The Critically Endangered Puerto Rican Parrot
If you visit the Caribbean National Forest while you are in Puerto Rico, you may be fortunate enough to see a Puerto Rican Amazon Parrot. This attractive bird is endemic to Puerto Rico, but it is also critically endangered. In 2006 the remaining wild population was estimated to have dropped to as few as forty-four birds.
The Puerto Rican Amazon Parrot (Amazona vittata) is also sometimes called the Iguaca – a name given to the bird by the Taïno Indians based on the sound that the parrots make. The Puerto Rican Parrot is so critically endangered that it is listed as one of the ten most endangered bird species on the planet. Despite the fact that efforts to save this species from extinction started in 1968, it currently seems as though conservationists may be facing a loosing battle. Therefore, if you are fortunate enough to see one during your travels, you can count yourself among the privileged few. While these birds were once abundant on both the mainland and the surrounding islands, they are now restricted mainly to the protected forests of the Caribbean National Forest.
The Puerto Rican Amazon is covered with green feathers which have blue edges. The plumage on their foreheads is shaded bright red while their eyes look incredibly large due to distinctive white ovals which surround the actual eye. From the underside a bird watcher might note that the wings are bright blue and the tail is yellow-green. There is no difference in color between the sexes and the bird measures between 28 and 30 cm in length. Thus the Puerto Rican Amazon is smaller many other members of the Amazona parrot species but this size is not at all uncommon.
The Puerto Rican Parrot is herbivorous and it feeds on flowers, fruits, leaves, bark and nectar. They nest in vacant tree trunk cavities and show a preference for certain types of trees. They usually nest between seven and fifteen meters above the ground and the male will usually find the nesting site, though both the male and female will inspect it, clean it and settle in it. The Puerto Rican Amazon mates for life and reproduces only once a year. The female lays only two to four eggs, which she incubates herself. The chicks are very dependent and remain with the parents for a year after hatching.
Though the Puerto Rican Amazon has several natural predators – none of these have been more detrimental to the longevity of the bird than man. Loss of habitat and capture of live birds for pets have been among the leading causes for this bird’s near extinction. While captive breeding efforts are paying off, the wild bird population is still perilously close to extinction. So the next time you see one of these inquisitive looking birds, spare a thought for all the hard work that is going into preserving them for future generations.