PUERTO RICAN PARROT
STATUS: Endangered throughout its range, Federal Register, March 11, 1967.
DESCRIPTION: The Puerto Rican parrot is bright green, about a foot in length, with red forehead, blue primary wing feathers, and flesh-colored bill and feet. This bird feeds chiefly on wild fruits, particularly the sierra palm (Prestoria montana), but may also consume flowers and tender shoots. During October, when other fruits are scarce, the tabonuco fruit (Dacryodes excelsa) becomes an important food item. Rodriguez-Vidal (1959) lists over 5O different plants whose fruits are eaten by the parrots.
REPRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT: All recent observations indicate that nesting is confined almost exclusively to natural cavities in colorado trees. The parrots clean out the interior of the cavity but they do not add lining material. Nest height varies from about 7 to 15 meters above the ground. Birds that have reached 3 to 4 years begin mating activities in January. Clutch size ranges from two to four eggs. The period from laying to fledging requires about 13 weeks. Since 1973, when an intensive management program was started, the fledging rate, based on eggs laid, has been about 7O percent. Pre-1973 success was between 11 and 26 percent.
CAPTIVE PROPAGATION PROGRAM: The captive program of the Puerto Rican parrot was initiated in 1968 by collecting parrots already in captivity and a few from the wild. A captive flock is being maintained to increase the sheer number of parrots; to maintain a second group of birds, particularly if there should occur a natural catastrophe; to provide and manipulate different genetic stock for trading with the wild flock; and to eventually provide stock to be reintroduced into the wild.
RANGE AND POPULATION LEVEL: The Puerto Rican parrot is presently found only in Puerto Rico, but up until 1899 it was also found on nearby Culebra Island, and earlier on Vieques and Mona Islands. In Puerto Rico, the parrots were known to be in Guajataca Forest at medium elevations until 191O; and in Rio Abajo Forest, also at medium elevations, until the 192O's. In Carite Forest, the parrot was found at high elevations until the 193O's; and in the swamp at the mouth of the Mameyes River until 1927. Since 194O, the range has been limited to the Caribbean National Forest in extreme eastern Puerto Rico. Although the Caribbean National Forest contains over 26,OOO acres, the parrots have concentrated in a small area of some 3,OOO acres in the western and west central part of the forest (Rodriguez-Vidal 1959).
At the time of Columbus, the parrot's total population may have exceeded 1OO,OOO individuals. In the 195O's, the population was estimated at 2OO birds; and, in 1975, reached an all time low of 13 birds. By August, 1989, the population count of the wild flock resulted in a minimum of 47 birds. There were five breeding pairs, although not all bred each year.
Hurricane Hugo hit eastern Puerto Rico on September 18, 1989, severely impacting the Caribbean National Forest. Currently, there are about 24 to 26 parrots in the wild, including four breeding pairs, and 56 in captivity at the Luquillo Aviary.
HABITAT: The present habitat consists of mature rain forest located between about 1,3OO and 2,7OO feet in elevation. Dwarf forest at the higher elevations and second growth lowland forest are not used. The parrots are confined to areas having the largest number of old colorado trees (Cyrilla racemiflora), which supply nesting cavities. Historically, the parrots nested in holes in cliffs as well, and occupied a more diversified habitat, particularly at lower elevations.
REASONS FOR CURRENT STATUS: The initial decline is attributed to extensive deforestation. Contributing factors have included widespread hunting; devastating hurricanes during 1928, 1932, and 1989; natural predation; and the taking of parrots for pets. The extremely small size of the remaining population makes all adverse pressures very serious. The pearly-eyed thrasher (Margarops fuscatus), which has become much more abundant and widespread in recent years, and the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) are considered to be natural predators. The pearly-eyed thrasher is also an active competitor for the limited number of suitable nesting cavities.
MANAGEMENT AND PROTECTION: The Recovery Plan for the Puerto Rican Parrot, Amazona vittata, approved in April 1987 (original approval: November 30, 1982), includes the following recommendations: (1) Increase effective wild population at the Caribbean National Forest to a self-sustaining level of 5OO birds; (2) Maximize production of Puerto Rican parrots in captivity for eventual release; (3) Protect and improve present and potential parrot habitat within the Caribbean National Forest area and the Rio Abajo area; (4) Establish and maintain a second effective wild population of at least 5OO birds in the Rio Abajo area; (5) Manage wild populations in the Caribbean National Forest and in the Rio Abajo area; (6) Construct and operate a second aviary at Rio Abajo Forest to produce parrots for release; and, (7) encourage research and recovery efforts by reputable members of the private sector.
McManus, Irene. 1976. The Perils of Parrots (An interview with Dr. Noel Snyder). American Forests. September 82(9): 16-19, 58-64.
Rodriguez-Vidal, J.A. 1959. Puerto Rican Parrot (Amazona vittata) Study. Monog. Dept. Agric. and Commerce, P.R. No.1:1-15.
Snyder, N.F., J.W. Wiley, and C.B. Kepler. 1987. The Parrots of Luquillo: Natural History and Conservation of the Puerto Rican Parrot. West. Found. Vert. Zool., Los Angeles.
U.S. Department of the Interior. 1978. Species Accounts for Sensitive Wildlife information System (SWIS). Fish and Wildlife Service, National Fish and Wildlife Laboratory. Washington, D.C.
U.S. Department of the Interior. 1973. Threatened Wildlife of the United States. U.S. Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C. 289 pp.
**U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1987. Recovery Plan for the Puerto Rican Parrot, Amazona vittata. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta, Georgia. 69 pp.
For more information please contact:
Caribbean Field Office
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Boqueron, Puerto Rico OO622
Department of Natural Resources
San Juan, Puerto Rico OO622