Marvelous Spatuletail listed as Endangered by BirdLife International.

There is a big dilemma for those of us who enjoy traveling but worry about climate change. We have a hard time justifing yet another trip to an exotic destination. The carbon footprint of our flights is enormous. The new Swedish word flygskam (flight shame), popularized in the wake of Greta Thunberg’s popularity, is aimed at those of us who travel the world for personal pleasure.

This is where global birdwatching comes in and what my company Kolibri Expeditions/7 Wonders Birding specializes in. There are many bird species around the globe that are endangered because of habitat destruction. Their plight is addressed by countless reforestation and conservation projects. Many of these projects would never see the light or would not be sustainable if there were not birders travelling the globe to experience them. Visiting these areas contributes to the local economies and you provide an incentive that gives additional value to the forest. With their success, others become inspired to create similar projects.

Every hectare of tropical forest that is cleared for pasture, mining, or agriculture is the equivalent of 500 tons of CO2 emissions. That is roughly equal to 150 return flights from Europe to Peru.

In many places ecoinvestors are buying land to reforest and building eco-lodges with hummingbird feeders. Birding tourism can prevent deforestation and forest fires. Beach tourism and visits to Disneyland do not.

Conservation of Endangered birds in Peru through birding tourism.

Golden-backed Mountain-Tanager listed as Endangered by BirdLife International.
  • During the last 10 years, approximately 500 birders have gone to Bosque Unchog to see the Golden-backed Mountain-Tanager, each donating $20 to the community. This level of tourism has saved some 100 ha of forest from fire.
  • The area of Huembo in Northern Peru where one can see the spectacular Marvelous Spatuletail – known as the Holy Grail of Hummingbirds and endemic to Amazonas department in Peru – was a cleared slope that has been protected from fires and reforested by Peruvian NGO ECOAN.
  • ECOAN has also purchased or acquired concessions on huge expanses of land along the road at Abra Patricia protecting a number of species of birds including the near-mythical Long-whiskered Owlet.
  • Further along the road conservationists at Fundo Alto Nieva, Arena Blanca-Aguas Verdes and Waqanki have purchased and reforested areas formerly used as pastures and built infrastructure for birders.
  • Kolibri Expeditions and Rainforest Partnership have worked with the communities at Calabaza on the Satipo road to create a reserve and to stop deforestation. The next step is to develop the community lodge at Calabaza with reforestation and hummingbird feeders and make it an attractive site for visiting birders, which in turn will increase the value of allowing the forest to stand.
A long-whiskered owlet, listed as Endangered by Birdlife International.

Here are some additional things you can do to limit your flight shame.

Influence others.

  • Live by example. Do everything you can to limit your footprint. You will influence others and they will become more mindful about their everyday decisions.
  • Don’t waste. Show others how to be less wasteful. Every effort counts. All leftover food should be eaten. Say NO to single use plastics.
  • Look for public transportation options rather that cars. Take a train or bus instead of flights for shorter trips.
  • Buy local produce. The less transportation involved getting food products to the consumer, the better.
  • Opt for less beef, lamb and dairy. While going vegan is absolutely best for the environment, heavily reducing your meat consumption is a good compromise, especially if you can influence friends and co-workers to do the same.

Carbon offset.

It is not difficult to offset your carbon footprint with donations to various projects that mitigate carbon emissions elsewhere, although some may not be bird friendly. A good way could be to calculate your carbon footprint and then donate to organizations that are creating or conserving habitat for threatened birds.

I created a Facebook group called World Birders Against Climate Change to discuss these issues further. It is my hope that there will be a number of projects nominated and peer-reviewed by birders. Such projects would be good candidates for donations that would generate maximum environmental impact.

Meanwhile, check the carbon calculators of these organizations to see how large your carbon footprint has been in 2019. Most of these also have specified projects you can donate to.

  • Climatecare (UK)
  • Conservation International (US)
  • (UK– but good for international use)
  • Nature Conservancy (US)
  • Rainforest Trust (US)

Economics and Politics

Finally, and this is perhaps the most important suggestion; is time to elect the politicians our Earth deserves.

The coal industry and Big Oil still dominate finance and influence politics. Changes are coming. Voting for those with the committment to reduce carbon emissions is perhaps where each and every one of us can make the most important impact in the coming years, without forgetting the consumer power of our daily choices how we live our lives.

Photo credits: Marvelous Spatuletail and Long-whiskered Owlet by Dustin Chen and Golden-backed Mountain-Tanager by Gunnar Engblom.

  • Gunnar Engblom
  • : Gunnar Engblom is a Swedish birder who has lived in Peru since 1998. He operates birdwatching and nature tours for Kolibri Expeditions/7 Wonders Birding. In October 2018 Gunnar led a trip in Peru recording 1006 species in a Big Month. Gunnar is also a dedicated 3:04 marathon runner, and just starting training for the Lima Marathon in May 2020, and the Berlin Marathon in September 2020. In 2016, Gunnar re-launched his rock’n’roll singing career with his band Guran Guran, and in 2019 they released a new video – Feels Like Some Summer – also available on digitial outlets.
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  • : Kolibri Expeditions/7 Wonders Birding provides world class birdwatching tours, and particularly shorter trips with a "bucket list approach to birding," also including visits to world heritage sites and searching for iconic mammals. Gunnar is a conservation activist and trained biologist who stresses environmental mindfulness as the a leading theme in his tours.
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  • : This is the first time this story has been published.