Fish and Wildlife Service to review endangered Puerto Rican parrots
Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 1:34
City Parrots in Amazona vittata - Puerto Rican Amazon, Conservation

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is taking a close look at Puerto Rican parrot numbers as part of a broader review of endangered or threatened species on the U.S. mainland and the island.The FWS is conducting five-year status reviews of 25 endangered and eight threatened species occurring in one or more of the 10 states in the southeast region and Puerto Rico. The public is invited to provide written information and comments concerning these species on or before May 27.

These five-year reviews will ensure listing classifications under the Endangered Species Act are accurate. In addition to reviewing the classification of these species, a five-year review presents an opportunity to track the species’ recovery progress.

It may benefit species by providing valuable information to guide future conservation efforts. Information gathered during a review can assist in making funding decisions, consideration related to reclassifying species status, conducting interagency consultations, making permitting decisions, and determining whether to update recovery plans, and other actions under the ESA.

Specifically, this review seeks information on: species biology, including population trends, distribution, abundance, demographics, and genetics; habitat conditions, including amount, distribution, and suitability; conservation measures that have been implemented; threat status and trends; and, other new information, data, or corrections, including taxonomic or nomenclatural changes; identification of erroneous information contained in the ESA list; and improved analytical methods.

Comments on the endangered Puerto Rican parrot should be directed to the FWS Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office, Garcia de la Noceda Street, Local 38, 1600, Rio Grande, PR 00745. The fax787-887-7512. For information on this species, contact Marisel Lopez at the Ecological Services Field Office(787-887-8769, ext 224,

The federal and Puerto Rico governments are poised to establish a third wild population of endangered Puerto Rican parrots.

The FWS has issued a draft environmental assessment that paves the way for the project in the Maricao State Forest, Puerto Rico government land that stretches into the western municipalities of San Germán, Maricao and Sabana Grande.

Once abundant and widespread throughout the Puerto Rican archipelago, the Puerto Rican parrot (Amazona vittata) is currently classified as one of the 10 most endangered birds in the world despite gains in shoring up their numbers in recent years.

Habitat loss together with natural enemies is considered among the major causes for the precipitous decline of the species during the 20th century.

Currently, a single wild population of 20-25 individuals survives in the El Yunque National Forest and a population of 55-112 individuals near the Rio Abajo State Forest.

The purpose of the proposed federal action presented in the draft environmental assessment is to implement recovery actions that will help achieve the recovery of the Puerto Rican parrot. Specifically, the goals are to downlist and then delist the species, and assure its long-term viability in the wild.

The assessment considers a range of reintroduction alternative sites that were evaluated by an interagency work group composed by experts from the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER), the U.S. Forest Service and the FWS. The document presents as the preferred alternative as the Maricao State Forest. This alternative is preferred over the others because it assembles the desirable features for a successful reintroduction.

To promote a successful reintroduction and reproduction at the Maricao State Forest, a series of management activities would be implemented, similar to those used in the El Yunque National Forest and Rio Abajo State Forest. Actions needed to reestablish the third population in the wild includes: the release of captive-reared parrots at the selected site; protect and manage the reintroduced population at the selected site; implement improvements to the parrot habitat at the selected site; and work with private landowners near the selected site and stakeholders to develop and implement short and long term habitat conservation programs in the lands surrounding the release area.

The USFWS is requesting written comments on the draft EA. Based on the comments received the service would modify the draft EA. Comment must be submitted by December 21.

The Puerto Rican parrot has made a major comeback in the U.S. territory, but more work needs to be done.

The counted population of the Puerto Rican parrot fell to just 13 during its darkest days, but researchers said this summer that nearly 400 parrots are now in captivity and more than 100 being tracked in the wild across the island.

Scientists working in the Río Abajo Nature Preserve in the Arecibo-Utuado area also found a wild nest with eggs, the first discovery of its kind in 42 years.

The eggs did not hatch, but scientists said that is not unusual and they are encouraged that formerly captive parrots were procreating in the wild and building nests.

The birds are the island’s only remaining native parrot and one of roughly 30 species of Amazon parrots found in the Americas. They have red foreheads, turquoise feathers under their wings and grow to nearly a foot in length. They are known for their secrecy and usually mate for life, reproducing once a year.

This year, a record 51 baby parrots were born in captivity in the Rio Abajo forest, up from a previous record of 34 born in 2011, said Ricardo Valentín, a biologist with the island’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The number of parrots born in the wild also increased slightly to a record 15, up from 12 last year, he said.

While the researchers’ goal is to release parrots into the wild with temporary radio collars, some are too aggressive or weak and are instead kept captive, Olivieri said.

Scientists estimate that as many as 1 million Puerto Rican parrots lived in pre-colonial times, but their habitat was destroyed by the clearing of forests in the late 1800s to plant citrus, coffee and sugar cane.

By the 1950s, there were only an estimated 200 parrots in the wild, and numbers reached a low of 13 in 1975.

“Very few species in the world have been so close to extinction like the Puerto Rican parrot,” said Leopoldo Miranda, assistant regional director for the FWS.

The population later grew to nearly 50 by 1989, but Hurricane Hugo killed nearly half of them, prompting officials to create a second reserve to make them less vulnerable. Now they are hoping to open a third in western Puerto Rico.

Scientists launched the captive breeding program in 1972, with the first chick being born in 1979, and the rate of success grew as biologists and technicians learned more about the birds.

While Puerto Rican parrots are still considered an endangered species, Miranda said the population increase “is an incredible achievement.”

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