Tropical Birds Connect Costa Rica to the St. Croix Valley

by | Apr 2019

Bird Branding by Joanna Eckles

Bird banding demonstrations help enthusiasts learn bird biology. Photo: Joanna Eckles

Tropical Wings helps support neotropical migratory birds.

With a focus on the welfare of migratory birds shared between the Upper Midwest and Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, nonprofit organization Tropical Wings promotes awareness and engages in habitat restoration.

Back in 2010, the organization grew from citizen support after a discussion between former superintendent of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway Chris Stein, who still works in the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway retail office, and the head of international affairs in Washington D.C., Jonathan Putnam addressed a need to form a sister park with the St. Croix Riverway.

“[The head of international affairs] said to connect to a number of parks and have it revolve around migratory birds,” says Patty Mueller, president of Tropical Wings. “So he suggested parks in Costa Rica, where the birds spend their winters, and parks in the Midwest, where the birds spend their summers.”

Stein and Putnam signed the Sister Parks Agreement to support that initiative between the National Park Service in the Upper Midwest and national parks on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, which includes 15 U.S. national parks and seven Costa Rican national parks.

Along with the agreement, Tropical Wings originated the St. Croix Flyway Bird Migration Celebration. Headed into its sixth annual festival from May 10–12, Tropical Wings’ goal persists: to raise awareness and encourage people to take steps to help migratory birds.

Simple steps people can take involve feeding the birds or putting stickers on windows to avoid window collisions, Mueller says. The celebration always coincides with the International Migratory Bird Day.

A variety of activities transpire throughout the weekend in communities on both sides of the St. Croix Riverway. The setup mimics the nature of migration. Events take place all along the river just as birds migrate to different parts of it, says Jessie Eckroad, a Tropical Wings board member who also works at Carpenter Nature Center.

“The reason a lot of these migratory birds can be found here, coming through in the spring, is that we have this really, really incredible riparian forest habitat,” Eckroad says. “It’s the wooded areas along the banks of a river, so this is really, really important habitat for some birds that come up here.”

The festival kicks off on Friday at the Phipps Center For the Arts in Hudson, Wis. There will also be an art exhibition that includes work related to migratory birds made by students both in Costa Rica and in the St. Croix Watershed area on display at Hudson Hospital beginning in May and running through the summer. Author, birder and broadcast journalist Steve Betchkal will talk about why he loves birds in a keynote presentation.

And every year, River Crest Elementary students return to sing an original song they wrote for the first celebration titled There Are No Borders Beneath Their Wings.

Other activities include an early morning bird walk at 8 a.m. at the Carpenter Nature Center’s Hudson campus, bird banding demonstrations and self-guided nature hikes.

“The bird banders are really great about teaching the public about the different parts of the bird biology as they’re holding the birds, so that’s a really unique chance for people to be nose to beak and see how beautiful they are up close,” Eckroad says.
As a membership-based organization, Tropical Wings encourages people to become members because it helps with habitat projects that aid migratory birds , Mueller says. Tropical Wings also sponsors an annual adult trip for up to 10 people to Costa Rica to be a part of its sister celebration.

Hundreds of people participate in the celebration throughout the Valley. In the end, it’s about education and appreciation of migratory birds. “It’s all about having healthy habitat and places for the birds to come feed, nest and live,” Mueller says. “And that is going to encourage a healthy community.”


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