In the Caribbean, World Parrot Day strives to raise awareness about the many threatened endemic species

A yellow-billed parrot, Jamaica. Photo by Simon Shields, used with permission.

Each year on May 31, the international community celebrates a very special type of feathered friend. Established by the World Parrot Trust in 2004, World Parrot Day has become a vehicle through which to raise awareness about the need to protect parrot populations in the wild.

All over the globe, at least one in three parrot species is threatened due to habitat loss, trapping to supply the pet trade, and other human-generated hazards, and the Caribbean has its fair share of special and highly endangered parrots. Within the region, the capture and sale of parrots for the illegal pet trade is the greatest threat, followed by habitat loss due to deforestation for housing, tourism projects, and agricultural development.

A Black-billed parrot, Jamaica, listed as endangered. Photo by Wendy Lee, used with permission.

Having made pledges to raise awareness about the plight of parrots and support legislation that helps guarantee their survival, social media users region-wide shared posts about these spectacular birds, many of which are listed as vulnerable, because of decreasing populations as a result of hunting and trapping:

Over the years, Birds Caribbean, a network of bird lovers committed to their preservation, has advocated for several parrot species across the region, including the St. Vincent Parrot, which faced challenges in the wake of the 2021 eruption of the La Soufrière volcano, and Dominica's attempts to be more robust in its protection of the endemic Sisserou and Jaco parrots, which were subject to a controversial export trade.

A St. Vincent parrot in flight. Photo by Nandani Bridglal, used with permission.

The group has also reported on everything from an amnesty for parrot owners in the Cayman Islands (where parrots kept as pets must be registered), to fan posts honouring the beauty of these birds within the region.

One 2017 post from the blog Parrots of the Caribbean noted with delight “the amazing diversity of Caribbean parrots”:

The Caribbean region is home to many endemic species of psittacines: living, extinct, and…hypothetical. […] The Caribbean region is a biodiversity hotspot [yet] islands have also been hotbeds of extinction.

All four islands of the Greater Antilles–Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico–are home to endemic parrots. Each species is under threat due to increasing pressure from ever-growing human populations, as well as from the increasing power and frequency of hurricanes. […]

The Bahamas and Cayman Islands each host a special race of the Cuban amazon.

Three of the Lesser Antilles islands are home to endemic amazon parrots: St. Lucia (one glorious species), St. Vincent (one, a gem like no other), and Dominica (two unique species!) All are threatened with extinction.

The climate crisis has only added to the challenge, as many Caribbean nations and their wildlife have suffered greatly from devastating storms during the annual transatlantic hurricane season.

The blog post also made the point that extinction is not a distant a possibility as one might think:

While many Caribbean parrots are threatened with oblivion today, many others that once lived across the West Indies are now extinct, including several amazons and macaws for which we have no museum specimens, thus no empirical evidence. These lost species exist only in the accounts of early travelers, making these once-vibrant island jewels, sadly, hypothetical. Centuries removed today from the living reality of these birds, we will never have a chance to know for sure what they were really like, even down to their basic color patterns.

I can think of only one thing worse than extinction—and that is total erasure. […] Man has not been kind to the Caribbean parrots. We have shot them, ate them, sold them, caged them. We’ve stolen their islands from under them and erased them from the face of earth, leaving the surviving species hanging on to the edge of existence by their zygodactyl feet.

The regional parrot currently closest to extinction is the Imperial Amazon or Siserou, Dominica's national bird. In recent years, there have been efforts to rescue the endemic species, but it still remains on the Critically Endangered IUCN Red List. According to BirdsCaribbean, there are only about 40-60 individuals left in Dominica, and these are decreasing.

World Parrot Day is here to try and avoid that unthinkable outcome.

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