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  • Stacey Hollis

Bird Research & Banding at Secret Forest: The Fiery-capped Manakin

Updated: Sep 4


Here we’ve been treated to yet another wildlife star here at Fauna Forever. It was an exciting moment to share with the Fauna bird team when they discovered this little Fiery-capped Manakin (Machaeropterous pyrocephalus) in the bird banding mist nets last month.


In fact, two individuals of this species (hailing from the Pipridae family) have recently found themselves in the hands of our bird banding researchers this year. The fiery-capped manakin is a highly uncommon bird at Secret Forest and it gives our field biologists a thrill in knowing this species is in fact represented in our corner of the Tambopata River.


Ask just about any birder who knows anything about the tropics and they’ll tell you how coveted manakins are in the wonderful and wild world of tropical birdwatching. Bird enthusiasts who travel to the tropics always love to set eyes not just this one but ANY of the array of colorful members of this jaunty, lek-dancing, Pipridae family–myself included!


Having lived and guided in the Central American tropics for more than three years before joining Fauna Forever, I’ve introduced many a Golden-collared and Red-capped Manakin to adoring human fans and can confirm that nobody can help but love a colorful, charismatic bird like those that make up the manakin family.



And so here in the Secret Forest station, to share in the excitement surrounding this tiny ball of a bird, we not only get to take photos and check it off our life list, we also learn a great deal more about the species itself and this rich Amazonian ecosystem we all share.


For our Fauna Forever interns and volunteers, we love to find a showy bird like this one in the mist nets. But additionally–and very importantly–we are also very focused on learning about the entirety of array of species that make up these forests as we monitor relative abundance, diversity and survivability over the long term. This research and monitoring gives us a growing idea of the complexity of the forests we are studying.


By scientifically measuring and documenting birds like our beautiful little manakin here, Fauna Forever researchers gain a more complete picture of the ecosystem and biodiversity that make up our areas of focus here along the Tambopata River.


What Chris Ketola and the Fauna Forever bird team have recorded over the past five years is that Machaeropterous pyrocephalus has been found to inhabit moist, lowland sites including within floodplain habitat and near water, such as streams. These recent captures add to the knowledge base of the species as a whole and where it can most reliably be found across its range.


Chris Ketola (@chrisketola) at the banding table

with Max Laubstein, recording data.


The fiery-capped manakin is, in fact, a very “niche” bird, says Fauna Forever Bird Coordinator Chris Ketola, in regard to what habitat it occupies, he says, "They find a little pocket [of appropriate habitat] and that’s where they are.” The fiery-capped manakin relies on a very specific habitat that is not necessarily found continuously across forests throughout its range, but rather in little pockets that provide the habitat they require. So, while a species might have a large range like this one, it’s a rarely encountered bird.


By showing up in our nets, this manakin and many other bird species have given us a peek into the complexity of species distribution throughout defined species ranges and how randomly and spottily distributed species can be throughout the vast Amazon Rainforest and beyond. By encountering the fiery-capped manakin bird in our mist netting and banding efforts, we are given a bit more of a peek into the distribution of this particular species throughout its range and thus how there truly is SO much more to learn about in how species are distributed in the way they are and what key habitat features these manakins and other species we're monitoring require to exist and survive.


Fauna Forever’s bird banding efforts in the Secret Forest Station began in 2017, giving interns here the unique opportunity to observe birds in the hand while learning how to determine age and breeding status of individual birds. By participating in this fieldwork, interns are contributing to a growing understanding of the fantastic array of species that occur here in this beautiful corner of the Amazon.


<– @maxlaubstein removing a black-faced antbird from the nets under the watchful eye of his coordinator, Chris Ketola.


With strategic placement of mist nets the team captures birds across various forest types including floodplain, terra firme and forest edge over an ever-growing time period, we are

able to determine and compare survivability of species between different habitats and consider the factors influencing this important conservation indicator.


By comparing information we gather about the bird species that make up the avian community in the forests we are studying, we are gaining a better understanding of the complexity and interconnectedness of the tropical habitats in this area of the Amazon. With this knowledge, we are gaining a wider understanding of the importance of birds in maintaining ecosystem integrity and stability.


Through amassing this data and carefully analyzing it, Fauna Forever is able to provide landowners and local government agencies information on the changing state of their wildlife and the biodiversity of their lands. We work closely with forest concessionaires, ecotourism companies, local communities and associations along with government agencies who manage protected areas with whom we are able to provide periodic “snap shots” of diversity and abundance and whether there are underlying trends that need addressing. “This helps land-owners evaluate their previous forest management plans and points the way to potential improvements when it comes to protective or sustainable use policies,” says Fauna Forever director, Chris Kirkby.


In all banding efforts at Fauna Forever’s Secret Forest field station, there have been 130 species captured and more than 1600 individuals documented, aged, sexed, weighed and measured and these numbers grow to this day. Through the tireless, hard work of our Bird Team coordinators and the help of many volunteers and interns who have joined us here at Secret Forest in the past years, we’ve amassed a bounty of information that is part of our strategy in documenting the biodiversity of our own land to ultimately compare it with different forests and other kinds of land-use patterns to ultimately create a picture of how the land along the Tambopata River is being managed and and what potential sustainable land-use methods we can employ in the future.


Chris Ketola determines the age, based on

plumage, of a Wing-barred Piprities (Piprites chloris)


The biodiversity data that Fauna Forever’s various field research teams compile through long term, boots-on-the-ground data accumulation is followed by statistical analyses that provide scientific evidence to quantify the value protecting a forest can provide for its managers. This information can help us show that we how we are maintaining these ecosystem and what we're learning can help in future land management. Though Fauna Forever’s long-term monitoring of birds and other wildlife along the banks of the Tambopata paired with the long term relationships we’ve made within our neighboring communities, we are widening our breadth of knowledge about these areas. By studying the forest and its inhabitants we are actively taking the pulse of the Tambopata. Birds are the canaries in the coal mine and we're paying careful attention to what they're telling us.

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