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The Bahama Parrot – a new management plan

By Caroline Stahala, M.S

Photographs © Caroline Stahala

The Bahama Parrot (Amazona leucocephala bahamensis), which is found on Great Abaco and Great Inagua Island in the Bahamas, is finally receiving some much needed management attention from the Bahamas National Trust, Friends of the Environment (Abaco) and organizations such as Parrots International and the Amazona Society.

The Bahama Parrot management plan, the first for a species in the Bahamas, has been drafted, which is an enormous step forward. This plan includes everything we have learned about the parrot to date, as well as what needs to be done to preserve the species, including recommendations for development and conservation zoning. Some of the recommendations have begun to be implemented, including predator control efforts and measuring its effectiveness.

Nesting

The parrots on Abaco Island are unique because they utilize the ubiquitous ground holes on the karst island landscape for nesting. Karst refers to the make-up of the island, which is limestone, and quite susceptible to the formation of drainage holes and even sink holes. Some of these holes form to an adequate depth and width for the parrots to crawl into and lay their eggs. There are some advantages to this behavior. Unlike tree cavities, which most parrots use to nest in, the underground cavities are made of rock and are relatively resistant to natural disturbances.


Ground nesting also makes them a very good study species. Being close to the ground makes it easier for us to observe and monitor them, and even to catch and individually mark them, with minimal disturbance. This ability has allowed us to learn all sorts of fascinating aspects about the behavior/biology of this species, which is harder to obtain for other parrots.

Unfortunately, while this nesting behavior should be successful for the Bahama Parrots on a natural Abaco, human influences, such as development and introduced species, represent new threats that the parrots are not adapted to withstand. Roads through the nesting area destroy cavities. The proximity to the ground also makes nesting parrots more susceptible to feral cats and raccoons – mammalian predators introduced to the Island.

Predator Control

Efforts to ease some of these stressors are imperative to the survival of this native parrot species. A long-term predator control program has begun in the parrot nesting area, to alleviate some of this predation. Now we are in the process of monitoring the effects of this program on the breeding parrots. Results from the initial few seasons of this program, one of which was conducted by Parrots International, are giving us hope that we can decrease the number of parrots killed each breeding season by cats.

Predator control is not the only focus of management efforts. The Island of Abaco is becoming a more popular place to live and visit. This of course places stress on the parrot’s foraging and nesting habitat, as development and infrastructure continue to expand. This poses a specific threat to the Bahama Parrots, because they are social birds that feed and roost in groups, and there is also some evidence that they form loose nesting aggregations.

Research

This year, I am starting a project to look at the importance of the Abaco parrot’s social structure. We have all heard of the catastrophic demise of the passenger pigeon when its group sizes started to decline. Although the passenger pigeon is an extreme example, parrots are also known for their large raucous groups. What I am interested in is to see how these group formations, and their size, are important to a healthy parrot population.

It is not known what effects the fragmentation of their breeding and foraging habitat – and consequently smaller groups – will have on the outlook for the species. Ultimately, managers of parrot habitat can use this information to design protected areas which maximize parrot population health, using their natural behaviors. This area of research is new, but could potentially offer unique insight about management solutions that have not been taken into account before.

Support

Also this year, we are launching the Adopt-A-Parrot Nest program to help support all of these efforts, and further our knowledge of the Bahama Parrot. This program provides supporters with up-to-date information of a specific nest that is being monitored for management and research.




Caroline Stahala



Sponsors of Adopt-A-Parrot Nest can follow the progress of their nest including the development of their chicks on the PI website http://www.pipress.org/author/caroline/ while helping this imperiled species in its natural habitat. If you or your organization are interested in the Adopt-A-Parrot Nest program, please email info@parrotsinternational.org. Thank you to the Amazona Society and Hagen Inc for already contributing to this project.


blogs from the field - parrot conservation in real time

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