Cerulean Warbler Pen-Pal Program Connects Students in Colombia and Appalachia

Pictured is Elisabeth Guilbaud-Cox, Deputy Director of the United Nations Environment Programme Regional Office for North America, handing out letters from Colombian students to high school students from Letcher County, KY. This was part of a ceremony to recognize ARRI’s participation in UNEP’s 7 Billion Tree Campaign (http://www.unep.org/billiontreecampaign) and celebrate the community’s participation in a small reforestation project on nearby minelands.

The Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI), American Bird Conservancy’s Colombian Partner Fundación ProAves, and the Cerulean Warbler Technical Group (CWTG) invited high school science and Spanish teachers to participate in a pen-pal program to link students aged 14-16 from the Appalachians of the United States with students in the Andes of Colombia. The "ambassador" between the two cultures is the Cerulean Warbler, a neotropical migratory songbird that needs the help of people young and old to conserve habitat in its core breeding area – the coal fields of Appalachia – and its wintering grounds (which includes the Andean Mountains of Colombia).

ARRI, ProAves, and the CWTG provided teachers with instructional materials and teaching aids about the Cerulean Warbler and the efforts to conserve it, which includes surface mine reforestation in the Appalachians, and shade-grown coffee production in Colombia. The pen-pal program got off the ground this February, when 57 Colombian students from San Vicente de Chucurí wrote letters to U.S. students from three high schools. Two of the three batches of letters were distributed at mineland reforestation events in March. A representative of the United Nations Environment Programme actually presented Colombian letters to high school kids and teachers at a tree planting ceremony in Letcher County, Kentucky.


“The more U.S. and Colombian kids we can get involved, the more education we can do on the need for neotropical migratory songbird conservation (specifically for the Cerulean warbler), surface mine reforestation and shade coffee production,” said Patrick Angel, a forester/soil scientist with the U.S. Department of the Interior. “We’ve exceeded our expectations for the pen-pal program in the first year; these kids have enjoyed it so much that they have exchanged letters three times already.”


American Bird Conservancy is a partner in ARRI, a coalition of groups including citizens, the coal industry, non-profit organizations, and government that is dedicated to restoring forests on former coal mines in the eastern United States.


“The Cerulean Warbler is a focal species for neotropical migrant bird conservation in both Appalachia and the Andes,” said American Bird Conservancy’s Brian Smith, Coordinator of the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture. “Programs such as this that use this beautiful warbler to reach out to children across the hemisphere and heighten awareness of bird habitat conservation are a great investment that can have a lasting impact with the conservationists of tomorrow.”