Ospreys Flock to Cuba, With Conservationists Close By

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Studying the birds' migration patterns is an important first step toward habitat conservation, Martell said. "Freddy's going to get more ospreys there than anywhere else in the world," Martell said, "and if areas in Cuba appear to be more important to ospreys than others, we want to conserve those."

The Cuban scientists have also begun an educational campaign to get volunteers into the act, and they have recruited park police to help protect the birds. Melian has even converted Cuban vendors at the park into part-time osprey counters and educators. One 21-year-old woman named Davamaris keeps an eye out for the birds while selling jewelry to tourists on the peak of Gran Piedra, which, at 4,068 feet (1,240 meters) above sea level, is the highest peak in the Sierra Maestra mountains. The ocean spreads out below. On a clear day, you can see Jamaica. "Some days I see eight or nine," she said, scanning the view of the sea. "Other days, thirty or forty." By getting everyone involved, osprey consciousness has exploded, Melian said. "Now, everyone loves the osprey."

Lessons Learned

The benefits of studying migrating birds goes beyond basic science and conservation, Martell said. Ospreys and other traveling species have a way of bringing people together. "We're sharing birds with people in Latin America," Martell said. "That connection is really powerful, there's no doubt about that." There is also something uplifting about the close cooperation between conservationists in different countries, especially ones as politically divided as the United States and Cuba.

And the lessons don't stop there, especially for those who live in northern climates. The same birds that spend their summers in Minnesota, for example, pack up before the leaves turn and head south for Bolivia, Belize, and beyond to wait out the winter months. "You have to admire them," Martell said. "They do know when to leave and when to come back."

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