2014 has been the most exciting and successful year yet for the Ridgway’s Hawk Conservation Project here in the Dominican Republic. In Punta Cana in 2013, we witnessed the formation of the first breeding pair of our released birds (2012 released female Red ND and 2011 released male Black AV). They successfully produced the first wild chick (male Blue 44) outside of the last stronghold of Ridgway’s Hawks in Los Haitises National Park. Early in 2014 we confirmed the second breeding pair which formed from two previously released individuals: 2009 released female Red SN and 2012 released male Black AN. Both pairs went on to build nests and incubate eggs. AV and ND were successful again and fledged two young male hawks on May 17th. These birds are doing great and now that they are old enough to be left on their own, both parents are leaving the nest site in search of food to feed the youngsters until they have learned to hunt for themselves. Unfortunately, SN and AN were not successful as both of their eggs turned out to be infertile. They continue to remain together in their territory and we have high hopes that they will try again next year.
Due to last year’s successful nesting from AV and ND, The Peregrine Fund made plans to beef up release efforts, moving the project out of the experimental phase and begin releasing enough individuals to create a second population in Punta Cana. The new plan for 2014 was to release 25 new hawks in Punta Cana, more hawks than have been released in all years of the project combined (19 total in the Punta Cana area). This increase was only possible due to the grueling work of treating all the wild chicks in Los Haitises to prevent botfly infestations. Efforts to increase survivability of nestlings have more than doubled the numbers of chicks which survive to fledging age in the national park population. Thus we can leave a substantial number of chicks to fledge naturally in Los Haitises and have more birds to release as part of the effort to expand the distribution of this critically endangered bird. The final total of released birds in 2014 was 29 individuals with the final release taking place on June 1st.
Another first in 2014 was that we raised many of the chicks we released from about 5-7 days old until they were of age to be moved to the release site, about 35 days old. The hope was that this would enable the wild adults who produced these chicks in Los Haitises National Park to renest. This method seemed to work well as all of the pairs from which we took young nestlings eventually made a second attempt at nesting and many of the birds are currently raising their second round of nestlings.
Education is one of the most important aspects of any good conservation program. Here in Punta Cana it is essential that we make efforts to educate the surrounding communities about the work we are doing and the importance of the hawk. One of the best ways to help people to appreciate an animal is to make it something that they associate with having fun or something in which they can take pride. To this end, in 2014, we launched the very first Ridgway’s Hawk Day right here in Punta Cana, inviting school children from a nearby barrio to the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation to see and learn about Ridgway’s Hawks. The date we chose, May 25th, is the day B-44 hatched last year (B-44 is the first wild chick hatched in Punta Cana and the first known chick hatched outside of the National Park population in more than 30 years). Many other educational activities were carried out including visits to local schools and visits to isolated communities in the area. As the population of Ridgway’s Hawks grows in Punta Cana, it will be essential to continue to grow our education efforts because the people who come into daily contact with these birds will potentially have a huge impact on their survivability as a species. Of course, in order to reach the Dominican communities here we need continued backing from our own community of support. Thank you so much for your interest in this project!
Since the last report, Fuentes de Vida has continued to make progress towards implementing community wide sanitation systems in the community of Domingo Maiz. Recently, the Puntacana Ecological Foundation and its project partners were awarded a grant for nearly USD$26,000, thus allowing the FDV coalition to begin construction of the constructed wetlands wastewater treatment system. After months of vetting and negotiating with various construction firms the project team reached favorable contract terms with a local company and excavation of the wetlands treatment area began February 12, 2014. The construction of the wastewater treatment system is being overseen by a Response Peace Corps Volunteer and local engineers who have agreed to donate their time.
As of the first week of March 2014, the first half of the constructed wetlands has been fully excavated and the disposal well has been drilled for the treated water to flow back into the groundwater source. The left over limestone rock/sand that is being removed will be donated to the community members to be used as fill and caliche (a sort of impromtu cement).
Realizing a project of this magnitude has not been easy, however. The limestone bedrock can be very dense in certain areas and maintenance on the trencher and other construction equipment is an unfortunate necessity that often results in delays. That being said, at the rate the construction company is excavating we hope to finalize construction of the wastewater treatment system by mid- April, 2014.
