Committed to conserving the Chilean woodstar

June 13, 2023
Photo credits to NGO Picaflor de Arica

Nature conservation can be a fickle business, and perseverance is key. Karolina Araya Sandoval (FFN winner 2021) is playing the long game to protect the critically endangered Chilean woodstar. Karolina is ready to start preserving and improving crucial habitat, but both the covid and the bird flu pandemic did not make things easier.

The Chilean woodstar is a beautiful little hummingbird native to the northern part of Chile. Populations of this rare bird are dwindling due to the devastating effects of agricultural expansion in the area, mainly for alfalfa cultivation and chicken farming. Karolina has dedicated herself to monitoring the rare Chilean woodstar, and mobilises scientists to study the species’ habitat needs, with the aim of restoring corridors to connect the highly fragmented forest patches in the area. With this aim, she founded Picaflor de Arica. With her foundation she raises awareness on the conservation of the tiny hummingbird among young, local people, she restores natural habitat to create a safe haven for this endangered little bird.

Since winning the FFN Award, Karolina continued to monitor the Chilean woodstar and its habitat. She checks their breeding territory and spends hours hiking through the valleys to reach the species’ wintering quarters. She uses this information to validate the species’ migration patterns throughout the seasons, as well as determine other behaviour such as food preferences, nesting patterns and interactions with other hummingbirds.

Together with the local University of Tarapacá, Karolina set up a reforestation programme, collecting seeds and growing native plants and trees. The aim is to reforest stretches of land and thereby increase the natural habitat of the Chilean woodstar and other wildlife species. Currently, more than 20 interns carry out the daily management of the plants, such as pruning and monitoring irrigation, a great way to involve locals ánd help educate future conservationists. All plants are now fully grown and ready to be planted, but unfortunately, this cannot happen yet.

Sadly, the covid pandemic and its lockdowns limited the progress of Karolina’s work. In addition, the avian influenza pandemic is wreaking havoc all over the world, including in Chile. Chicken farmers are taking preventative measures to avoid the spreading of the disease and are strictly isolating their farms from outside activity. Despite an agreement with a local farmer and landowner for Karolina and her team to reforest part of his lands that holds important Chilean woodstar breeding area, any tree-planting is unfortunately now on hold until avian influenza is under control. Karolina and her team will have to wait patiently for the right time and continue to take care of the growing saplings in the tree nursery.

Maintaining good relationships with private landowners of fundamental Chilean woodstar territory, like this chicken farmer, is Karolina’s current main challenge. Despite the delays for reforestation, Karolina and her team at Picaflor de Arica are determined to keep going. They visit schools to give talks and organise conservation programmes to raise awareness and increase local involvement. This motivates Karolina to connect with children, teach them the beauty of birds, and strengthen connections for the future. It brings a smile to her face whenever she sees kids pointing out a bird’s nest, or enthusiastically talking about the hummingbirds. That’s what gives her the energy to continue.

Karolina’s commitment is crucial for the protection of the rare Chilean woodstar. Follow Future For Nature here, or on the FFN social media to stay posted about Karolina’s, and our other FFN winners’ nature conservation work.