Two Puerto Rican parrots in exhibit

Protecting the Puerto Rican Parrot

Puerto Rican parrots in a rehab facility in Puerto Rico

Purpose

Lincoln Park Zoo is lending its population biology expertise to help the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot continue on its path to recovery.

About

Puerto Rican parrots, listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), had their population reduced to just 13 wild parrots in 1975. Habitat loss, hurricanes, and predation had devastated a population that once numbered in the tens of thousands.

Thanks to a conservation effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, managers feel the species is heading toward a successful recovery. A breeding program that began in the 1970s, using collected eggs and chicks, has produced two strong aviary populations near Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest and Rio Abajo Forest Reserve. These populations serve as a source for active reintroductions to the wild, with ongoing releases occurring at two sites across the island and additional sites planned for the future. The recovery program is ongoing, working to re-establish at least three wild populations of parrots.

Record-keeping and Population Management 

Over a decade ago, as the aviary population continued to grow, managers found they needed help organizing more than three decades of records. While births, deaths, transfers, and releases had been meticulously recorded, the information wasn’t centralized, making it difficult to access or analyze.

The aviary biologists began a collaboration with the zoo’s Alexander Center for Applied Population Biology, which has a wealth of population-management expertise. Zoo scientists and the aviary biologists worked closely together to enter thousands of records on individual parrots into PopLink, a zoo-developed software program, enabling parrot managers to better track the birds and analyze trends in the population.

With the database as a foundation, aviary managers and Lincoln Park Zoo scientists meet regularly to assess population changes, project future growth, and advise on aviary breeding pairs, supporting the strategic planning necessary for this endangered species to continue on the path to recovery.

Modeling the Species’ Future 

In 2019, the collaborative team began a project to model the entire population of Puerto Rican parrots, including the dynamics of the aviary sub-populations and the wild subpopulations and the releases of birds between sub-populations. The need for this model was especially evident after Hurricane Maria devastated one of the wild sub-populations in September 2017, highlighting the vulnerability of the species and the need for careful future planning. The population viability analysis (PVA) will be used to make better decisions about release strategies, recovery targets, and needed management changes to improve long-term viability of the species.

Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program

The Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program aims to conserve, protect, and manage wild and captive populations of the Puerto Rican parrot.

Staff

S. Sunny Nelson, M.A.
Hope B. McCormick Curator of Birds 
Animal Management
Lisa Faust, Ph.D.
Vice President
Conservation & Science