Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR

by Fundación Grupo Puntacana
3 of the 2012 hawks courtesy of Thomas Hayes
3 of the 2012 hawks courtesy of Thomas Hayes

The 2012 reintroduced hawks have passed the most delicate phase of their reintroduction and are beginning to define their territories in the Punta Cana area. Of the final two birds reintroduced on May 22nd only one of them still occasionally returns to the hack box for an afternoon meal. All of the rest are now independently hunting and dispersing throughout the area. Carlos Cruz, a conservationist from Mexico, is currently in charge of tracking the hawks daily to monitor their development and train interested volunteers how to track the hawks.

The Peregrine Fund, the Hispaniola Ornithological Society and the Puntacana Ecological Foundation have finalized the educational brochure and will be distributing them to local residents in both the Punta Cana release site as well as in the communities of Los Haitises. Educating the local population who live alongside this endemic species about its importance to the island’s ecosystem and engaging them as active participants in the program is of the utmost importance to the survival of the species and the sustainability of the program.

The Puntacana Ecological Foundation has also made a significant investment to outfit the power lines in select areas of the property with extra structures, called “perches”, which would prevent the hawks from being electrocuted. Electrocution has become a serious concern as the hawks and other raptors like to perch on top of the power line poles and stretch out their wings to dry themselves off. We are currently investigating various apparatuses that could be effectively implemented throughout the Punta Cana property to block the sources of electricity that could harm the hawks.  

Finally, in order to better prepare for the 2013 tourism season we have posted signs to help guide interested birders to the hack site and observation deck so that they can potentially see the hawks and also engage with the scientists working on the reintroduction program.

Ridgeway on new perch. Courtesy of Thomas Hayes
Ridgeway on new perch. Courtesy of Thomas Hayes
safety perch. Courtesy of Thomas Hayes
safety perch. Courtesy of Thomas Hayes
2012 reintroductee AW. Courtesy of Thomas Hayes
2012 reintroductee AW. Courtesy of Thomas Hayes
2012 reintroductee ND. Courtesy of Thomas Hayes
2012 reintroductee ND. Courtesy of Thomas Hayes
Cornell Students volunteering. By Thomas Hayes
Cornell Students volunteering. By Thomas Hayes
Newly reintroduced hawk NX
Newly reintroduced hawk NX

Since the last report written in January 2012, significant improvement was made to the hacking site. Invasive overgrowth was cleared between the observation deck and the hack box, simultaneously allowing for better viewing and providing a safer habitat for the newly released birds. The viewing deck was also improved so visiting scientists and interested birding enthusiasts alike can be more comfortable and less conspicuous when observing the hawks.

The reintroductions officially began on April 26th when three young (two females and one male) birds were brought from Los Haitises National Park to the hack box in Punta Cana where they became accustomed to their new surroundings until they were released on May 2nd. On May 11th two more birds (one male and one female) were placed in the hack box and released on May 22nd. All birds successfully made their first flights and returned to the hack box to feed. This behavior of returning to the release site for food will continue for about three months after their release during which time they will slowly learn to hunt on their own, becoming more and more independent until their eventual dispersal.

Scientists from the Peregrine Fund continue to monitor late nesting hawks in Los Haitises National Park to possibly identify high-risk chicks that might be acceptable candidates for reintroduction. Simultaneously the Peregrine Fund, the Hispaniola Ornithological Society and the Puntacana Ecological Foundation are working on the text and design of an educational brochure, which will be available in English and Spanish. These brochures will highlight the importance of raptors, specifically the Ridgeway’s Hawk and our work to conserve them. Educational activities are planned for Los Haitises and the release sites in Punta Cana later in the year.

Recently upgraded hack box
Recently upgraded hack box
Adult hawks in Los Haitises National Park
Adult hawks in Los Haitises National Park
Chick in its nest in Los Haitises
Chick in its nest in Los Haitises
Peregrine Fund conservationists tracking hawks
Peregrine Fund conservationists tracking hawks
Ridgeway's Hawk in Los Haitises
Cornell students observing birds in the PC Resort
Cornell students observing birds in the PC Resort

The new year of 2012 has been an especially busy one
for the previously reintroduced Ridgeway’s Hawks to Punta Cana. Immediately
after Christmas through the New Year an unprecedented number of birding
tourists came to the PuntaCana Resort & Club to partake in free birding
tours with renowned tropical ornithologist Dr. Andre Dhondt and his wife Keila.
During these tours several lucky birders had the opportunity to observe one of
the world’s rarest hawks in the comfortable resort setting around the PC Ecological
Foundation. Besides helping to push a nascent but growing birding tourism
industry in the area these amateur observations also help employees of the
Hispaniola Ornithological Society and the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation keep
tabs on the birds.

