Mystery of the Missing Puerto Rican Parrots

ENVIRONMENT

Among Puerto Rico’s displaced residents is an entire flock of critically endangered parrots. (Atlas Obscura)

How are conservationists working to support Puerto Rican parrots? Use our activity to learn more about captive breeding.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

Hey, good-lookin’ … There is little sexual dimorphism among Puerto Rican parrots; males and females can only be distinguished by behavioral differences.
Photograph by Pablo Torres, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region. CC BY 2.0

Discussion Ideas

  • The great Atlas Obscura article describes the Puerto Rican parrot, also called the iguaca, as the island archipelago’s only endemic species. What is an endemic species? It it the same as an indigenous or native species?

 

 

  • How did the captive parrots respond to Irma and Maria, the hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico this year?
    • About 200 iguacas waited out the storm in a concrete “hurricane room” with biologists. According to Atlas Obscura, “[m]ost of the captive parrots were fine, if freaked out. (During the storms themselves, the birds ‘were very quiet, and stopped moving around,’ said parrot biologist Tom White.)”

 

 

  • Some scientists call long-term parrot conservation efforts a “waiting game.” Why?
    • infrastructure. The iguaca captive-breeding program requires extensive and expensive equipment. Purchasing and installing this equipment is not a priority on the island right now: Puerto Rico’s human population is still grappling with the catastrophic impact of the hurricanes, and time, money—and effort is necessarily prioritizing getting electricity, clean water, and shelter to them. Some of the equipment includes:
      • special cages for parrot procreation
      • incubators to save damaged eggs and house abandoned chicks
      • freezers to keep bird food chilled
      • woodchip sterilizers to make sure nests are disease-free
      • networks of artificial tree cavities so birds can breed in natural habitats after release
      • infrared cameras to document nests
    • nature. The rain forests where the parrots live have suffered immense damage. Until the forests recover—and they will—wild birds do not have adequate shelter or food, and are susceptible to predators such as red-tailed hawks.

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

Atlas Obscura: Among Puerto Rico’s Displaced Residents, an Entire Flock of Endangered Parrots

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Puerto Rican Parrot

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Soaring Past Disaster

Nat Geo: Introduction to Captive Breeding

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