Forest Bird Status Update from Dominica Forestry, Wildlife, and Parks Division

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A male Blue-headed hummingbird (Cyanophaia bicolor). Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

In response to my inquiry about the current status of the blue-headed hummingbird and Rufous-throated solitaire earlier today, the Dominica Forestry, Wildlife, and Parks Division/Environmental Education Unit was kind enough to post the following response:

There have been sightings of the Blue-headed hummingbird. However, the Rufous-throated solitaire has been heard, but no official sightings have been confirmed. Other birds that have not been sighted or heard post Hurricane Maria are the Lesser Antillean euphonia and the Forest thrush.

Thanks for the update! I will be profiling each of these species throughout the coming week, so please keep checking in. The absence of the thrush– one of two races of forest thrush– is particularly worrying.

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A Treeful of Jacos: A Video Update from Dominica

I’ve shared the distinctive sounds of the Sisserou with you here. Now it’s the Jaco’s turn! Thanks to Nikki Chandler Couture for this morning’s video update: a treeful of Red-necked amazons feeding on her property near Sultan Falls. Have a listen– and enjoy your Monday as the Nature Island heals today.

Jacos Eating Grapefruit: More Evidence of Parrot Survival Post-Maria

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Amazona arausciaca retrieving grapefruit goodness from the ground

Thanks again to Nikki Chandler Couture for the Red-necked amazon update with new photos and a video this afternoon. Nikki writes:

 Taken this evening, visiting Jacos eating grapefruit. They come twice daily to our place (The Ramelton Estate near Sultan Falls). My husband is there now. That’s the caretaker’s home in the distance in the last picture.

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In a post here a few days ago, I mentioned that the same caretaker had reported seeing a pair of Imperial parrots coming to feed on grapefruit on three separate occasions. The specific details of the report are intriguing– and sound credible. Hopefully, the Sisserou pair will be documented for sure soon. Meanwhile, it is wonderful to see the Jacos receiving the nourishment they need in this time of crisis. Though the Sisserou is a much rarer bird, the red-necked amazon– once known as the Bouquet’s parrot– is also rare, precious, and endemic only to Dominica.

I am anxious to learn the present numbers of both species in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Long may their unique beauty grace the forests of Eden.

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Black-Capped Petrel Survival on Dominica

Pétrel diablotin Pterodroma hasitata Black-capped Petrel

While remaining focused on the fate of Dominica’s endemic parrots, I am also concerned about Maria’s potential impact on the endangered black-capped petrel (Pterodroma hasitata). The rare seabird– known locally as the Diablotin (Little Devil), thanks to its nocturnal habits and eerie calls– was rediscovered over Dominica in 2015. In that year, 968 black-capped petrels were documented darting on swift wings between the sea and the island’s towering volcanic peaks. The phantom birds are notoriously difficult subjects of scientific inquiry, however, as they prefer to breed in remote, densely-forested highlands, returning to their nesting burrows only at night. As of this writing, the presence of Diablotin eggs and chicks in burrows on Dominica has yet to be confirmed.

A gadfly petrel in the genus Pterodroma, the black-capped petrel is one of the world’s rarest seabirds, with as few as 1,000-2,000 pairs remaining. Until it was discovered in numbers over Dominica, the bird’s only known breeding location had been Hispaniola, a Greater Antillean island divided by the nations of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

6987975089_5e53c643ca_o Haiti deforestation via Direct Relief CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Since environmental pressures and widespread deforestation on Hispanolia have proven catastrophic in recent decades, particularly on Haiti, the detection of the black-capped petrel over the mountainous, rainforest-clad Nature Island of Dominica, where natural resources are valued and protected, was considered to be a most fortunate development for the continued survival of the species.

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Black-capped petrel range map via Cornell University

For most of the year, the black-capped petrel forages in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, returning to land only to nest. In the non-breeding season, its numbers are concentrated out-to-sea between the coasts of Florida and North Carolina. Once abundant within its range, the Diablotin was thought to be extinct by the early 20th century, but was fortunately rediscovered. Its close relative the Jamaican petrel (Pterodroma caribbaea)–sometimes considered a dusky subspecies of the black-capped– was last sited in 1879. The Jamaican petrel has yet to be declared extinct, thanks to its secretive, nocturnal habits, with some authorities postulating that the species could still persist on Guadeloupe and Dominica.

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1907 illustration of the now-mythic Jamaican Petrel

Though the black-capped petrels nest in January, with young fledging and heading to sea by June or July, the impact on potential nesting grounds post-Maria could prove disastrous to the breeding success of the species on Dominica, thanks to the widespread loss of forest cover and landslides in the high mountains. I will continue reporting on the species as details emerge.