After the holidays Dr. Andre Dhondt stayed in the area to teach his annual
tropical ornithology course to visiting students from Cornell University. In
addition to providing a great learning experience for Cornell students of all
academic disciplines, their daily logs of birds seen help provide valuable
information regarding species diversity and density in the area. Over the past
several years we have been able to observe important trends in the increase of
some species and the relative decrease of others.

Since mid-January, Virginia Tech students studying abroad for the 2012 Spring
Semester at the PC Ecological Foundation have been volunteering their time to
track the previously reintroduced hawks and are now pairing this experience
with their Tropical Ornithology course. This week the VT students also had the
opportunity to observe and assist visiting researchers from the Peregrine Fund
and the Hispaniola Ornithological Society to trap and re-outfit previously
introduced females with new back packs for continued radio tracking. 

The next reintroduction is programed to begin in April, 2012, for which we will
be renovating the hack site complete with a new spotting scope and tripod to make viewing the hawks more accessible for visiting researchers and birders alike. The PuntaCana Ecological Foundation has recruited a birding
tourism guide, supported in part by the PuntaCana Resort & Club, who in
addition to offering general birding tours will also offer tours specifically
focusing on the Ridgeway’s program. As we enter the fourth year of the
reintroduction program raising awareness about the hawk and the combined
efforts of the Hispaniola Ornithological Society, the Peregrine Fund, and the
Punta Cana Ecological Foundation to ensure the survival of the species
continues to be one of the primary focuses of the program.

Dr. Andre Dhondt with his 2012 students
Dr. Andre Dhondt with his 2012 students
2011 introductee
2011 introductee

The third reintroduction of the Ridgeways Hawk has successfully moved on from the intensive periods of constant observation and intervention. The two biologists from the Hispaniola Ornithological Society assigned to the 2011 program have returned to the United States and now the responsibilities of observation and data collection has passed to visiting conservationists associated with the Hispaniola Ornithological Society and the Peregrine Fund. By participating in this program visiting conservationists provide not just observational data but also an invaluable exchange of best practices and experiences with similar programs with other species in other countries.

Participation in the reintroduction program has also begun to spread outside of the scientific community. Tourists, local residents and hotel employees alike have recently become active participants in the program by volunteering their time to help track, observe and record basic observational behavior.  One of the cornerstones of each reintroduction programs is a comprehensive educational outreach campaign to local schools, hotel employees and interested individuals; volunteers are proving to be a very effective vehicle for spreading knowledge based off of first hand experience with plight of this critically endangered species. Moving forward we hope to continually increase the involvement and support of a diverse array of international volunteers and experts alike in the Ridgeways Hawk program in order to foster a tourism industry that is more aware of the importance and involved in the conservation island biodiversity.

Recent Filming
Recent Filming
Photo by Carlos
Photo by Carlos
The first 4 hawks released in
The first 4 hawks released in '11 sitting together

In 2011, the Ridgway’s Hawk Project continued to monitor nests and collect nestlings for release sites in Punta Cana and Pedro Sanchez.  In all, biologists monitored 37 nests in Los Haitises National Park and chicks were chosen from a total of eight nests.  In addition to monitoring the nests, our team also actively treated birds with botfly infestations and reconstructed several falling nests.  Parasitic infections early on in life are a serious threat to the existing population of Ridgway’s Hawks in Los Haitises; had these parasites not been removed many of the chicks would have died.  These conservation efforts were made for nestlings taken for the release programs and also to increase the numbers of birds that would ultimately fledge in Los Haitises National Park. 

This year Punta Cana released a total of six new Ridgway’s Hawks.  These six birds were released in pairs several weeks apart.  The first release was in mid-April and the last on the 13th of June.  Without the diligent work of our team four of these birds would have certainly died due to parasitism by botflies. Young birds were treated in the field approximately a week before being removed from the nests to come to the hacksite and again once they arrived in Punta Cana.  The hawks responded well to this treatment and all were able to be successfully released.

In addition to releasing Ridgway’s Hawks, the project continues to educate locals and foreigners alike as well as training interested volunteers.  In the past two months volunteers from the Hispaniola Ornithological Society have visited from other release sites to compare notes and learn from each other’s experiences.  This year a student from Columbia University used the Ridgway’s Hawk releases as the subject of a six week long research project.  Students from other universities, such as Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology and San Diego State, also became involved.  By involving these outside parties we are both drawing attention to this conservation effort and opening up the program to further dialogue about how to improve the program in the future.


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Organization Information

Fundación Grupo Puntacana

Location: Santo Domingo, no applicable - Dominican Republic
Website: http:/​/​​
Project Leader:
Jacob Kheel
Environmental Director
Santo Domingo, N/A Dominican Republic
$74,206 raised of $95,000 goal
113 donations
$20,794 to go
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