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  • Writer's pictureJo O

A true Birding Miracle in Minas Gerais State, Brazil:

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

A Reforestation Project Led by the famous Photographer Sebastião Salgado Leads to the Return of Almost 200 species of birds.

In today’s world, all we birders ever hear about is the destruction and deforestation of the Rainforest in countries like Brazil or Indonesia. We feel helpless because it seems to be never ending and completely out of our control. Here’s a story that inspires and gives hope. Sebastiao Salgado, famous the world over for his incredible documentary photography, together with his wife Lélia Wanick Salgado had seen enough of the environmental destruction of his childhood home. In the late 1990s, they led an initiative to restore and reforest over 1500 acres of what was once a cattle ranch near the city of Aimores in the state of Minas Gerais. More specifically, they began a project to restore a small portion of the pristine Atlantic Rainforest and this is what caught the attention of the world. After over 20 years, the area has seen almost 200 species of birds return to what had become a wasteland.

What has happened of the decades to the Atlantic Rainforest? Basically, it’s almost all gone. If birds in this region are on your bucket list, go now to see them because you many not get another chance. On the other hand, this story gives hope. The Atlantic Rainforest was once present in 17 states and covered about 30% of Brazil. This lush and pristine forest was also home many mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects species. What’s important to note is the fact that this project has proven to the world that environmentally devastated land can be restored and replenished no matter how bad the situation gets. For birders, this is exciting news because it proves that the land will heal itself and the indigenous birds will return.

Currently, Brazil is suffering through the same challenges. Expansion of farming, drought, bad agricultural planning and basic public ignorance has seen bird species being forced out of their natural habitat searching for places to live. Eventually, they will run out of options and die out. What is inspiring about this project is that it gives hope to Brazil and the world that the areas don’t simply die, but can be recovered.

Twenty years ago, over 2.5 million seedlings from 297 native Atlantic Forest species were planted and the results are mind blowing. Since then, 173 species of birds have been registered to have returned to their native habitat. Six of these were threatened with extinction! Camera’s trap strategically placed in the forest have shown various species once thought eliminated making use of the newly restored resources. In addition, 33 mammal species, 16 species of reptiles and 15 amphibians have returned to the region. For birders, the Red-browed parrot (Amazona rhodocorytha) and the Vinaceous-breasted Parrot (Amazona vinacea) have practically returned from the dead in the region.

We encourage you to do more research but know that it isn’t all doom and gloom in the rain forests of Brazil. There are success stories and the revitalization and reforestation of this small patch of land in Aimores, Brazil gives hope that all this destruction can be reversed if we act. Birding is one way to act because birders play a part in raising awareness, registering species, generating income to local communities and advocating for environmental preservation. For once, we get a success story for the environment, for the animal population, for the country of Brazil and ultimately for birders!

Before and after the reforestation project. Photo: Instituto Terra.

Seedling nursery of more than 290 native Atlantic Forest species. Photo: Instituto Terra.

The farm Bulcão in 2022 with over 2.5 million seedlings planted. Photo: Instituto Terra.

Camera traps are used at the old farm to help biologists to identify what species are back to the land. A couple of Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) have been registered several times now. Photo: Instituto Terra.

Crab-eating fox (Cerdocyon thous). Photo: Instituto Terra.

Blue-winged Macaw (Primolius maracana), Near Threatened Category. Photo: Instituto Terra.

Red-browed Parrot (Amazona rhodocorytha), Vulnerable Category. Photo: Instituto Terra.

Black-capped Donacobius (Donacobius atricapilla), Least concern category. Photo: Instituto Terra.

Crescent-chested Puffbird (Malacoptila striata). Photo: Instituto Terra.

Black-necked Aracari (Pteroglossus aracari), Least Concern Category. Photo: Instituto Terra.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum). Photo: Instituto Terra.

Bare-throated Bellbird (Procnias nudicollis), Near Threatened Category. Photo: Instituto Terra.

Saffron Finch (Sicalis flaveola), Least Concern Category. Photo Instituto Terra.


The Instituto Terra is a community non-profit non-governmental organization that operates in the whole territory of the Valley of the River Doce between the states of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo, Brazil. The Institute has defined its objectives as restoration of the ecosystem, production of Atlantic Forest seedlings, environmental outreach programs, environmental education and applied scientific research.


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