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Abaco Island, The Bahamas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Mark L. Stafford

 

Click here for Caroline Stahala's definitive master thesis on the Abaco Parrot

 

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Parrots International is accepting tax deductible donations to implement and fund the conservation project to save the Abaco population of the Bahama Amazon. If you are interested in donating to support the project please contact Parrots International at info@parrotsinternational.org

Background:

 

The Bahama Parrot (Amazona leucocephala bahamensis) was formerly found throughout the Bahamas (Olson and Hilgartner, 1982).  Presently it remains on only two islands, Great Abaco and Great Inagua Island.  The two populations exhibit differences in their breeding strategies.  The Abaco population is unique because it is the only ground nesting parrot in the West Hemisphere  (Juniper 1998).  The Abaco population is also the only fire adapted parrot in the world.  The Abaco population breeds in a small 5 kilometer radius area on the south end of Abaco Island in the Abaco National Park.

 

There are no extant (native) mammals other than bats native to Great Abaco Island.  Cats and recently Raccoons were introduced to this island exposing the ecosystem to new level of predation. Cats where identified as a cause of depredation of nests and loss of breeding adults (Gnam 1991, Stahala unpublished data).  The population is being hit twice as hard by these predators because new recruitment to the population is being decreased, at the same time as mortality of adults is being increased.  Depending on the level of predation, both of these factors can cause a slow decline in the Parrot population (C. Stahala unpublished data).

 

Recommendations to preserve the Bahama Parrot include predator control for the Abaco population and translocation to establish a third population in the former range and predator control on Abaco to maintain the persistence of the this population (Gnam,1991; Wiley et al, 2004).  The translocation preparations are currently underway. 

 

Parrots International has created a pilot project in 2005 to address the issue of predators on Abaco and begin a predator control program. Additionally Parrots International is supporting Caroline Stahala's continuing work with the Abaco population of the Bahama Parrot and her future work with the Inagua island population. 

 

 

On Abaco, as of July 1, 2004 there existed 77 total breeding pair of Bahama Parrots. (C. Stahala unpublished data). On July 10 a forest fire raged through the breeding area for four days in mid-breeding season and burned over many of the active nests, all with young unfledged chicks. Miraculously every chick survived. The immediate inspection of one nest immediately behind the fire-line (before daybreak following the night that the fire burned the coppice to ground level) revealed the female parent still inside. She had obviously spent the night in the ground hollow nest with her chicks as the fire raged over the top of her. Amazing. One nest, however, was lost due to flooding from the storm that extinguished the fire.

 

Caroline Stahala, Bahama Parrot Researcher, inspecting

a nest hole with chicks immediately after a fire

The fire greatly altered the environment and pressures on the birds. The coppice understory was destroyed, denuding the ground nest areas which made it easy for the feral cats to find and predate the nests. In the 30 days following the fire 21 of the 77 known nests were depredated by feral cats leaving only 56 breeding pairs. Beside the breeder losses, cats ate approximately 50 unfledged chicks for lunch and dinner, severely decreasing recruitment for the population. (C. Stahala unpublished data).

 

Then, on September 3, 2004, the week that the remaining 56 nests were to fledge, the eye of hurricane Frances with 200 kilometer per hours winds made a direct hit on the Abaco breeding population (see satellite photo below).

 

The last time a hurricane of this magnitude made a direct hit on an island population of amazons was 1989. On September 18, 1989 Hurricane Hugo made landfall on eastern Puerto Rico and reduced the Puerto Rican Amazon population by 50%. The reduction occurred both due to immediate effects and delayed effects over the following months due to habitat destruction and loss of food sources. Applying that model to the Bahama Parrot perhaps as few as 28 (50%) of the 56 breeding pairs will survive the aftermath of hurricane Frances.

 

Hurricane Frances satellite photo September 3, 2004

Direct hit on the Bahama Parrot and habitat

 

Preliminary observations of the Bahama Parrot habitat post–Frances Hurricane  showed large scale destruction of the habitat and food sources. (personal communication, John Harold Bethell, Bahamian National Trust)

 

On Saturday September 25, 2004 Abaco suffered a second direct hit, this time by hurricane Jeanne with 185 kilometer per hour winds. (see satellite photo below)

 

Hurricane Jeanne satellite photo September 25, 2004...

... A second direct hit on the Bahama Parrot and habitat

 

The short term (3-4 month) effect of these two hurricanes on the population was predictably  catastrophic. Both of these hurricanes hit during the early fledging stage of the 2004 breeding season. A significant loss of breeding age birds was predictable. New recruitment from 2004 fledged birds was predictably extremely low.

 

The effects of taking two direct hits from two successive hurricanes within a 22 day period are not known.

 

However, assuming effective of the aftermath of the two hurricanes, and assuming the feral cats can consume 21 breeding pairs per 30 day period, and assuming the feral cats can multiply each  breeding season, the exposure of the Abaco population of the Bahama Parrot to extinction pressures is extremely high. Predator control is imperative.

 

Therefore, Parrots International submitted a proposal to the Bahamian Government to undertake a conservation/predator control pilot project for the Abaco Bahama Parrot. That project began in mid-February 2005 and consisted of three phases. The first phase is the trapping and removal of feral cats during the non-breeding season. The second phase consists of funding Caroline Stahala's annual census monitor the total population numbers. The third phase consists of a  Breeding/Nesting Study during the season to assess the depredation rates from feral cats and determine nesting success and recruitment (new young individuals) into the population.

