Migratory Birds Project

US, Washington DC-Ometepe Island Schools, Nic

In one moment or another we have all witnessed a great string of birds cut through the sky with their pointed formation. Perhaps we were amazed by their synchronicity, the way the leader bobbed and sank with each thermal, and how those behind followed in one graceful wave, as though there was indeed a thread the wove them together. Perhaps we were shocked by their numbers, the sheer volume of animals engaged in the same task at once.  Perhaps we wondered how it felt to see so many miles of earth change below, how the birds recognized the small places in which they always stop.

The migratory journey of these beings has amazed humans for a long time, and with good reason; the journey many birds make to and from their breeding territory is a harrowing one. Some fly up to thousands of miles to insure the continuance of their species. The migratory corridor of the Americas, today interrupted by deforestation and urbanization, is arguably one the world’s most important avian travel routes due to the diversity of species that occupy it. The corridor is traversed year in and year out by many of which hail from the biodiversity hot spot that is Central America.

Located in the isthmus of Central America is the nation of Nicaragua, and therein, Latin America’s largest tropical lake, Lago de Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua). The two volcano cones of Concepcion and Maderas, protrude from this “freshwater sea” and are the landmarks that announce the island of Ometepe. This island of diverse habitats plays home to over 200 of the aforementioned migratory avian species. With her volcanoes, beaches, waterfalls, forests, and crater lake, this bucolic island attracts a large number of birdwatchers and ecotourists. However, anyone beneath the shade of Ometepe’s immense trees will admire the brilliant colors flecking the foliage, birdsong descending from the canopies.—especially the children who live there.

Cultural exchange through the migratory corridor

The Maderas volcano is skirted by a dusty road along which exist several rural communities. Walking this path one sees the proof of how the people here make their living--men mounted on horse with bunches of green banana, salted fish, coffee and beans drying in the sun. Every human step is overseen by urracas--large, blue the magpie jays—that seem to question those below while carrying fruits from one tree to another. Without a watch one knows it is seven, noon, and five because the children in their blue and white uniforms make their journeys to and from school.
Most children can tell you about some of the birds along the dusty road. But there is a select few that will eagerly chatter you up like an urraca about the winged migration, the need to respect these creatures.  The latter are the children who participate in Smithsonian Institute Migratory Bird exchange program.

The project, funded by the Smithsonian and Fundacion Ometepe lacted at Hacienda Merida (a non profit on the island with various environmental preservation and community projects) aims to link primary school students at the northern extreme of the avian migration route, namely in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC, with students in Ometepe. In the classroom, teachers on both ends lead lessons about the birds that migrate to the region using materials the Smithsonian Bird Center sends with the goal of inspiring stewardship and appreciation of the creatures and their environments. The project also aims to promote cultural exchange between the children in the northeast and the children on the island. The classes exchange drawings of the birds they observe and letters to learn about their partner classes’ culture.

First of Many Migrations

After 6 years of participation in the bird project, last year Fundacion Ometepe funded a visit of two teachers from Ometepe to the Smithsonian Migratory Birds Institute in Washington. The teachers visited the Smithsonian Zoo as well as their partner classrooms. The Ometepe teachers, Ivania Chamorro and Saydie Sotelo, expressed that more than the birds or the thrill of their first trip outside the country, it was the resources in the classrooms in the US that impressed them; the bookshelves, computers, and basic supplies like markers and paper that the Ometepe teachers saw in abundance in the states are scarce here.

The help of Fundacion Ometepe has given the participating classes a glimpse of some of the resources their partners in the US have access to. The foundation supplied classes with binoculars, materials the students use to do the bird drawings and write the letters to their partner classes, and this year will sponsor an incentive party (the Migratory Bird Piñata during Easter) for the children. In the future, the foundation hopes to fund transportation for a bird watching outing with the classes.

Yet even with the gifts from the foundation, one can see that the public schools here in Ometepe are basic. The classrooms are furnished with rickety wooden desks, a chalkboard, a broom, and not much else. What the government provides to schools here are only the essentials, if that. One teacher claimed that they are promised certain materials that never arrive. It is the responsibility of the families, often of little means, to provide basic school supplies—pencils and notebooks-- for their many children. The responsibility of any supplemental material falls upon the teachers whose salary is scarcely adequate to fund such purchases. Therefore, Ivania Chamorro stressed, any extra materials that arrive to any individual class are shared between all the rooms in the school.

How You Can Help

Below is a wish list written by Ometepe teachers and students participating in the migratory bird project. Donations can be made to Fundacion Ometepe (a certified non profit) in the name of the bird project and will be justly distributed.

  • Markers
  • Pencils
  • Notebooks
  • Art supplies (scissors, paints, crayons, brushes etc.)
  • Paper
  • Trash cans
  • Brooms

More information:

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

Bridging the Americas


Hi Alvaro,

Can you believe it? …..This is going to be the NINTH year in a row that teachers on Ometepe have been partnered with classes in the US as part of Unidos por las Aves. Kind of makes me feel like I must be getting old (!), but what a great thing to have kept this collaboration going for this many years.  Thanks for making it possible.

In late December or early January, Susan Bradfield and I will send you the artwork, letters, etc created by about 17 classes here in the US.  The breakdown is roughly 2 first grade classes, 8 second grade classes,  3 fourth grade classes, and 4 seventh grade classes.   I’m wondering if you can tell us if any of the teachers on Ometepe who will be participating this time are new to the program or if they will have all participated previously. This will determine how many new teacher’s manuals we send along with the materials created by the classes.