DOMINICA'S IMPERIAL AND RED-NECKED PARROT'S

by Dana Sarris©

Dominica is honored to have both the imperial parrot "Amazona imperialis" (or sisserou as it is known locally) and the red-necked parrot "Amazona arausiaca (locally known as jaco) living in its forests. Both are now more limited to the northern mountains, particularly around the slopes of Morne Diablotin. Their populations have been fading through this century, first by hunting for food (and to a lesser extent, the pet trade) and, more recently, by the devastation of Hurricanes David (1979) and Allen (1980), and forest clearance mainly for agriculture. Presently, the populations are showing some signs of recuperation and number somewhere between 600 and 1,000 red-necked parrots and 100-150 imperials.

Although their population size is low, both parrots are relatively easy to see. They are most plenteous on the north-west and north-east slopes of Morne Diablotin at altitudes of between 600 and 700 metres, and the prime places to see them are on the Dyer and Syndicate Estates, the heights of Colihaut, around Morne Plaisance, at Bense Heights, Simpa Heights, and Palmiste Ridge above Governor Estate. Red-necked parrots are much easier to see than imperials. This is not only because they are more common, but they more readily occur on the edge of cultivation and are less shy than the imperial. Although red-necked parrots may be found down to 300 metres, imperial parrots occur mainly between 600 and 1,300 metres of elevation.

Many visitors to Dominica miss noticing parrots because they do not know when or where to look. Initially, both species are most energetic early in the morning from dawn to around 10 a.m., and again in the late afternoon after about 4:00 p.m. During those periods they are most expressive, and their cries are the easiest way to identify the two species. The cry of the red- necked is a rough and high-pitched squawk; that of the imperial is more pronounced, like a trumpet call.

Unless the call is heard, onlookers may have a problem verifying which species of parrot they have seen. The red-necked parrot is predominantly green in plumage with a bluish head and a distinct red patch on the upper breast and neck. In flight, the scarlet wing patch and greenish yellow tail and rump are unique. The imperial is about ten percent larger-a magnificent bird with a dark violet band on the hind neck and purplish violet underparts and tail. It has mainly dark green upperparts but with some greenish blue on the otherwise mainly purple head. In flight, the red wing patch is much less apparent and the bird seems to be much darker without any yellow in the tail.

Both parrots are friendly, usually associated in pairs which may come together when searching for fruit in trees or around their roosting or nesting site. They both nest mostly between February and May, using holes high up in a tall gommye, chatannye or bwa dyab, all of which are also crucial feeding trees.

The formation of the Northern Forest Reserve, Central Forest Reserve, and Morne Trois Pitons National Park have been essential as protected areas supplying a residence for the parrots. To further ensure the future of Dominica's parrots, the government of Dominica entered into an exhilarent association with conservation to preserve some of the most substantial forest lands of Dyer in the planned Morne Diablotin National Park, purchasing 204 acres of land in 1989, building nature trails, and planning in the coming years for a visitor centre and treetop tower that provides a lookout over some of the finest rain forest in the New World.

Dominica is possibly the smallest island in the world still to sustain two species of parrots. Certainly this is due to its majestic and extensive rain forests. Parrots depend upon large areas of undisturbed forest for reasonable populations to survive. Indeed, the main reason why species of parrot face extinction throughout the tropics is that their natural habitat has become shattered into areas too small to support them. The imperial parrot-the pride of Dominica, representing the national flag and coat of arms, is the largest and most magnificent of Amazons. Its survival will indicate the future for Dominica's mountain forests.

For more information on Dominica's parrots, bird watching tours and nature/environmental tours to Dominica, please contact Dana Sarris at email dsarris@topflighttours.com

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