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A refuge in the treetops

June 23, 2021

In the Bay Islands of Honduras, Seacology is protecting some of the Caribbean’s most threatened parrot species—by literally putting them out of the reach of poachers who would steal young birds from their nests.

It’s no surprise that these parrots, belonging to a genus commonly known as Amazons, are highly sought-after pets. The bright green birds are renowned for their intelligence, ability to mimic speech, and longevity—and for the bonds they form with humans. But there’s a dark side to their popularity.

The illegal wildlife trade has devastated wild parrot populations from Latin America to Africa. Too often, the smart, social birds don’t survive the journey, and many of those that do face a life of isolation, mistreatment, and poor health. Hatchlings old enough to survive outside the nest but young enough to be trained, are a particular target for poachers.

Working with longtime local partner the Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA), Auropalliata Bird Club, and Green Island Challenge, our project funds the installation of wooden nest boxes high in the forests of Roatán and Guanaja Islands, where poachers can’t reach. We are providing equipment and training to local people so they can safely install the boxes and monitor them during the critical nesting season.

Our local partners prepare to install nesting boxes.

The project funds training and equipment to safely install the boxes.

Baby Boom

Our partners have already seen encouraging results: baby parrots growing to maturity, tucked inside the nest boxes. On Roatán, observers spotted 10 yellow-naped fledglings leaving their nests—fantastic news, given that only 38 adult birds had been counted! Several nests had four eggs, higher than average for the species. This is consistent with earlier efforts on Guanaja, where the number of birds more than doubled between 2018 and 2020 after nest boxes were put up.

The project is also helping to establish a birding group for youth, and supply binoculars and other equipment. This will not only raise awareness of these endangered birds but also help youths get  ecotourism jobs—especially important in communities that have not benefited from the island’s boom in large-scale cruise-based tourism. The kids will also learn how to monitor nests to deter trafficking and keep the parrots’ populations stable. The group’s first meeting is scheduled for August, and they are planning to count the birds a month later.

On the Bay Islands, there is little time to lose for two species in particular, the yellow-naped Amazon and the yellow-lored Amazon. The islands are home to an endemic subspecies of the yellow-naped parrots; last year, only eight yellow-lored Amazons were found. Last fall, Hurricanes Eta and Iota felled trees on Guanaja where the birds had nested, and with such low numbers, another intense storm could doom the species’ local populations.

Newly hatched chicks inside one of the boxes.

An older parrot looks up from the nest.