In a two-week period in September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico, devastating the island — and further threatening the endemic endangered Puerto Rican Parrot. Some parrots died from the storms, and others were lost to starvation or increased hawk predation in their aftermath. The high winds of Maria especially shredded leafy parrot habitat at El Yunque National Forest and elsewhere.
Local and federal conservation agencies, however, redoubled their efforts to protect the species. The Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources has been releasing birds at Río Abajo State Forest since 2019, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restarted a parrot-release program in December 2020. Since then, it has released 81 birds at El Yunque and Maricao State Forest.
Most recently, FWS released 32 parrots over seven weeks in January and February at Maricao and 31 parrots over two weeks at El Yunque.
Now, with the latest releases, FWS estimates that Puerto Rico is home to about 250 wild parrots at Maricao, El Yunque, and Río Abajo. In addition, two aviaries on the island operated by federal and territorial agencies house about 469 birds in captivity. Plus, biologists say wild parrots are breeding in El Yunque and Río Abajo.
“The Puerto Rican Parrot is not only emblematic of the island’s beauty but also a symbol of resiliency,” said Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, an FWS regional director. “Despite the devastation from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, working with our partners, we have achieved this huge milestone and have this beautiful bird back on the road to recovery.”
Visitors and residents living near the two release areas should be alert to any parrots and report their sightings to the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources at 787-724-5700, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources Law Enforcement at 787- 244-0081, or the Service at 786-244-0081. Callers also can reach Maricao city offices at 787-838-2290 or 939-269-0409.
If a parrot is sighted, please provide information about the city and other details – where the parrot was observed, how many were observed and if the bird(s) had an antenna or cylinder on its neck. Do not interfere with the bird or try to capture it; that would violate state and federal laws that protect this species.
A version of this article appears in “Birding Briefs” in the May/June 2022 issue of BirdWatching Magazine.