I recently traveled to Puerto Rico for my first visit to the Iquaca and Rio Abajo aviaries, the conservation sanctuaries that house most of the world’s Puerto Rican parrots. As the new studbook keeper for the population, it was an eye-opening experience.
Above: Lincoln Park Zoo scientists are assisting efforts to conserve the Puerto Rico parrot, whose population numbered just 13 wild birds in 1973.
I made the trek with colleagues Sarah Long, director of the Population Management Center, and retired conservation biologist Joanne Earnhardt. The three of us visited both aviaries and met with the aviary and field managers who work with the parrots every day. Together, we’re all part of a massive conservation effort aimed at keeping this critically endangered species on the path to recovery.
Hope B. McCormick Curator of Birds Sunny Nelson (right) and Population Management Center Director Sarah Long (standing) go over population records with their partners at the Rio Abajo aviary.
Rio Abajo was our first stop. After many curvy, bumpy roads, we arrived early to be greeted by the sounds of parrots. We immediately began working on reviewing the population database and checking studbook entries—the official log of hatches, breeding matches and deaths—from previous years.
A firsthand look at driving through Rio Abajo Aviary.
We also visited the birds and got to see the flight habitats and release habitats. This was the most exciting part of the day. While walking to the release site, we even caught a glimpse of wild Puerto Rican parrots. They were eating from a supplemental feeding site set-up by the Rio Abajo staff. By the day’s end we were greeted by the flock of wild birds that fly past the aviary every evening. It was a great end to our time at Rio Abajo.
Sunny raises a feeding station that supplements the diets of released parrots.
The second part of the trip required us to cross the island heading east to El Yunque National Forest and the Iquaca (formerly known as Loquillo) aviary. This aviary was very different. It was outfitted with some of the newest aviculture gadgets, from the newest incubators and hatchers to temperature-detecting “dummy eggs.”
One of the management experts shows off a temperature-sensing "egg."
Each breeding cage was equipped with nest-box cameras, and the office had an equal number of screens to monitor nesting activities!
This high-tech set-up lets the parrot managers keep an eye on every nest.
Of course the icing on the cake was seeing a wild parrot fly in at the end of our day to perch atop one of the flight habitats.
A released parrot returns for a visit!
It was a great trip. I was glad to see firsthand all the hard work and dedication put forth to save the Puerto Rican Parrot. I’m glad Lincoln Park Zoo can help this vital recovery by lending our expertise toward organizing and analyzing decades of population records.
Sunny Nelson is Lincoln Park Zoo's Hope B. McCormick Curator of Birds.
Lincoln Park Zoo's Protecting the Puerto Rican Parrot webpage