Saving One of the World’s Rarest Birds: The Araripe Manakin

The Araripe Manakin or "Little Soldier Bird," by Agami Photo Agency
The Araripe Manakin or "Little Soldier Bird," by Agami Photo Agency

Water is life. In the hottest and driest biome in northeastern Brazil, there is a distinctive region of shrubland and thorn forest known as “Caatinga,” a Tupi word meaning “white forest” or “white vegetation.”

This is the 2.4 million-acre Araripe Plateau, which lay beneath an ocean many millions of years ago and is known for its ancient fossils dating back to the age of the dinosaurs. Though the salty oceans receded, an ancient freshwater aquifer creates unexpectedly lush pockets of rainforest fed by streams flowing down the steep slopes of the Araripe plateau. Clinging to life in the tall, closed canopy among vines and bromeliads, one of the world’s rarest birds, with a population estimated at only about 800 individuals, survives on remnants of its rare habitat.

The Critically Endangered Araripe Manakin is a striking bird, with black-and-white males sporting a prominent, bright red helmet-like crown that inspired the nickname “little soldier of Araripe.” In contrast, the females and young are mainly olive green with pale green upperparts.

The endemic Araripe Manakins only nest above year-round running streams and require exactly the unique forest habitat that exists only here. The oldest—and ongoing—threat to their habitat comes from the piping and channeling of water for agricultural irrigation and urban supply. But now, the manakin’s forested breeding habitat is being destroyed or degraded by spreading agriculture and housing developments crawling up the slopes of the plateau for the growing nearby town of Crato. The bird’s remaining habitat is estimated to be only about 7,000 acres.

Rainforest Trust has partnered with Associação de Pesquisa e Preservação de Ecossistemas Aquáticos (AQUASIS) to safeguard 52% of the Araripe Manakin’s global population by protecting 1,231 acres of its fragile home in a new reserve. This area is adjacent to the existing Oasis-Araripe Reserve, and will create an important corridor between the manakin’s feeding areas upstream and breeding areas downstream.

Our partner has been working in the region for 18 years, documenting and amplifying the Araripe Manakin’s plight with such success that the bird, virtually unknown beforehand, has become a symbol in the region for water conservation as a “guardian of the waters” and is now a source of local pride.

The Araripe Manakin Oasis Reserve will protect springs that are vitally important to more than 1 million people in this dry region.

Special thanks to Weber Girão, Associação de Pesquisa e Preservação de Ecossistemas Aquáticos (AQUASIS) for providing information for this article.

“The trees here shed their leaves to preserve moisture and the animals have evolved to adapt to conditions. Water is never taken for granted.”


The Araripe Manakin or "Little Soldier Bird," by AQUASIS

The Araripe Manakin or "Little Soldier Bird," by AQUASIS

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