La Mariposa Spanish School & Eco-Hotel in Nicaragua

Birds and Wildlife at La Mariposa

Turquoise-browed Motmot

by Dr. Paulette Goudge

Over the seven years that we have been open, the Mariposa has made strenuous efforts to conserve, protect and increase the bird and general wildlife on our tiny piece of land. The challenges are enormous. Firstly, this is a heavily populated area, though it does not look like it as it is so green and beautiful with trees everywhere. Closer inspection however reveals that the majority of the trees are fruit trees - not a bad thing (especially for accessing delicious fruit easily!!!) but not always compatible with wildlife. Secondly, there are kids who hunt - both at night with dogs, usually after armadillo, iguana or the guatusa (the long legged guinea pig) - all of which are eaten though less and less frequently. And sometimes during the day younger kids are out and about with their catapults shooting at anything that moves. Many small insects, rodents and reptiles are also killed by the fumigations carried out by the local health authority in an attempt to prevent the spread of dengue fever which is actually on the rise due to the rise in temperatures associated with climate change. Ironically the natural predators of the dengue carrying mosquito are also killed in the process!

wildflowers planted to attract butterflies
woodland garden

However, by far and away the biggest threat to wildlife here is loss of habitat. Trees are cut either to provide precious wood (especially for the furniture making industry) or to plant crops of corn or beans. Pineapples are particularly strong sun lovers and so every tree in the field is cut where they are grown. Land is also cleared wholesale to make room for new, Western style developments. It is very sad to see roadside hedges, once full of wildflowers and butterflies, simply uprooted to widen an already perfectly serviceable road.

But on the positive side -many people are now trying to respond to this problem. There are small and larger scale reforestation projects all over the place. One intensive example is being funded by the Managua city council as a way of trying to look after their future water supply. And both the local council in La Concha and many individuals are trying hard to replace some of the already cut varieties such as cedro and guanacaste. Another example is the efforts of the staff at the Masaya Volcano National Park who are very aware that people living on the edges of the park forest cut the orchids from the trees to sell, especially at Xmas time. They have asked us to work with them to see if there is a way of helping replace the income with a more eco friendly, probably tourist based activity. It is one of the many projects under current development!

So what have we done at the Mariposa?
  • Planting trees is obviously crucial. In fact we have planted so many on the land at the original Mariposa that we now have so much shade it is hard for flowers to grow successfully. Our butterfly project has therefore been less successful so we are keeping some land at the farm and at the study centre relatively tree free and sunny. Varieties of trees have included chilomate, capulin (both excellent seed producers and therefore great food suppliers for birds, squirrels, bats), guanacaste, roble, coppel, aceituna and many others. A particular delight is the marango tree which is also known as the miracle tree because people can eat the leaves and obtain the daily requirement of protein. This tree grows from just cutting off a branch and sticking it in the soil (we are lucky to have super fertile volcanic soil here) - within 3 months it will have leaves and little white flowers. These flowers are loved by many insects, including bees, hummingbirds and other birds such as the tanagers. Having noticed this (right outside my bedroom window) we have now planted loads of them!!! Last year we planted around 2000 more trees on the study centre land and already there are more birds and iguana to be seen.

  • We also plant fruit trees - citrics, bananas, guava, almond and leave the harvest for our wildlife. We also hang bunches of bananas especially in the dry season when the food supply is at its lowest. This also has the advantage of bringing birds in close!

  • Our woodland garden is well under way. The Mariposa is part of an old coffee plantation so, whilst not destroying the coffee bushes, we are gradually working our way through the woods planting a much more varied undergrowth. We use a mulch of leaves and some food waste to provide organic fertilizer as well as holding water.

  • Santos, the Mariposa gardener has built little houses for iguana, guatusas, rabbit and also water drinking bowls out of left over building materials.

  • We use whatever works to create more habitats and care for existing ones. Around the Mariposa land, there was already a traditional fence of a large cactus type plant, called pinuela, which not only looks terrific and provides excellent homes for spiders, lizards and hibernating places for frogs in the dry season….but is also very effective at keeping unwanted guests out! Sadly many Nicaraguans, having been told for 500 years that traditional ways of doing things are backward, are tearing them out and replacing them with barbed wire (horrible for wildlife and actually super easy even for an unfit 60 something year old to climb across). But we look after ours and have planted much more in the study centre and around the farm.

