Threatened Birds in Hispaniola

Posted by Eugene Morton on December 29, 2006

National Zoo senior scientist Eugene Morton received an award of $37,850 to support his project Ecology and conservation of threatened avifauna in the Sierra de Bahorucos of the Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

The following is based on his successful grant proposal.

The island of Hispaniola is an area of international priority for conservation science because of its unique biological diversity and the high degree of threat to the endemic flora and fauna.

The island has a particularly distinct avifauna with 6 endemic genera, and is one of the highest rated Endemic Bird Areas in the world (Stattersfield et al. 1998). Currently, 19 of the 32 endemic bird species are considered threatened (BirdLife International 2000) and very little data exist regarding the ecology and current status of the majority of these rare species.

The Sierra de Bahoruco mountain range (SBMR) in the southwestern Dominican Republic contains the island's largest area of intact native pine and broadleaf forest, and is the primary stronghold area for 15 of the 19 IUCN listed species. 3 species resident in the Sierra de Bahorucos are of special concern:

The Cuckoo is currently listed as Endangered and may only now exist in two isolated sub-populations, the status of which is unknown. The Parrot and Parakeet were listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN in 2002, although the status of the Parakeet is believed to be far worse (Collar 1996). Agricultural conversion and charcoal production island-wide have destroyed most of the suitable habitat for these three species, while persecution as crop-pests and trapping for food and the pet trade are speculated to be seriously threatening their survival.

Very few field studies have been carried out on these three species and virtually nothing is known regarding their ecology and the current threats to their populations. No wild nest attempts have been documented for the Parakeet or Cuckoo, and only a few anecdotal descriptions of their life histories exist. Conservation of these species is constrained by this lack of even the most basic ecological data.

We propose to carry out scientific field research to determine the life-history strategies and ecological needs of these species, so that effective recommendations can be made for their conservation. For all three target species we will:

  1. describe the breeding and feeding ecology and determine nesting success and survival rates
  2. determine the current threats to the populations
  3. determine current distribution, abundance and habitat associations

In addition, during population surveys to determine abundance and distribution of the three target species, data will be collected on all endemic birds resident in the SBMR. This will represent the first scientific surveys of the majority of these poorly-known threatened species including the: