Scientists and animal care experts at Lincoln Park Zoo, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Puerto Rico Natural and Environmental Resources Department are working together to save the Puerto Rican parrot, one of the world's most endangered birds. This species is endemic to the island and found nowhere else.
USFWS initiated a recovery program in 1968 after the wild population had fallen to about 70 birds, and in 1972 began captive breeding with less than 20 parrots.
Population-analysis support from Lincoln Park Zoo scientists has paid off for the species, whose bonded pairs mate for life. Its population at two aviaries and three wild-release sites in Puerto Rico now hovers around 600 thanks to a sharp increase in recent years. That’s decidedly better than 1975, when the species’ wild numbers had tumbled to a very unlucky 13.
See a photo slideshow of Puerto Rican parrots in the wild:
Photos by Tanya Martinez, Biologist, Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program,Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources.
The monitoring of release sites is sophisticated and vigilant. Researchers scale trees in professional climbing gear to check on nests—including artificially constructed cavities crafted from PVC tubing—and regularly survey the wild population from atop 80-foot-high platforms. Infrared cameras inside nests stream video to screens at the aviaries, helping scientists monitor hatches and chick development. Aviary technicians also repair damaged eggs and use incubators that mimic the temperature fluctuations that occur in wild nests when mothers temporarily leave to forage for seeds and fruit.
Researchers also use radio telemetry to follow captive-bred parrots for several months after their release into the wild. A small, lightweight radio is installed as a collar at the base of the neck of each individual bird. The radios transmit unique signals for each parrot that are detected using receivers. The information is used to determine survival and habitat preferences of the released birds.
Watch a video shot at a wild-release nest site in Puerto Rico’s tropical El Yunque National Forest:
Video courtesy of Gabriel J. Benitez, Biologist, Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.