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BIRD TALK:The Puerto Rican Amazon

The race to save the parrot of Puerto Rico from extinction

By Beth Clark

Centuries before Columbus arrived, Puerto Rican parrots (Amazona vitatta) shared their pristine habitat with the native flora and fauna and the Taino Indians, the only human inhabitants. The parrots nested in the cavities of huge trees and thrived on the bountiful fruits and nuts the moist lowland jungle and forested mountain valleys provided. By 1492, it is estimated there were 1 million Puerto Rican parrots distributed widely over Puerto Rico and the adjacent islands of Vieques, Culebra and Mona. The visual and auditory spectacle of that many stunning bright green birds on these Caribbean islands must have been extraordinary.

The Taino Indians disappeared soon after the arrival of European settlers in the Caribbean, and the Puerto Rican parrot very nearly followed suit. Today, it is the only endemic parrot found within the United States and its territories, and one of the 10 most endangered birds in the world.

The history of this parrot’s downfall is distressingly familiar. By the 1930s, the population had been reduced to 2,000 birds and, in 1954, to 200. Ten years later, there were 70 birds. The last decimation, the result of warfare maneuvers and efforts to test Agent Orange, radiation, and microwaves in the El Yunque forest, reduced the number to 24. Deforestation, predation by introduced and natural enemies, and natural disasters all took their toll.

**For the full article, pick up the March 2008 issue of BIRD TALK**

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