With the eventual completion fo the wastewater treatment system now in sight, Fuentes de Vida has begun making plans to begin working on the potable water and solid waste management (trash) elements of the Fuentes de Vida project. Since the last report we have had meetings with Engineers Without Borders, (EWB),-with the aim of creating a centralized potable water system for the community of Domingo Maíz. We are currently drafting preliminary agreements to begin fundraising for this work.
While FDV has initiated construction the wastewater component of the project the larger initiative still needs your help. Please continue supporting this project with your donations.
2014 is upon us and with it a new breeding season for the Ridgway’s Hawk. Many pairs of Ridgway’s Hawks in Los Haitises National Park are already incubating and here at the Puntacana Ecological Foundation we are anticipating that our Ridgway’s Hawks in Punta Cana will soon be incubating as well. The pair of Ridgway’s Hawks, AV and ND, who raised a chick here last year have been observed taking fine materials to their nest (a sign that it is near completion). They have also been observed copulating and we are excited to see what the coming nesting season will bring for them.
B-44 (short-hand for right leg banded Blue 4 over 4), the offspring hatched last year by AV and ND, is a beautiful juvenile this year. He has been wandering the area as most young hawks do when they are surveying the available land before establishing a territory. B-44 has been spending time with another single male in the area, AR (released in 2011); they have been observed flying together on their way to separate roosts in the evening.
We recently discovered that AN, a young adult male Ridgway’s Hawk released in 2012, has moved his territory and paired up with SN, a female released in 2009. This is the first time we know of that SN has had the opportunity to be with a male. She and AN have been taking nesting materials to a palmchat nest in a royal palm that is located in the front yard of a large house here in Punta Cana. This is a great example of how easily these hawks can live in green urban and suburban areas when they are not persecuted by people. These hawks feed on rats, mice, snakes, lizards, skinks, birds, frogs, insects, and bats so they are able to support themselves readily both in wilderness and urban habitat. AN and SN have also been copulating and nest building so we are eagerly awaiting the results of their breeding efforts this season as well.
Aside from monitoring the Ridgway’s Hawks that are already in Punta Cana, we are looking forward to a great release season this year. We have been preparing a new release site in Punta Cana to help meet our goal of releasing 15 to 25 hawks this season. Last year we did not release any new hawks in Punta Cana because we wanted to put more effort into environmental education within the surrounding communities and also allow time for the electric poles in the area to be retro-fitted with t-perches to make them safer for perching hawks and other birds. In 2014, our educational outreach program will include efforts by a new project partner, Fundacion Propagas, who will be heading up a national education campaign to raise awareness about the Ridgway’s Hawk and the amazing conservation work being done with this species.
Last year The Peregrine Fund focused efforts on the main population of Ridgway’s Hawks in Los Haitises National Park. They monitored nesting pairs of adults as they have for many years and with the help of the Santo Domingo Zoo (ZOODOM) they came up with an effective treatment for the prevention of bot-fly infestations in nestling hawks. In the past, bot-flies have been associated with high mortality in nestling Ridgway’s Hawks. This treatment of nestlings has been credited with an increase in survival of nestling hawks to fledging age from 50%-60% in previous years to about 83% in 2013. This is great news for the Ridgway’s Hawk since it will make more nestlings available to release in order to create a second self-sustaining population here in Punta Cana.
During the 2009 to 2012 hacking seasons the project released about five birds per year as a sort of pilot program to help work out any complications involved in the hacking of Ridgway’s Hawks. Now that there are two breeding pairs from the released birds in the Punta Cana area and we have had a chance to address the highest causes of mortality, it is time to begin releasing larger groups of birds. The Peregrine Fund is investing heavily in the conservation of the core population in Los Haitises National Park and as a result, more nestling Ridgway’s Hawks are available for release. It is vital to the conservation of the species that a second, self-sustaining population be created and now with two nesting pairs in Punta Cana, we are on our way to doing just that here on the eastern end of Hispaniola. With so many positive things happening for the Ridgway’s Hawk we are very excited to see what the coming year will bring!
Please, if you are in the position to help, won’t you join us in our quest to conserve this unique and very rare animal?
This report was written for the Puntacana Ecological Foundation by Thomas Hayes and Christine Deegear Hayes, Ridgway’s Hawk Project Biologists, The Peregrine Fund.