Sisserou Post-Hurricane Behavior: A Note from Sydney Porter

Carl Plath 1931

As the search for the Sisserou continues today on Dominica, I thought I’d share a few pertinent passages from Sydney Porter’s article “In Search of the Imperial Parrot (II)” from Avicultural Magazine, November 1929:

I paid a visit to a small shack belonging to the lady who so kindly sponsored me during my stay on the island. It was situated in the high mountains 8 or 9 miles from Roseau on the leeward side of the island. While there I met a cultured young man…and during our conversation I mentioned the “Ciceroo” and asked him whether he knew anything about it. To my surprise he gave me a rather interesting piece of information. He stated that just after the terrible hurricane of the autumn of 1928 when great damage was done on Dominica, a flock of these birds numbering from one to two hundred, which he thought was the entire population of this species, appeared in the valley where he lived, apparently seeking food, owing to all their own being destroyed. The flock stayed for a short time and then broke up into small parties and dispersed in different directions, but not before ten had been shot and eaten.

I was able to get information upon which I could account for over thirty-eight birds being killed and captured during the last three months of 1928 and during the first two months of 1929. This includes twenty birds killed by two men, including the ten mentioned above. Of course, it must be accounted a very exceptional year, for the birds were driven out of their haunts by a hurricane, but thirty-eight birds out of a total of less than two hundred is a very heavy toll, and if the killing were to go on at this rate the birds were to stand very little chance, as they are slow breeders. The natives say that they lay only one egg, but they really don’t know much at this point. I am sure that the birds have no natural enemies except man. Only two escaped with their lives, my own bird and another which is also in England but I cannot trace where. Several birds would have escaped the death penalty had there been prospective buyers on the spot.

A horrified Porter witnessed the shooting of an Imperial while exploring the steep mountain haunts of the rare bird, observing:

…what gave me a great thrill was the sound from numerous throats which I knew belonged to A. imperialis, and gazing up I saw these wonderful birds flying round with the equally rare A. bouqueti feeding upon the fruits of the huge forest trees or climbing about the creepers which festooned the tops. I watched through my glasses one old hen who climbed about with the agility of a monkey. I liked the look of her because she looked such a sophisticated bird, but all at once I heard the report of a gun and saw her fall fluttering to the ground. My men had brought guns to shoot wild pig and agouti, and they had gone off apparently in search of such game, at least I thought so, but in a few minutes they came back looking highly pleased with themselves. ” We got you a Ciceroo, sar, her no die, only wounded in de wing,” was what they greeted me with. I hoped this might be so, and for a short time gazed entranced upon this glorious creature which I had traveled so far to see, and I ardently prayed that she might live, but alas! in a short space of time I could see by her eyes that she was mortally wounded. I picked her up and with a lump in my throat saw the lovely shining purple head sink back and the beautiful orange eyes close in death and heard the last few short gasps as she breathed her last. I cannot tell how I felt, it seemed as though I had broken some sacred trust. I had wandered into these Elysian fields and behaved like a vandal, for I felt that the crime was upon my own head, and I would have given anything to have seen her back in the tree tops. My shame was increased when, later on, I saw the poor thing plucked and dressed for the pot.

The flight feathers of this bird were worn and frayed. In fact, I have never handled a wild bird whose feathers were in such poor condition. Not a single wing or tail feather was perfect. Every one was broken or frayed. Evidently, it was one of the birds which had been driven out by the hurricane and had returned to find a worse fate. When this bird was shot, a pair of Bouquet’s Parrots [now known as Red-necked parrots (Amazona   arausiaca)] flew down and screamed their rage at the hunters.

Since Maria hit Dominica as a Category 5 hurricane on September 18, no Sisserous have been sighted in the devastated forests of the once-verdant Nature Island of the Caribbean. Like the Imperials in Porter’s article, Red-necked amazons have been spotted ” apparently seeking food, owing to all their own being destroyed.” Exhausted, starving, and disoriented, the lovely Jackos, as the Red-necks are known on the island, have been spotted flying down to fallen citrus and to food put out for them by those able to help the birds to survive their most desperate hour.

Unfortunately, no Sisserous have been spotted as yet making a similar bid for survival.

I will keep reporting as I receive more information. Hopefully, the regal Imperial, largest of all amazon parrots, will be given one more chance at a future.

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2 thoughts on “Sisserou Post-Hurricane Behavior: A Note from Sydney Porter

    1. Thanks for reading, Deborah. Searches are still ongoing. I am praying that the Sisserou will be given another chance– and will keep posting as updates come in.

      Like

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