Songbirds, Migration and Soy: What’s the Connection?

Spring season is now in full swing, with bluebells blooming and daffodils dancing. And, even sweeter, there is the sound of songbirds singing.

Now is peak migration time for many of these songbirds and they and other neotropical migrants are finally returning north to their breeding grounds – your backyards and gardens included!  Bird lovers and wildlife gardeners can plant native trees, shrubs and wildflowers to feed and provide nesting spots for birds close to home, but what about the state of the habitat these same birds need when they fly south? Many of these birds overwinter in the Amazon.

red eyed vireo
Red-eyed vireo by Kelly Colgan Azar via Flickr Creative Commons.
There are 28 migratory bird species (20 land birds and 8 water birds) that regularly call the Amazon home during the winter. This group includes songbirds such as the eastern wood peweechimney swift, gray-cheeked thrush, eastern kingbirdveery, black-whiskered vireo, red-eyed vireo, blackpoll warbler, and Connecticut warbler, as well as raptors such as the broad-winged hawkperegrine falcon and osprey.

These species depend on forested habitats for food and shelter, but forests across the globe are disappearing at an alarming rate. About 30-37 million acres of forest are lost each year, the equivalent of 36 football fields per minute!

CT Warbler
Connecticut Warbler by Melanie Underwood via Flickr Creative Commons.
In the Amazon, large scale agriculture is one of the main driving forces of deforestation. These agricultural goods are used to produce much of our food, clothing, and personal care products – from leather handbags and shoes to beef jerky and lip balm. This also includes soy used in animal feed in Europe and Asia, which ends up as nuggets and sausages in grocery stores and restaurants around the world.

However, there is some good news for our migratory friends and for their forested homes down south.

Eastern kingbird by Kelly Colgan Azar via Flickr Creative Commons.
Eastern kingbird by Kelly Colgan Azar via Flickr Creative Commons.
NWF is leading the charge to help promote forest-friendly production for the key agricultural goods that are produced in the Brazilian Amazon. Just recently, NWF experts co-authored a new study that highlighted the effectiveness of a forest-friendly initiative focused on soy, known as the Soy Moratorium. The Moratorium was the first voluntary zero-deforestation agreement in the tropics, and it prevents major traders from selling soy that is linked to deforestation in the Amazon.

This agreement has been incredibly effective at safeguarding critical wildlife habitat against deforestation for soy in the Brazilian Amazon, thus helping to ensure that our migratory friends have a place to call home during the cold winter months in the United States.

According to the study, without the Soy Moratorium, almost 5 million acres of Amazon forest could be legally cleared for soy. In other words, 5 million acres of habitat for migratory birds could be lost. So, this is a big victory for our wildlife. Additionally, this new study helps reinforce the position that NWF has supported for years: maintaining and strengthening the Soy Moratorium (and other forest-friendly initiatives) is the best strategy to reduce agriculture-related deforestation and protect our wildlife.

Gray cheeked thrush by John Benson via Flickr Creative Commons.
Gray-cheeked thrush by John Benson via Flickr Creative Commons.
While you work to improve wildlife habitat at home through our Garden for Wildlife program, we are also working to protect wildlife habitats around the world. You can join us in this effort by reaching out to the retailers and manufacturers of your favorite products to ask questions like: “Does your company have a policy on zero-deforestation?” and “From where do you source your raw ingredients?” Help start the conversation at the local level. Every little bit counts and, when the homes of our migratory friends are at stake, we need to do all we can to help save their habitats.

Learn more about the Soy Moratorium and other ways the NWF International Team is working to protect forests in the tropics.