Monday, January 10, 2011

Working on an artificial nest used by a wild pair of Amazona vittata, the Puerto Rican parrot

Ivan Llerandi Roman the leader of the wild release project, note all the equipment hanging from Ivan's utility belt

Gustavo Olivieri

An artificial nest high up in a tree

A wild female turning the eggs, they turn the eggs over every fifteen minutes on average

A baby that has just hatched is gently cupped under the wing by the female, you can see the part of the egg shell under the head of the female.  You can see the head of the newly hatched baby near the center of the photo.
Eddie Velez

The top part of the cage in the photo is about twenty feet all.
One of the more secretive aspects of the parrot project is the work that is done with the wild nests.  The reason for the secrecy is to protect the nests from unwanted human intervention which can, sad to say, include the theft of the nestlings for sale.  Unfortunately even well meaning people can cause a nest to fail if they try to approach it when the parrots are nesting.    Therefore the work of the people that manage the nests in the wild is practically unknown by the general public.  Another problem that affects the recognition of the achievements of the field workers in the area of nest management is that most of this work takes place deep in forested areas where the conditions generally are not conductive for good photography.  As a result this work is rarely documented and even more rarely described on print.  The need for artificial nests in the wild is due to the fact that for centuries and all the way up to the middle of the twenty century the main fuel for the island was wood.  As a result there was severe deforestation on many parts of the island and even on places where the forest now appears in a reasonably good health old trees are few and far between.  Also at the start of the twenty century there was a forestry theory that deemed old, hole ridden, mature trees less desirable than young trees which were still growing vigorously.  As a result in some forest areas old trees were cut down to encourage new growth. 
But in 2009 and 2010 we had the unexpected opportunity to document the work in a nest in a tree inside the aviary.  It has to be noted that the wild release staff pretty unhappy with the location of this nest.  Its location inside the aviary grounds raised all sort of issues about unintended disturbance of the breeders during our daily work at the aviary.  But they had to submit to the will of the parrot pair that signaled they wanted to nest in this particular area, and that was that.  The pair that chose this nest is the one whose male is known by the nickname “Scarface”.   The “Scarface” pair had been haunting the area around the aviary for a couple of years and had rejected or ignored all the nests that were offered in other areas.  For some reason known only to them, the pair decided that they wanted to nest inside the aviary.  Those that are old hands at the PR parrot project know that this is a startling, unheard of situation as wild nests in the east part of the island in the Luquillo mountains are in rugged, hard to get locations, well away from human habitation and the possibility of human disturbance.    But the silver lining in this particular case is that secrecy is not needed as the nest is closely, and jealously,  guarded by the staff.  The way we adapted to the presence of the breeding pair and the tolerance they showed for our rhythm of work helped bring a collective sigh of relief from everybody as from historical reports we know that Puertorican parrots nests have been abandoned over disturbances that other bird species would have ignored.
The tree where the artificial nest is located has to be prepared to receive the nest and fitted with the necessary infrastructure that allows maintenance and checking of the nest.  This particular nest has a close circuit camera that operates in the infrared region of the spectrum, this allows us to check the birds without disturbing their nesting activities.
The photos posted shows work done is 2009 and 2010.  Working with wild nests demands stamina, impressive upper level strength and the ability to work while hanging from ropes in leg and butt numbing positions.  Obviously a lack of fear of height is a must in this kind of work, you will notice that there is a large vanilla orchid on top of the nest, I have never climbed there to check that orchid out.
The nest needs to be fitted with wooden entrances to allow the birds to gnaw on the wood of the entrance, an important part of their nest choosing/preparing procedure.   The nest is also checked periodically during the breeding season to see the condition of the eggs and chicks and to band the chicks.
 To our great happiness the clutch in the nest was incubated flawlessly by the female.  The pair raised two healthy babies than on due time fledged from the nest.  I had the opportunity to observe closely and in unparalleled comfort (in relation to the experience of watching  other nests wild nests both in El Yunque and Rio Abajo) the whole breeding cycle.
I hope these photos give you an idea of the strenuous nature of this little known aspect of our work that is as crucial for the survival of the population at the Rio Abajo forest as the more widely publicized aspects of iur operation.  I would ask of all of you that if you come across a parrot nest in the wild, please do not, under any condition, try to climb the tree or disturb the parrots in any way, this will only make our work much, much harder and may make the parrots abandon the area altogether.   Another reason not to climb up to the nest is the very real possibility of falling from the tree.  Finding someone with its neck broken from a fall who has died sloooowly while being eaten alive by fire ants, centipedes and eyeball and brain gouging beetles would probably leave us inconsolable for about ten seconds after which we would have to make arrangements to drag the body out of the forest, notify the next of kin and present a nomination for a Darwin award on behalf of the dumb-as-a-doorknob deceased.
I want to add that if we notice anyone disturbing the parrots on their nesting areas we will call the local police, notify the federal government, the vigilantes of the DNER and I will personally call their mothers to tell them in no uncertain terms what horribly inconsiderate children they have.   So far we have had absolutely no problems with anyone bothering the parrots or their nests and we hope it stays this way.

1 comment:

Gabriel said...

Gracias por compartir estos datos que definitivamente muy pocos conocen. Siempre he encontrado curioso el hecho de que cada cotorra tiene su personalidad particular y ese nido en el aviario así lo demuestra. Son ustedes los héroes anónimos los que nos traerán de vuelta a la hermosa Iguaca para que el mundo pueda apreciarla nuevamente volando por nuestros campos. Gracias por tan sacrificado trabajo de un valor incalculable.