This inconspicuous and rather dull bird is the most endangered bird in Jamaica. It is entirely black with a pointed and curved bill for probing into bromeliads and a short tail. It calls with a loud, wheezing Zwheezoo-whezoo whe(2).
This monogamous species spends the majority of its time with its partner. They echo one another’s calls and fly above the canopy to perform a song-flight when separated. During the breeding season, the female incubates the eggs whilst the male perches nearby, attacking other birds vigorously if they come too close. The territories of Jamaican blackbirds are large and do not overlap. Once the chicks have hatched they are fed by both parents equally. The adults fly back and forth between bromeliads suspended on large trees, using their long and probing bills to pick out insects, and will also feed in amongst epiphytes, moss-covered trunks and dead leaves (2)(3).
The Jamaican blackbird can be seen in mature, wet limestone forest with a high density of epiphytes and bromeliads. It is found between 510 and 2,200 metres above sea level, but avoids hillsides with strong winds (2).
The past and current major threat to the Jamaican blackbird is habitat destruction as a result of afforestation with Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea), and clearance for the creation of coffee plantations. Trees are also removed for making charcoal, and small-scale farming and development is a constant threat to the area of habitat that remains. This bird species is particularly threatened by the removal of large trees as these are the support for the bromeliads and epiphytes that the blackbird forages amongst. Their removal also makes space for the invasive species, wild coffee (Pittosporum undulatum), which prevents the growth of epiphytes and therefore further hinders the Jamaican blackbird (2)(4).
A network of reserves and national parks exists across Jamaica, and whilst the Jamaican blackbird is found in several of these, including the largest which spans 800 km² of the Blue and John Crow Mountains, they are poorly managed and protected and their long-term future is not secure. The conservation of Cockpit Country would be of great benefit to the species and consequently funding is being sought to create a reserve there (2).
Wiley, R.H. and Crux, A. (1980) The Jamaican blackbird: a "natural experiment" in socioecology. In: Hecht, M.K., Steere, W.C. and Wallace, B. (Eds) Evolutionary Biology, Vol. 13. Plenum Press, New York.
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