Bolivian Spinetail Proposal

Conservation solutions for the Bolivian Spinetail Cranioleuca henricae : AZE BL4 / IBA 7 Cuenca Cotacajes

Program Supervisor: A. Bennett Hennessey
Program Coordinator: Monica San Cristobal


This proposal is the culmination of the research work by Sophie Lake and Durwyn Liley in 2003 (unpublished Armonía report Conservation Assessment of the Status of the Bolivian Spinetail ( Cranioleuca henricae); the more detailed evaluation by Mónica San Cristobal (unpublished Armona report Habitat Use and Conservation of Cranioleuca henricae ); and the Machaca site evaluation in March 2006 by Monica San Cristobal, Mauricio Herrera (Armonía Blue-throated Macaw Conservation program coordinator), Noami Huanca (Armonía Cochabamba Mountain-Finch Conservation program coordinator), Carolina Orosco Ortiz (Armonía Quechua speaking volunteer ornithologist), and the A. Bennett Hennessey (Armonía Executive Director). These conservation programs have been supported by American Bird Conservancy, British Ecological Society, BP Conservation Expedition Awards and the Neotropical Bird Club and Swarovski Optik.

Program Background

The Bolivian Spinetail ( Cranioleuca henricae ) is a globally threatened bird, endemic to Bolivia , which was discovered in 1993. It is the only threatened member of its genus, classified as Endangered due to a very small known range of some 3000km 2 . In addition, its habitat is thought to be vulnerable to destruction and degradation. There are currently no protected areas that include populations of the Bolivian Spinetail.

Bolivian Spinetail Habitat

The Bolivian Spinetail is restricted to the Dry Andean Valley habitat of the Cotacajes watershed. This habitat has been described as a transition zone between humid and dry intermontane habitats, with high plant endemism and elements of Chaco Serrano Dry habitat.

The best sites for the conservation of the Bolivian Spinetail are Inquisivi dept. La Paz and Machaca, dept. Cochabamba . These sites have shown high Bolivian Spinetail populations with the least impacted forests. The Inquisivi forest is under serious threat from cultivations and managed firewood collection- which is increasing in demand. This process in the Inquisivi area consists of removing tree limbs which are made into charcoal for the La Paz market. The process allows regeneration of the forest, but maintains a highly impacted forest. Impacted trees hold less of the epiphytic "grey beard" bromeliad which is the specialized nesting site for the Bolivian Spinetail.

The community of Machaca has protected the oldest and largest forest area, including high numbers of Bolivian Spinetails. Large trees remain because of the environmental teachings of a German priest in the area, and the desire to maintain large trees as shade for their cattle. The under storey is heavily grazed and compressed from cattle, but their remains many large trees covered with the "grey beard' bromeliad epiphyte. The area has undergone years of patch work agricultural plots. There is evidence of recent tree cuttings. This forest ecosystem will not last another twenty years under the present high impact usage, especially in consideration of the restricted plant regeneration caused by cattle overgrazing.

Bolivian Spinetail

The research has shown that the species is of serious concern and could warrant Critically Endangered status. We believe the main limiting factor for the species is its nesting specialization to the "grey beard" bromeliad epiphyte. This epiphyte would appear to only be found in more humid valleys, near valley streams, on large trees. The older trees maintain longer and more abundant growth of the bromeliad. The trees in Inquisivi, with constant firewood collecting branch-trimming do not contain areas with many bromeliad epiphytes. Less abundant bromeliad epiphytes could not only limit nesting area, but also increase nest predation pressure.

Figure 1. Specialized nesting niche of the Bolivian Spinetail within areas of the grey beard epiphytic bromeliad.

It can also be theorized that the bromeliad epiphyte is less abundant than in the past due to the drying of these valleys as a result of Eucalyptus plantations and agricultural plots above these valleys disturbing water retention properties.

