Puerto Rican Parrot Conservation

Researchers monitoring the Puerto Rican Amazon parrot population in Puerto Rico recently announced that the critically endangered bird has made a significant comeback in the territory. At one stage records indicated that there were only thirteen of these attractive birds observed in the wild, but now there are up to 400 in captivity, while more than a hundred are being tracked across the island. In the spectacular Rio Abajo Nature Reserve, located in western Puerto Rico, scientists discovered a wild nest with eggs, reportedly being the first time in 42 years that a discovery of this kind has been made. Unfortunately, the eggs did not hatch, but are nevertheless seen as an indication that parrots that were born in captivity and released into the wild have adapted sufficiently to be building nests and attempting to breed. Also, it is apparently not all that unusual for eggs not to hatch, even for parrots born and raised in the wild.

As their name would suggest, Puerto Rican Amazon parrots are endemic to Puerto Rico. They are predominantly green, with turquoise feathers on their outer wings, white around the eyes and a red forehead. They were listed as an endangered species by the United States Fish and wildlife Service in 1967 and listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN in 1994, so the news of an increase in their numbers is most welcome. Their decline in numbers was primarily due to habitat destruction, and they are now generally seen in Puerto Rico’s nature reserves where they have ready access to their diet which consists of fruits, flowers, nectar, leaves and bark. They nest in cavities of trees and only reproduce once a year, with sexual maturity being between three and four years of age.

Historically, early settlers of Puerto Rico hunted the parrots as a food source, while human encroachment on natural resources also had an adverse impact. With deforestation, some areas became more vulnerable to natural disasters, and Hurricane Hugo in September 1989, for example, killed a number of birds, reducing the population from 47 to 23 as it wreaked havoc on the island. They are also vulnerable to predators, such as the Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon and Pearly-eyed Thrasher, as well as rats and mongooses, the latter competing for nesting cavities and eating chicks and eggs.

While the Puerto Rican Amazon is far from out of danger, the recovery plans that were implemented in 1968 are bearing fruit. These include raising viable wild populations and protecting their habitats. So if you happen to spot a Puerto Rican Amazon when exploring this beautiful destination, give some thought to the men and women who have dedicated much time and effort to bring them back from the brink of extinction.