Fifth graders learned about two birds that live in our area in the summer and migrate south to Guatemala in the winter. Eliot Berz, business and community access director at the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, told the students about the work going on between this area and Central America to protect and study the Louisiana waterthrush and worm-eating warbler.

The TRGT catches the birds and places light-level geolocator data loggers on them. The tiny devices help track the migration paths of the birds. Because the devices are so small, they cannot be used to track the birds in live time. The birds must be caught again, and the devices are detached and read.

The birds choose the right time to leave when it starts to get colder, and then they fly south to Guatemala. The devices have shown that some birds travel in as few as two to four days over the 1,000-mile journey. Some birds fly directly over the Gulf of Mexico, while others fly over land or even stop on a Caribbean island before arriving. Researchers have found about 40 percent of the birds survive the migration and return to Tennessee each year. The birds can locate almost perfectly their previous nest area when they return. "What if I dropped you in the forest and told you to find Guatemala without a compass or a map?" Berz asked the students.

In Guatemala, conservation efforts are different and not as well funded as in the U.S. Bird researchers there spend part of the year raising money through eco-tourism. Also, the TRGT helps raise money to send to Guatemala. Habitats in both places are endangered by land development. In Guatemala, forests are being cut down to create palm oil plantations.

Berz says the conservation efforts must be linked because the birds spend time in both places. "We protect the forest here. The birds only live here half the time, so we've reached out to other people," Berz said. "Conservation may stop at the borders but birds do not. They see the Earth as one place to live. This project is to break down politicial barriers and engage all the people in the process."

This program was organized by science teacher Melanie Nestler and Spanish teacher Cindy Avendano.

To learn more, visit the TRGT website.