In the summer of 2021, I came across an article about the Puerto Rican parrots in captivity developing dialects. The biologists were concerned that once released they wouldn’t be able to integrate into the wild.
My children’s book Coco la cotorra puertorriqueña was inspired by this research.
I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Tanya M. Martínez, the lead researcher of this study, this past week at the Bosque Estatal de Río Abajo to learn about the Recovery Program of the Puerto Rican Parrots and to see them up close!
The Río Abajo State Forest is located along the towns of Utuado and Arecibo. Relatively close to where my mom lives in Florida (the town, yes there’s a town named Florida like the state). The state forest is also home to the aviary and to our beloved and critically endangered Puerto Rican parrot.
We had exclusive access to the aviary, which is closed to the public and we were given a private tour of the facilities. I visited the facility with my sister, niece, my grand-nephew, and my teenager. I loved that my 5-year-old nephew was able to visit because his 1st reaction was priceless when he squealed, “Hi Coco!”
Listening to hundreds of parrots “caw caw” as I pulled up to the aviary was music to my ears.
Fun facts we learned during our visit.
About the aviary:
- The aviary of El Bosque Estatal de Río Abajo was built in 1992. It is a state-funded facility.
- There are two other facilities dedicated to the care and breeding of parrots in captivity. One is in Maricao, which is state-funded, but the project is managed in collaboration with state and federal employees.
- The second one is the aviary in El Yunque National Forest. This facility is federally funded and managed by U.S. Forest Service and Wildlife Services.
- During an imminent hurricane, the parrots are rounded up and placed in a concrete building to keep them safe. Sadly, not much can be done with the parrots in the wild.
About the parrots:
- There are 230 parrots in captivity.
- The Puerto Rican parrots don’t build nests like other birds. They breed in hollow trees.
- The facility provides for them man-made hollow natural cavities for them to nest. These are then set up in the trees. Because of deforestation and natural disasters, they don’t have natural hollow cavities in trees.
- The parrots are fed a special diet of seeds, fruits, and vegetables and have a dedicated menu that changes daily.
- They have incubation rooms to use during the reproductive season.
- We met the oldest parrots in captivity. They were born in 1998.
- Parrots in captivity are released into the wild. However, because this facility was established and created to ensure the reproduction of the parrots, they keep a couple of pairs for breeding.
- They have “socialization” cages so the parrots can pair up with other parrots. Once they pick a mate, they are tested genetically to see if they are compatible.
- The paired parrots are then moved to their own private cages for reproduction. They are monitored to see how many eggs they laid, etc.
- They have a flight cage where the parrots are kept until they are freed into the wild. They are usually freed early in the year when there aren’t a lot of predatory activities from the guaruaguao (Red-tailed hawks).
- The young chick parrots receive a deworming treatment twice a year to keep them healthy.
- Each parrot in captivity has a small band in their legs with identifying numbers.
- Young parrots are usually identified by the color of their eyes. They are usually dark, and they lighten as they get older.
- Female parrots tend to have dark eyes while male parrots have bronze-colored eyes.
- To determine if the parrots are female or male a small blood sample is sent to a laboratory to test the gender by DNA.
Lastly, Martínez also noted that we have many Quaker parrots in the region that are often confused with the Puerto Rican parrots. So, if you see a flock of green parrots make sure they are in fact the Puerto Rican parrots. ? You can tell by their emerald-colored green and blue wings. Quaker parrots have a large white spot underneath their bodies.
Our visit to the aviary was like seeing the characters and the aviary from my children’s book come to life. The parrots, the cages, and the sounds were the highlight of my trip. Truly a one-of-a-kind experience and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.
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Check these resources out on Puerto Rico’s tropical rainforest, flora, and fauna.