Assist our lowland Amazon rainforest bird research team as a volunteer or intern and experience life as an avifauna conservation biologist in the humid tropics. Learn field techniques for surveying forest understorey bird diversity, population dynamics, and community assemblage, such as mist-netting, bird banding and ringing, un-bounded point counts, mixed-species flock follows, and much more besides. Volunteers can join us for 1-3 weeks, and will learn the basic techniques from our team of avifauna experts. Interns can join us for 1-4 months, and will learn in much more detail all aspects of the field techniques used, including the important molt cycle analysis process for ageing birds, as well as special visual and auditory techniques for species identification, data processing and analysis, and mapping. Interns also have the chance to lead their own personal research project on birds, for dissertation, thesis or independent publication purposes. Successful volunteer and intern applicants must donate towards their in-country costs. Header photo: Tom Ambrose.
Fauna Forever’s lowland Amazon rainforest Bird Research Team is tasked with establishing detailed baselines of information on the diversity, abundance, and community assemblage of birds at sometimes remote field sites using robust sampling techniques; and then to periodically monitor these variables in parallel with the environmental and human-related factors required to help explain the patterns in diversity and abundance observed over time within and between sites. These factors include habitat characteristics, climate, human activities (with an emphasis on threats), and the status of predators, prey, and parasites.
The sampling methods and skills you will learn or become more familiar with as a volunteer or intern, to a lesser or greater extent, include mist-netting, point count surveys, mixed-species flock counts, safe bird handling, bird banding and ringing, morphometric measuring, species identification, and molt cycle identification. You will learn to set up and manage a set of 9-15 nets (each 12 m long and 2.5 m high) for three hours each morning. This method allows us to study the diversity, relative abundance, activity patterns, home range size, as well as changes in the physical characteristics (morphometrics) of forest understory bird species. By learning to identify and evaluate the plumage and molt patterns of birds in the hand you will be able to determine sex, age, and physical conditioning of individual birds. With point counts, a survey method based on counting birds and estimating radial distances to them at a set of fixed stations located throughout the habitat being studied, you will have exposure to a much greater range of species, including those that frequent the middle and upper forest canopy levels, which are rarely captured in mist-nets. In this case you will learn to identify species from brief glimpses and importantly based on their calls. When it comes to mixed-species flocks, which are an adaptation to reduce predation, you will be involved in locating flocks, mapping their movements using a GPS device, and will be taught to efficiently count the individuals of each species in each flock. Outside of the strict sample protocols, as a volunteer or intern you will also help collect general sightings records, as we endeavor to create detailed species lists for each field site we visit. In addition, you will be involved in collecting data on environmental characteristics such as climate (temperature, humidity, rainfall, cloud cover, wind speed), with a chance also to assist the botany team as it collects vegetation data in and around the bird research points.
Bird data has been collected by Fauna Forever, in the ways outlined in the methods and skills section, since 1997 at 52 sites, including 44 in the lowland rainforests of the Madre de Dios region and 8 in the cloud forests and puna grasslands of the Cusco region of Peru. Please review the site map below.
A typical day mist-netting in the field starts at 5:00 am, when the lowland bird research team gets up, wolfs down a breakfast, and heads out to open up the 9-15 mist nets, a process that needs to be completed between 5:30 and 6:00 am, and to set up the bird processing table located about 100 m from the nets. Every 30 minutes for a period of 3 hours, the team does the round of checking the nets for captured birds, and carefully extracting those encountered. Captured birds are placed individually into canvas bags, notes are taken as to which nets they were in, before the team heads back to the processing table. Training is provided to those learning how to safely extract and process birds. At the table, birds are carefully processed which requires: correct identification, placing a numbered aluminium band or ring on their leg; taking weight, tarsus, wing, and bill measurements; assessing characteristics to help determine sex, if it is breeding, age, including plumage and molt patterns (for which photographs of the bird may also be taken); assessing the health of the birds, including counting ecto-parasite loads, and so forth. Once all this is completed the bird is taken back to an area close to where it was captured and released. After 3 hours of sometimes strenuous work requiring careful hands and much concentration, the team close the nets and head back to base, usually arriving around 9:30-10:00 am. There they relax before inputting the morning’s data into the laptop computer. During mornings designated for point count surveys, the sample period in the forest is very similar, from 6:00 to 9:00 am. In the afternoon, after lunch, depending on the day, nets may have to be moved (a process that takes 2-3 hours), torn nets may need to be repaired (1-2 hours), and new point count stations may need to be located and marked. During very rainy days when no bird research is possible, the team coordinator leads training sessions at base focused on species identification, data analysis, bird ecology, and so forth. At other times, people are free to explore the forest trails accompanied by others, assist our jungle chef with cooking meals, help keep the base clean and tidy, or indeed assist other teams with their work (space permitting).
1 Week (07 Days 06 Nights) - US$930
2 Weeks (14 Days 13 Nights) - US$1,450
3 Weeks (21 Days 20 Nights) - US$1,750
1 Month (30 Days 29 Nights) - US$2,345
2 Months (60 Days 59 Nights) - US$3,955
3 Months (90 Days 89 Nights) - US$5,130
4 Months (120 Days 119 Nights) - US$6,120
5 Months (150 Days 149 Nights) - US$7,500
More than 5 months - US$50 per day
These costs (which we treat as a donation to the non-profit organisation) include airport transfers (on arrival and departure); accommodation (in shared rooms); main meals (including vegetarian options); clean drinking water (always); local road and river transport to/from field sites (scheduled dates only); sheets, pillow case, and mosquito nets; access to our office wifi (where available); access to our library and equipment pool (e.g. GPS); orientation, field training and supervision from our staff; participation certificate and future reference letters (as required).
They do not include any flights; travel/health insurance (which is compulsory for all participants); taxis in Puerto Maldonado or Cusco (other than those used for scheduled trips to restaurants for meals); between meal snacks (cookies, sweets, etc.); and bottled beverages (Coca cola, Sprite, Fanta, etc.).
Note: Discounts are possible for groups of 4 people or more, that have the same start and end dates. Please contact us if this is your case.
In 2017 and 2018, applicants for volunteer and intern positions will be free to choose the start and end dates that are most convenient for them, although we'd prefer start dates to coincide with a week day (Mon-Fri) if at all possible. On applying, please use the calendar to select these dates.
The cost breakdown detailed below is based on an average stay of 6 weeks.
Local transport (cars, boats) - 19%
Accommodation in the city - 4%
Accommodation in the field - 24%
Meals in the city - 3%
Meals in the field - 14%
Equipment and maintenance - 8%
Communication - 4%
Training, Supervision and Administration - 18%
Other (health, third party services, donations) - 6%
Profits - 0%
Please consider bringing one or more of these books if you can:
1. Birds of Peru (Princeton Field Guides, 2010) by Thomas S. Schulenberg and Douglas F. Stotz
2. Bird Banding (Paperback, 2014) by George Robinson