WatchList > View WatchList
Puerto Rican Parrot
Once abundant throughout Puerto Rico, the endemic Puerto Rican Parrot is now perilously close to extinction, persisting in the wild only as a tiny remnant population occupying a patch of rainforest habitat in the Caribbean National Forest. The future of this critically endangered species depends on the long-term success of an ongoing program of research and intervention that was initiated in 1968.
The Puerto Rican Parrot is a conspicuous foot-long emerald green forest dweller with a red forehead, wide white eye-rings, and flesh-colored bill and feet. It shares the stocky, short-tailed shape of other Amazona parrots. In flight its broad wings flash bright blue primaries, and it gives a distinctive bugling call. At other times it makes various squeals and squawks. The Taino Indian name "Iguaca" and the Spanish name "Cotorra de Puerto Rico" both refer to its loquacious nature. It has been restricted to a single mountain refuge for more than sixty years, but in the lowlands of Puerto Rico the introduced Hispaniolan Parrot (Amazona ventralis) is frequently mistaken for this species.
Before the arrival of Columbus, the Puerto Rican Parrot was abundant and distributed widely over Puerto Rico and the small adjacent islands of Vieques, Culebra and Mona. It is estimated to have numbered somewhere between one hundred thousand and one million individuals in the fifteenth century. The species remained common through the middle colonial period, but during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the islands' human population began to grow explosively, and progressive clearing of forests for agriculture severely reduced the parrots' range. In time, nearly 90% of Puerto Rico was deforested. On the smaller islands the Puerto Rican Parrot was extirpated before 1900. In Puerto Rico fragmentary populations retreated to isolated residual forests, where they were exposed to piecemeal reduction by hurricanes, predators, and other pressures. By 1940, the only remaining population was confined to the Caribbean National Forest in the eastern Sierra de Luquillo (El Yunque), where it ultimately dwindled to just 13 individuals in 1975. Since then, intensive management has forestalled extinction of the species, but it remains perilously close to the brink.
The Puerto Rican Parrot is a forest bird that subsists primarily on fruits. It typically travels in pairs, frequenting various species of trees in accord with their fruiting seasons. In El Yunque today the sierra palm (Prestoea montana) is a mainstay of its diet. It makes substantial use of the tabonuco tree (Dacryodes excelsa) and also the cupeillo (Clusia grisebachiana). But historically the parrot inhabited the full range of major forest types covering the island, and exploited a wider variety of fruiting trees. The bird presumably influenced forest composition by dispersing the seeds of its preferred food plants, as other parrots are known to do.
The Puerto Rican Parrot mates for life. Breeding takes place once a year during the dry season beginning in February. The parrots select a large cavity in a tree trunk, most often the palo colorado tree (Cyrilla racemiflora). Two to four eggs are laid. The female incubates the eggs, and is fed by the male until the chicks hatch at about 26 days. Both parents feed the young, which fledge at about nine weeks of age but remain dependent for several months thereafter, and may travel about with their parents until the next breeding season begins.
The tiny El Yunque population is highly vulnerable to threats that would scarcely have impacted the species at all during the period of its former abundance. The gravest danger at present is from hurricanes, as these storms can devastate large tracts of Puerto Rican forest at unpredictable intervals. The sole remaining wild parrot population, which had climbed to 47 by 1989 in response to protective management, fell back to 22 after Hurricane Hugo punished El Yunque that year. Other threats include nest predation by Pearly-eyed Thrashers, Red-tailed Hawks, rats and snakes, loss of nest cavities to honeybees, and infestations of bot flies and other parasites. In the longer view, inbreeding depression is a very serious threat: the number of individuals left in the wild has been below the self-sustaining level for the last fifty generations.
The species was declared federally Endangered on March 11, 1967. The following year saw initiation of a cooperative research and recovery program led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with the U.S. Forest Service, the Puerto Rican Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and the World Wildlife Fund. A formal Recovery Plan for the Puerto Rican Parrot was approved in April 1987. Management and research are directed toward maximizing breeding productivity both in the wild population and at two captive breeding aviaries. The long-term goal is to establish two self-sustaining populations of 500 birds in geographically separate areas. Captives are being bred for eventual release in the Caribbean National Forest and in the Rio Abajo Forest in Utuado, the location selected for future establishment of the second population. As of 1996, there were 87 birds in captivity. Protection and improvement of present and potential parrot habitat within the Caribbean National Forest area and in the Rio Abajo area are essential components of the recovery program. To date, several experimental releases of a few captive-bred birds have taken place in El Yunque.
What Can You Do?
The Endangered Species Act has helped protect the Purto Rican Parrot and made it possible to learn critical information about its biology. Audubon continues to work to ensure that this vital legislation is being used to protect our publicly-owned wildlife resources. Check out http://www.audubon.org/campaign/ to learn of the latest news about the Endangered Species Act and how you can help. To learn more about other species protected under this legislation, visit: http://endangered.fws.gov/
Support protection or acquisition of habitat on Puerto Rico by conservation agencies and organizations.
Become a member of the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds. See http://www.nmnh.si.edu/BIRDNET/SCO/.
Audubon is the U.S. representative of the global BirdLife International alliance. Our BirdLife partners in the Caribbean are developing Important Bird Areas programs to identify and conserve critical habitats that support birds and other wildlife. For more information on BirdLife IBA efforts throughout the Americas visit: http://www.birdlife.net/sites/index.cfm
BirdLife International (2006) Species factsheet: Amazona vittata, Puerto Rican Amazon http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=1666&m=0
National Biological Service. Our Living Resources, a Report to the Nation. http://biology.usgs.gov/s+t/index.htm
Oberly, M.W. 2000. Puerto Rico's Birds in Photographs. Editorial Humanitas, San Juan, PR.
Raffaele, H., J. Wiley, O. Garrido, A. Keith, and J. Raffaele. 1998. A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
Rice, J. 1999. Reintroduction of Parrots in the Greater Antilles and South America. http://www.hort.agri.umn.edu/h5015/99papers/rice.htm