 

Applications for the project were submitted and approved by The Bahamas Department of Agriculture (the equivalent to the US Fish and Wildlife Service), the Bahamas National Trust (The Bahamas National trust governs the Abaco National Park, within which the breeding area is situated) and the Friends of the Environment (the local NGO working to eradicate introduced species). Therefore, all governmental and local applications and permits are in order for the project to proceed toward implementation from pilot study to . 

 

Objectives of the PI Abaco Parrot Predator Control Pilot Program:

            The overall objective was to demonstrate that predator control is an effective and possible conservation strategy for the Abaco Parrot. In fact, Caroline Stahala thesis predicts that reduction of feral cat depredation (predator control) is the only variable which we can alter to reverse the extinction pressure on this parrot:

1)   Phase I:

Trapping and removal of feral cats within the breeding area of the Bahama Parrot within the Abaco National Park, Abaco, The Bahamas prior to the start of the 2005 breeding season. 

Phase I of the pilot project was completed March 11, 2005       

                     

2)   Phase II:

a.)    Intensive trapping during the breeding season around active nests

b.)    Support of an annual census and assessment as part of Caroline Stahala's (primary researcher on the Abaco Parrot from North Carolina State University). Caroline Stahala has spent 18 consecutive months studying the Abaco Population of the Bahamian Parrot from the 2003 through the 2004 breeding seasons, as well a assisting with supervision during 2005. During 2005 a Post-Hurricane assessment was conducted by Caroline to evaluate the critical endangered status of the Bahamian Parrot. Parrots International is accepting tax deductible donations to support Caroline Stahala's continuing work on Abaco and Inagua Islands.

3)   Phase III:

c.)    A Breeding season/Nesting survey to determine how many breeding pairs remain; to determine 2005 feral cat depredation rates on the breeding parrots (post Phase I feral cat trapping)

Additionally Please Note: Caroline Stahala is looking for anyone interested in donating a used workable field vehicle, pickup truck, etc. for use in her upcoming Bahama Parrot research on the second population on the island of Inagua. Contact Parrots International for the contact information for Caroline Stahala.

 

Methods:  

Feral cats wiare be trapped within the confines of the Bahama Parrot breeding area only, within the Abaco National Park on Southern Abaco Island. Traps are set in the areas of parrot predation identified by Caroline Stahala during the 2004 and 2005 breeding seasons. GPS coordinates recorded by Caroline Stahala of each depredated nest, as well as non-depredated nests, are used to determine the appropriate sites for traps.

 

Timeline:

The predator control pilot project Phase I, II and III  spanned nine months. The project began February 11, 2005. The project began prior to the 2005 breeding season to increase the chances of trapping the feral cats responsible for the depredation within the breeding area.

The future predator control project will span a minimum of three years.

The  population census by Caroline Stahala are conducted in mid May of each year. The census must be completed prior to the beginning of the breeding season (breeding starts late May). Once the parrots begin their breeding season they are no longer found in flocks that are easier to locate and count. The females begin to spend all their time in the ground nest holes and the males start their lookout vigil in the pine trees above the nests.

 

Results of the Pilot Program:

The pilot program proved that predator control is an effective and predictable tool for the conservation of the Abaco parrot. Period. Our one year pilot program decreased the depredation during the breeding season by 30%. Therefore, each year of predator control reduces the extinction pressure due to deaths from feral cats by a minimum of 1/3....a tremendous benefit to the goal of saving the Abaco parrot.  The pilot program allowed us to determine the optimum methodology for predator control, knowledge which we are sharing with our partners: The Bahamas Department of Agriculture, The Bahamas National Trust and Friends of the Environment.

Parrots International's total cost of funding phases I, II and III of the pilot program was $24,500. We are now hoping for donations and support from interested individuals and organizations to follow through with the critical second and continued, long term phase of the project to save the Abaco population of the Bahama Parrot from extinction.

 

Cooperators/Collaborators

Bahamas National Trust

Friends of the Environment, John Harold Bethell

Department of Agriculture, Bahamas

North Carolina State University, Caroline Stahala, researcher and expert in the Abaco population of the Bahama Parrot

 

Parrots International would like to thank the following donors/supporters for the Bahama Parrot

Amigos de Las Aves, US.

The Amazona Society

Dr. Frank Lavac, DVM

Dr. Leslie Ross, PSY.D TTEE

The Amazona Society UK


 

 Map of Southern Abaco

Text Box: Crossing Rocks

 

Text Box: Sandy Point

 

Text Box: Hole in the Wall

 

 Project areas for predator control to limit predation

upon Bahama Parrot nests (Orange Area). 

 

Literature Cited

 

 

Gnam, R. S.  1991.  Breeding biology of the Bahama Parrot (Amazona leucocephala bahamensis).

            Ph.D. dissertation, City University of New York, NY.

 

Juniper, T.  1998.  Parrots: A guide to parrots of the world. 

            New Haven. Yale University Press.  p524.

 

Olson, S.L. and W.B. Hilgartner. 1982.  Fossil and subfossil birds from the

            Bahamas. Pp 22-60. in S. Olson (ed) Fossil vertebrates from the Bahamas.

            Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington, D.C.

 

Wiley et al.  2004.  Status and Conservation of the Family Psittacidae in the West Indies.

            The Journal of Caribbean Ornithology.  Special Issue 94-154.

 

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