio, a researcher from Costa Rica, urges caution in nature tourism. She highlights the harm caused by infrastructure to wildlife, suggesting practical measures to save birds and animals from collisions, road accidents, and electrocution.

The High-Speed Hummingbird Collisions of Monteverde
This agile hummingbird, resembling a tiny airborne acrobat, defies gravity with its rapid wings and vibrant plumage. Image by Domenic Hoffmann from Pixabay

In a world teeming with picturesque landscapes and exotic wildlife, the allure of nature tourism is undeniable. Yet, as more travelers seek adventures in the great outdoors, a lurking dilemma emerges: the detrimental impact of human infrastructure on wildlife. Rose Marie Menacho Odio, a dedicated researcher from the Universidad Estatal a Distancia de Costa Rica, has raised a clarion call for change.

Recently, Menacho Odio was invited to the hallowed halls of UNAM to participate in a conference titled Risks of urbanization for wildlife in areas of sustainable tourism and ecotourism. The conference was organized by the Institute of Social Research (IIS) of the National University. With a postgraduate degree in Wildlife Management and Conservation, Menacho Odio's focus, at present, is on an intriguing yet tragic issue: bird collisions with windows in the lush landscapes of Costa Rica.

Mexico, known for its rich natural beauty, has embraced the concept of nature tourism. The Mexican Ministry of Tourism defines it as “trips that aim to carry out recreational activities in direct contact with nature and cultural expressions, with the attitude and commitment to know, respect, enjoy and participate in its conservation.” The International Ecotourism Society further refines it as “a responsible trip to natural spaces that conserves the environment, maintains the well-being of local people and involves interpretation and education.”

Costa Rica, famous for its immense biodiversity, stands as a testament to the prevalence of nature tourism and ecotourism. However, even in this paradise, the consequences of human activities on the local wildlife are stark. Take the Monteverde area, for example, where houses with expansive windows were designed to allow visitors to revel in the beauty of nature. Yet, these same windows unwittingly become death traps for birds. Menacho Odio explains, “Because the windows reflect the landscape, hummingbirds, goldfinches, parakeets, toucans, and quetzals approach at high speed and collide with the windows, dying instantly.”

Her solution is both simple and effective: add bars, ropes, adhesives, mesh, and screens to these windows. Although these measures may detract from the aesthetics, they save countless avian lives by warning the birds of an obstacle they'd otherwise miss.

Another detrimental impact is the sprawling network of highways, necessary for transporting people and food, yet capable of fragmenting habitats. Species like monkeys, opossums, anteaters, wild cats, sloths, snakes, and even crabs often fall victim to speeding cars. In Monteverde, Costa Rica, from 2013 to 2021, more than 300 animals met their untimely demise due to vehicular collisions.

Menacho Odio proposes a series of solutions, including citizen science initiatives such as photographing accident victims to raise awareness and constructing underpasses and overhead bridges to facilitate safe wildlife crossings.

Electrical distribution networks present yet another peril, with cables strung between trees and poles becoming deadly traps for climbing animals like monkeys. The solution? Preventive and continuous pruning of branches, isolating power lines and transformers, installing aerial crossings, and identifying priority sites where wildlife is abundant.

To take a more holistic approach, Menacho Odio advocates for the expansion of reserves and protected areas where construction and human infrastructure that destroys habitats are strictly prohibited.

But it's not just the terrestrial realm facing trouble; even our avian friends are at risk. Menacho Odio's research has revealed that close to one billion birds die annually due to collisions, with shadow-boxing—a territorial behavior where birds 'fight' their reflections in glass windows—as a common culprit. The impact can be so severe that the birds break their necks or suffer intracranial hemorrhages, leaving them paralyzed.

Her plea is simple: if you encounter a bird that has collided with a window, leave it to rest, free from stimuli, until it recovers. Forcing it to fly away prematurely may be the death knell for the fragile creature.

As Menacho Odio continues her work in the cloud forests of Costa Rica, we're reminded that the allure of nature tourism should be accompanied by a responsibility to protect the ecosystems and wildlife we hold so dear. With careful measures and a shared commitment to conservation, we can ensure that the natural world remains a sanctuary for generations to come.