Puerto Rican Amazon (Amazona vittata)
|Also known as:||Puerto Rican parrot, red-fronted Amazon|
|Spanish:||Amazona de Puerto Rico, Cotorra Portorriqueña|
|Size||Size: 30 cm (2)|
|Weight||250 – 300 g (2)|
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).
The Puerto Rican Amazon is the USA’s only native parrot, one of the ten most endangered birds in the world, and possibly the world’s rarest wild parrot (4). This emerald-green bird (5) possesses black edging to the feathers of the head, mantle and breast, giving a scaled appearance (6), and is characterised by a red band across the forehead and conspicuous white eye-rings (7). The primary wing feathers are a soft blue, the tail is green, and the bill and feet are flesh-coloured (6) (8).
Endemic to Puerto Rico, USA, where the species has been confined to the Caribbean National Forest of the Luquillo Mountains since the 1960s, with a present occupied range of just 16 km² (7).
Puerto Rico was formerly entirely forested and, historically, the Puerto Rican Amazon was abundant in all forest types (2), including scrub, moist montane and lowland forests, and mangroves (6) (7). The species is now restricted to montane rainforest at elevations of 200 to 600 metres above sea level (7).
The Puerto Rican Amazon typically occurs in pairs, with nests made in natural tree cavities and used year after year (2). The breeding season is from late February to July (7) and the clutch size ranges from two to four eggs, although many pairs fail to lay eggs in a season (2). Incubation is performed by the female only, and lasts for around 26 days (6). Young fledge at approximately nine weeks of age (6) (8) and reach sexual maturity after three to five years (8).
Diet mainly consists of wild fruits, particularly the sierra palm (Prestoria montana), but flowers, leaves, seeds, bark and tender shoots may also be eaten, with up to 60 food plants recorded in the diet (6).
So far, the Puerto Rican Amazon has only narrowly escaped extinction, reaching an all-time low of just 13 birds in 1975 (7). The initial, and primary, cause of decline was the widespread forest clearance that accompanied European settlement during the 18th and 19th Centuries (2). The bird has also suffered badly from persecution as a crop pest, and hunting for food and the pet trade, so that by the 1930s this previously abundant species had dramatically reduced to around 2000 individuals, confined to a small range in the Luquillo Mountains (3) (6). The species then endured an ongoing decline until 1975, after which intensive conservation efforts helped it to gradually recover, although efforts were hindered by the impact of Hurricane Hugo in September 1989, which reduced the population of 47 birds to 22 (2) (3). Despite recent population increases, the parrot is considered Critically Endangered because its numbers still remain dangerously small (7). Currently, the principle threats are competition for nest-sites, loss of young to parasitic botflies (Philornis pici), predation by the pearly-eyed thrasher (Margarops fuscatus) and the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), and natural disasters such as hurricanes (7) (8). The extremely small size of the remaining population deems all threats incredibly serious (8).
In 1968, concentrated conservation efforts were begun to try to mitigate all these threats, involving experiments with artificial nest-sites, control of nest predators and competitors, and captive breeding and re-introduction (7). The Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Programme was begun between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) (9). Captive breeding was initiated in 1973, with the creation of the Luquillo Aviary within the Caribbean National Forest (4). In 1993, this captive flock was split and a portion moved to a second aviary in Rio Abajo at the opposite end of the island, in order to prevent the potential catastrophic loss of the entire captive flock due to hurricanes or disease (4) (5) (8). The captive breeding programme has experienced great success, with 190 birds now living in the two breeding aviaries (4). Since May 2000, captive reared parrots have been being released into the wild to bolster the wild population, with over 40 birds released to date (4). All remaining habitat is protected in the Caribbean National Forest (7) but it is nevertheless possible that a single powerful hurricane could destroy the entire wild population in their restricted range of a single mountainous valley (4). Thus, exciting plans have been made by Dr. White for a huge release in 2006 into a second, more protected Karst region on the opposite end of the island (4). Should this introduction be successful, this rare parrot will be given an infinitely greater chance of survival and, although still critically low, the species’ steadily increasing numbers provide a glimpse of hope for the future.
For more information on the Puerto Rican Amazon see:
- BirdLife International:
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1997) Handbook of the birds of the world, Volume 4 - Sandgrouse to cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Parrots International:
Authenticated (21/06/2006) by Dr. Thomas White, Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and coordinator for the releases of captive-reared Puerto Rican Parrots, Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program.
- Endemic: a species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- Mantle: in birds, the wings, shoulder feathers and back, when coloured differently from the rest of the body.
- Primaries: in birds, the main flight feathers projecting along the outer edge of the wing.
- Re-introduction: an attempt to establish a native species back into an area where it previously occurred.
IUCN Red List (November, 2011)