Machaca Community

The Machaca community consists of 130 people. Their main economy comes from the agricultural work within the Machaca valley. The community is below Bolivian poverty averages, with no electricity and poor diet. The Machaca forest is owned in small patches by members of the community. Their land rights paper work is up-to-date.

Program Actions

As a result of our research, and the limited resources frequently available in conservation, we have decided that the best Bolivian Spinetail conservation program will concentrate its efforts on the Machaca area. This decision is based on the high abundance of the Bolivian Spintail, the least impacted Cotacajes watershed habitat with large trees and high "grey beard" bromeliad epiphytes (the specialized nesting area of the Bolivian Spinetail), and the environmentally aware community of Machaca.

Given the situation that the Machaca community is dependent on the agriculture from the patches around and within this forest, a long-term conservation strategy must be identified.

We believe that the only way to secure this fragile habitat and fauna is to create a reserve that will protect a core area, and that any project should develop towards this goal. But in this remote area, without the Machaca community's conservation support, a purchase of such land will not lead to productive protection if it is not complemented with an alternative resources program for the community of Machaca.

We believe the initial stage necessary to gain the Machaca community's trust is to begin on-ground conservation actions with:

•  Local environmental education

•  Sustainable Development Workshops

•  Agricultural assessment and development

•  Promote the area as a birdwatching attraction

Local environmental education

We need to stress to the community of Machaca the importance of their forest and the Bolivian Spinetail. We propose to do this with adults and children, discussing the endemism of their forest, and the negative impact eucalyptus plantations, tree cutting, burning, and excessive agriculture could have in the area.

Sustainable Development Workshops

Asociacion Armonia conservation programs have found that the best way to work with a threatened species that is impacted by a local community is to involve the community in the conservation process. We will conduct a series of workshops with the community of Machaca in order to discuss conservation solutions for the forest and sustainable developmental options we may be able to provide to counteract the loss of agricultural land in their conservation effort. The long-term goal would be to be able to purchase these areas in order to create a nature reserve, but we must make sure the community supports this action, or it will not last for the long-term.

Agricultural assessment and development program

We need to find ways to increase the productivity of their present outlying agriculture areas in order to mitigate the negative response the community may have over restricting agricultural work within the forest. The cattle pressure is high in the forest which will also need to be remedied with alternatives.

Simple Birdwatching tourism development

The Machaca area will not be a popular nature or birdwatching destination. But the community of Machaca is poor enough that any income in the area through tourism will be appreciated and will demonstrate to the community another value of their managed forest. The area holds an endemic species that could attract a few tourists each year. This option should be explored, promoted, and the community could be trained to make the most of tourism visits with an entrance fee, lodging, food preparation, guiding, and other services (like clothes washing).


We believe the conservation of the Machaca forest area is a real possibility, but it must be approached cautiously, sensitively and with honest community work. We envision a program with a conservation development investment period of at least five years. This proposal represents the first phase of six months, which will create a relationship with the community, indicate the efforts necessary to protect the Machaca forest, and the most productive community support possible. This work and relationship building we believe is the only long-term responsible way to work towards protecting the area. We plan to continue to develop the program with the community suggestions in the second year, with the hopes that by the third year, with community participation, we could begin strong habitat protection measures of the most important forests areas creating a nature reserve.

Budget (US$)







Coordinator (6 months)


Agronomist (3 months)


Ornithologist (reproduction research-2 months)












Field Consumption




Local Ground Transportation


National Ground Transportation




School books, pamphlets


Tourism Pamphlet


Materials for Workshops


Office materials


Office materials for printing










Asociacion Armonía*




*Armonía Conservation center support includes free usage of Bolivian Bird data base, Bird library, sound library, scientific and administrative advisory support, telephone, fax, computer usage (including GIS system), office space, office supplies and field equipment (field vehicles, sound recorders, binoculars, telescopes, tents, sleeping bags etc.).


A. Bennett Hennessey/ Director
Asociación Armonía/ BirdLife International
Lomas de Arena 400
Casilla 3566
Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Telf: 591-3-3568808/