The Jamaica Parrot Project was established in 1995 by BirdLife Jamaica (formerly Gosse Bird Club) with the assistance of the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica and Wildlife Preservation Trust International (Philadelphia, PA). The project represented the first systematic study of Jamaica's two endemic Amazona parrots -- the Black-billed Parrot (Amazona agilis) and the Yellow-billed Parrot (A. collaria). The goals of the project were:

(1) re-assess island-wide distributions and census both species

(2) collect baseline data on natural history and breeding biology

(3) identify factors that limit the population, such as predation, nesting cavity limitations and poaching.


Cockpit Country threatened by Bauxite Mining. Click here for more information

The West Indies once had the highest concentration of endemic macaws, parrots, and parakeets (family Psittacidae) in the world. Poignantly, it has suffered the highest number of extinctions: all seven macaw species (Ara spp), 5 of 8 parakeets (Aratinga spp.) and 3 of 12 parrots (Amazona spp.) are now extinct (Snyder et al. 1987). The region's surviving species are among the most threatened and endangered of all parrots, with 5 of the 12 extant Amazon parrots listed as endangered on the IUCN Red Data Book (Collar and Juniper 1991). Habitat loss and degradation have been identified as the two most important causes of their historic decline in the West Indies and this trend continues (Wiley 1991).

With at least one species of macaw (extirpated prior to the turn of this century (Lack 1976), two Amazon parrot species and one endemic subspecies of parakeet (Aratinga nana nana), Jamaica historically and presently has the richest psittacine avifauna. Jamaica, in fact, has more extant endemic bird species (28) than any other Caribbean island, including neighboring Cuba and Hispaniola which are 10 and 7 times larger respectively (Raffaele et al. 1998). Unfortunately, Jamaica also must claim one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, with an estimated loss of 5.3% per annum (World Resources Institute 1994). Lowlands were cleared centuries ago for agriculture and overall some 75% of the original forest has been lost. Of the remaining forest, only 5% has survived relatively undisturbed by humans and occurs in only the steepest or most remote, inaccessible parts of the island. For most of Jamaica's native plants and animals, the man-made habitat across the island has served to isolate the remaining forests into discrete fragments, effectively creating "islands within an island."

Jamaica's parrots are vulnerable as deforestation continues. Native forest is critical for Jamaica's parrots, which nest in tree hollows and depend on the forest for food and shelter from adverse weather. The remaining forests of Jamaica have become the parrots' refuge but also have resulted in them living in small, isolated populations that are more easily threatened. Furthermore, as humans continue to press further into the virgin forests, whether it be for timber harvesting, cutting of saplings to create stakes to support yam plants, or creating trails for ecotourism, they disrupt the interactions between parrots and the other native wildlife. At its worst, this may cause some native species to go extinct.

The JPP is addressing these issues by studying the distributions and biology of both parrot species. We work intensively in Cockpit Country, the stronghold of the Black-billed Parrot and the only region where both occur together in significant numbers. Cockpit Country, 55,000 acres of karst terrain, encompasses the largest contiguous forest on the island, two essential watersheds, and is habitat for most of the island's endemic and native wildlife species, including what now may be the only significant population of the endemic, critically endangered giant swallowtail butterfly (Pterourus (formerly Papilio) homerus), the largest butterfly in the New World.

Cockpit Country is one of the Caribbean's greatest natural areas. It has been identified as one of the most critically important areas of biodiversity for Jamaica, yet it remains minimally protected. Barring a change in status, historic mining grants could allow open pit bauxite mining throughout the region. Intensive harvesting of saplings for yam stakes has immediate impacts on the forest as well as long term repercussions, especially for the replacement of older trees in which many parrot nests are found. The JPP also is looking at other species that live and interact with the parrots to fully understand how to preserve Cockpit Country. This includes an understanding of how people living near and within the region can coexist with nature and wildlife. The results of this project will be used to make recommendations to ensure preservation of this biologically diverse and critical region.

The JPP is a collaboration among Jamaica's Birdlife Jamaica, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority, Wildlife Preservation Trust International, and Yale University. As well, the Institute of Jamaica has supported a student intern's research. We receive financial support from the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica, Wildlife Preservation Trust International, the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University as well as some concerned individuals. In-kind support continues from Air Jamaica, Birdlife Jamaica and the University of the West Indies' Department of Life Sciences and Discovery Bay Marine Lab.


The Jamaica Parrot Project is a collaborative effort among representatives of Birdlife Jamaica
(BLJ) (formerly Gosse Bird Club), the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA), the
University of the West Indies, Mona (UWI), Wildlife Preservation Trust International (WPTI),
and Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (FES). The project received
financial support with grants from the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (administered by
BLJ), the MacArthur Foundation (administered by WPTI), the Denver Zoological Society
(administered by BLJ) and several anonymous donors. Additional funding was provided by the
Natural Resources Conservation Authority, WPTI, Joseph P. Cullmen III and the Institute of
Jamaica. Corporate sponsorship was provided by Air Jamaica. Susan Koenig received support
from a G.E. Hutchinson Fellowship and Dissertation Improvement Grant from FES. In-kind
contributions to the project were made by the following individuals or institutions: Charles and
Catherine Levy, Robert and Dian Rattner, Andrew and Brigette Levy, the author, Michael
Schwartz, the Wildlife Ecology Group at Yale University and Discovery Bay Marine Lab (UWI).
Further assistance and advice were provided by: Marcella Martinez of Marcella Martinez and
Associates, Anne Marie Brown of Air Jamaica, Roberta Garzaroli of Jensen/Boga, Inc., Dr. Noel
Snyder, Dr. James Wiley of Grambling State University, Dr. Ernesto Enkerlin of Monterrey
Technical Institute, and Dr. Oswald Schmitz of Yale University. Special thanks must be extended
to the research colleagues and field assistants without whom none of this research could have
been accomplished: Garfield Basant, Alan Craig, Herlitz Davis, Chandra Degia, Rosalind
Fredericks, Ciaran Hannan, Jack Ingram, Maureen Milbourne, Dr. Noel Snyder, and Sarah
Swope. And to the communities of Windsor and Coxheath: Michael Schwartz, Rose Ellis,
Sugarbelly, Franklin Taylor, Ripton Williams, and all others who made and continue to make it a
pleasure to study Jamaica's wildlife.

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