In the West Indies, there are several forest birds of prey that are considered rare or endangered: the Grenada Hook-billed Kite, Cuban Kite, Gundlach’s Hawk, and Ridgway’s Hawk.
The Ridgway’s Hawk is an endemic species to Hispaniola. Formerly found throughout the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and on other satellite islands, populations have declined due to habitat loss and persecution. The last few individuals are currently found in Los Haitises National Park, northeastern Dominican Republic. The endangered Cuban Kite and Gundlach’s Hawk, found in Cuba, have also been severely reduced in numbers. The Grenada Hook-billed Kite is an endemic subspecies that was considered at one time extinct but is currently regarded as endangered. A few pairs have been found in this small island.
Little is known about these four Caribbean raptor species. The most significant studies on the Ridgway’s Hawk are from 1976 and 2005-2009. The most important reasons for their declines are not fully understood. Studies on these species will provide critical information that may help in the development of more effective conservation plans and training of personnel.
The West Indies Project is providing the only known conservation effort to save threatened birds of prey in the Caribbean region, currently with a special focus on the critically endangered Ridgway’s Hawk. Historically, the Ridgway’s Hawk was found throughout the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, which includes the countries of Dominican Republic and Haiti. The Peregrine Fund began studying this critically endangered raptor in 2000 and found the hawks to be breeding only in Los Haitises National Park (LHNP) in the northeastern Dominican Republic. We thoroughly searched, surveyed, and monitored this population for a decade, and we have determined that only about 300 individual birds comprise the entire global population of this species.
This small and isolated population of Ridgway’s Hawks leaves the species extremely vulnerable to extinction through catastrophic events such as fire, hurricane, or disease. To reduce this risk, in 2008 we began an experimental “assisted dispersal” project to learn if breeding pairs could be reestablished in the species’ former range outside of LHNP. Young birds were collected from nests near the community of Los Limones of southwestern LHNP about one week prior to fledging age. They were fed in a hack box (a protective aviary) at the release site until fledging age, and then released by removing the bars on the front side of the box. The fledged birds were fed daily at the box for several months until they reached independence.
In all, 68 Ridgway’s Hawks have been released; 48 in Punta Cana and 20 at Loma la Herradura. We continue to monitor 28 individuals in Punta Cana. In 2013, the first pair of hawks documented outside of Los Haitises was observed in Punta Cana.
We surveyed for critically endangered Ridgway’s Hawk in Los Haitises National Park in eastern Dominican Republic and observed a total of 120 pairs and 10 individuals. Of these, 60 nesting pairs were monitored extensively by field crews in Los Limones, Laguna Cristal and Sabana de la Mar. Of the 60 pairs monitored, 89 hatchlings were documented. Thirty-six of these 60 nests were successful in producing 65 fledglings of which all were banded. Thirteen adults were trapped and banded or re-banded with a legible band.
We treated 84 nestlings to prevent or cure botfly parasitism by Philornis. Botfly infestations and human persecution were identified as the main causes for the nestling mortality in Los Haitises National Park. Twenty-two nests were also reinforced as needed to prevent loss of eggs and nestlings to falling nests.
Two nesting pairs were recorded in Punta Cana and the pair that was successful in 2013 fledged two young again. These two young were banded and also received a transmitter. In Loma la Herradura, we attempted to trap two hawks without success. Trips were taken to three areas outside of Los Haitises region to search for Ridgway’s Hawks and or potential release sites: Casa de Campo, Parque del Este and Parque Nacional Valle Nuevo. No Ridgway’s Hawks were recorded.
We visited a total of 14 different communities and seven schools with live hawk visits at five schools, and we reached more than 1,168 individuals in the area around the Punta Cana release site. Educational activities included door-to-door visits, PowerPoint presentations, school presentations, and live bird demonstrations. May 25 was declared Ridgway’s Hawk Day. New educational material was made for awareness campaigns such as t-shirts, coloring books and flyers depicting the conservation effort on the Ridgway’s Hawk. Fifty chicken coops were provided to locals for protecting newly-hatched chickens in Los Limones and Pedro Sanchez. Surveys also were conducted to measure individual levels of knowledge about the Ridgway's Hawk and other raptors, as well as to measure their attitudes toward these birds and conservation in general. These surveys will be used as a basis for future evaluation of the education program's efficacy and will allow us to make improvements in our educational strategies as necessary.
Developing Local Capacity Through Training
In Dominican Republic, we are developing local capacity for raptor conservation by supporting and training local biological field assistants. Biologists from TPF and veteran field technician Samuel Balbuena de la Rosa have provided biodiversity and conservation training to several park guards and local persons from communities bordering the park, especially in the Los Limones area. We began training five more field technicians. One of these new technicians is from Los Limones, one from Laguna Cristal and three from Sabana de la Mar. This type of training of locals will ensure that the capacity exists to monitor and manage raptor populations into the future.
Another side effect of training locals to work in conservation is the stimulation of local economies. Having community members earning their income from conservation has also proven to be an effective way of changing people’s attitudes towards raptors and conservation. In addition to monitoring the wild population of Ridgway’s Hawks, Samuel and several assistants have helped conduct the assisted dispersal releases of young Ridgway’s Hawks on private and protected land holdings owned by Central Romana Corporation, Ltd., the largest national company in Dominican Republic, and Grupo PuntaCana.
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