  • Our small frog pond has also been remarkably successful. Really nothing more than a hole in the ground lined with concrete it has attracted at least 3 species of frogs including the orange footed, red eyed tree frog. The frog and tadpoles are of course also a very good way of naturally controlling unwanted pests such as mosquitoes.

Whilst continuing to take care of those birds and animals which cannot be released back into the wild (the monkeys for example are just too tame, they would not survive without stealing someone's bananas!!!) we are still taking care of a few wild animals brought to us and then releasing them as soon as possible. Our roadside hawk, for example, released about 4 years ago still lives close by and visits occasionally much to the disgust of the chickens!

This is the magnificent Panama tree which volunteers from the Mariposa have worked to protect by building a retaining wall to keep soil around the roots, soil which we enriched with compost from our worm project. This year a pair of aracaris nested in the tree which is also home to hundreds of orchids and bromeliads!!

a tiny white jumping spider

a tree frog by the pond
Birds of La Mariposa
observed in July 2009 and July 2011
by Steve Hampton (

Roadside Hawk  Buteo magnirostris
Red-billed Pigeon  Patagioenas flavirostris
White-winged Dove  Zenaida asiatica
Inca Dove  Columbina inca
Ruddy Ground-Dove  Columbina talpacoti
White-tipped Dove  Leptotila verreauxi
Grey-headed Dove  Leptotila plumbiceps
Pacific Parakeet  Aratinga strenua
Orange-fronted Parakeet  Aratinga canicularis
Orange-chinned or Tovi Parakeet  Brotogeris jugularis
Squirrel Cuckoo  Piaya cayana
Vaux's SwiftvChaetura vauxi
Cinnamon Hummingbird  Amazilia rutila
Steely-vented Hummingbird  Amazilia saucerrottei
Canivet's or Fork-tailed Emerald  Chlorostilbon canivetii
Black-headed Trogon  Trogon melanocephalus
Turquoise-browed Motmot  Eumomota superciliosa
Blue-diademed Motmot  Momotus momota
Hoffmann's Woodpecker  Melanerpes hoffmannii
Streak-headed Woodcreeper  Lepidocolaptes souleyetii
Rufous-naped Wren  Campylorhynchus rufinucha
Banded Wren  Thryothorus pleurostictus
Plain Wren  Thryothorus modestus
Barred Antshrike  Thamnophilus doliatus
Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush  Catharus aurantiirostris
Clay-coloured Thrush  Turdus grayi
Boat-billed FlycatchervMegarynchus pitangua
Dusky-capped Flycatcher  Myiarchus tuberculifer
Great Kiskadee  Pitangus sulphuratus
Common Tody-Flycatcher  Todirostrum cinereum
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher  Myiobius erythrurus
Tropical Kingbird  Tyrannus melancholicus
Long-tailed Manakin  Chiroxiphia linearis
Rose-throated Becard  Pachyramphus aglaiae
Masked Tityra  Tityra semifasciata
White-throated Magpie-Jay  Calocitta formosa
Lesser Greenlet  Hylophilus decurtatus
Rufous-capped Warbler  Basileuterus rufifrons
House Sparrow  Passer domesticus
Black-headed Saltator  Saltator atriceps
Greyish Saltator  Saltator coerulescens
Blue Grosbeak  Passerina caerulea
Melodious Blackbird  Dives dives
Altamira Oriole  Icterus gularis
Great-tailed Grackle  Quiscalus mexicanus
Grey-headed Tanager  Eucometis penicillata
Blue-grey Tanager  Thraupis episcopus
Olive Sparrow  Arremonops rufivirgatus
Yellow-faced Grassquit  Tiaris olivacea
Blue-black Grassquit  Volatinia jacarina

Barred Antshrike

Black-headed Trogon

Common Tody-flycatcher

Collared Aracari
For more of Ann Tagawa's photos of birds at La Mariposa,
click here

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