Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR

by Fundación Grupo Puntacana Vetted since 2012 Site Visit Verified
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR
Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR

It’s January 10th 2019. I arrived in the Dominican Republic late the night before with a terrible headache from traveling. Fortunately, I was able to get a good night’s sleep and managed to wake up rather early this morning feeling refreshed and ready for the day. My plans didn’t really include making observations of hawks that morning due to an immediate trip pending to Santo Domingo, but as I sat in the project office at the Grupo Puntacana Foundation, I could hear hawks calling just right out front. Not really a big surprise as there has been a pair of hawks who claimed their territory in front of the foundation for over three years now. I continued to hear the birds call off and on then a very specific call rang in my ear. A call that you only hear when the birds are copulating or mating. The 2019 Ridgway’s Hawk nesting season has begun!

Times are changing fast on the Ridgway’s Hawk project. As many of you know, we did not release any hawks in Puntacana during 2018. After finding a total of 19 pairs of hawks during the 2018 nesting season, we have decided to stick to the same plan. Instead, we’ll focus our attention on monitoring these pairs so we can ensure that they are as successful at nesting as possible. With 19 pairs of hawks to monitor that will take a lot of time and dedication.

In other news, we have been looking at the future goals of the project and taking steps towards meeting those goals. One of The Ridgway’s Hawk Projects goals is to establish three self-sustaining and geographically distinct populations of hawks, apart from the original population in Los Haitises National Park. During the last two years we have been surveying sites in the Dominican Republic in search of the next release site. Surveyed sites have included national parks, scientific reserves and private property. Out of more than 15 sites surveyed, we chose Aniana Vargas National Park as the next Ridgway’s Hawk release site. Aniana Vargas is a relatively small national park encompassing about 130 km2. Like many parks in the Dominican Republic there are still people living within the park boundaries. This is really no surprise since the park was just created in 2009. The great thing is that the main cash crop is organic-bird friendly cacao or chocolate. Conacado, the cooperative that purchases cacao from local farmers, has a strict code of conduct which locals abide by in order to have the privilege of selling their products at higher prices. Some of these by laws include not littering, not killing wildlife, not polluting waterways, not cutting trees, and not using toxic chemicals or poisons. These helpful practices will go a long way towards protecting the newly released hawks.

As the Ridgway’s Hawk releases expand, so must our efforts in environmental education.  In Puntacana we learned that one of the best ways to multiply our efforts is by training people to educate others in their communities. In preparation for the upcoming releases in Aniana Vargas National Park, we hosted a 2-day workshop, in conjunction with Fundacion Cooperativa Vega Real, for 15 youth, teachers and park guards living and working in communities surrounding this protected area. Through dynamic activities including creating art using a raptor silhouette, constructing life-sized Ridgway’s Hawks out of recycled materials, putting on a play, and participating in “raptor Olympics”, participants learned how to identify some birds of prey found in Dominican Republic - including the Ridgway’s Hawk. They also learned about the key role these birds play in maintaining a balance in the ecosystems in which they live, and what we can all do to aid in their conservation.

Our hope is that everyone who came to this workshop will return to their respective communities and share their new-found knowledge with friends, family, and neighbors, to help us further spread the conservation message and help ensure the protection of Ridgway’s Hawks far into the future.

Testing the effectiveness of an entomopathogenic.
Testing the effectiveness of an entomopathogenic.

Breeding season has not yet arrived for the Ridgway’s Hawks – there are still a few months to go before they begin courtship and nest-building in preparation for raising a new generation of young hawks. As we wait for breeding season to begin, we continue to carry out monthly surveys in Punta Cana and Los Haitises National Park in order to assess where most of the hawks are and their health status. We spend a lot of time in each pair’s territory, documenting their presence or absence and recording any interesting behavior we are lucky enough to observe. So far, all hawks are present and accounted for, which is great news!

At the Grupo Puntacana Foundation we held a 3-day workshop for 16 teachers and locals from different areas of the Dominican Republic. Over these three days, participants learned about Ridgway’s Hawks, their importance as birds of prey and role they play in ecosystems, as well as different techniques they can use to transmit the conservation message and information in their local communities.

During the last three months, we have been rearing Philornis flies (a parasite fly that affects the population of Ridgway Hawks and other types of birds) in the lab to learn more about their life cycle. We have been able to keep them alive for over 3 months and those flies were used for in-lab experiments intended to find mid-term control methods. 

We are testing different organic repellents in a choice arena, where adult flies choose between two entry points baited with food: with or without a repellent.  We have been conducting trials with Tobacco and Neem. We are also testing the effectiveness of an entomopathogenic fungus, Beauveria bassiana, against Philornis larvae.

Finally, we are placing traps with papaya juice to trap wild Philornis adults in the field and to have a better idea of the population’s abundance.

Musca domestica killed by Beauveria bassiana.
Musca domestica killed by Beauveria bassiana.
Trio of Ridgway
Trio of Ridgway's Hawks
Male Ridgway
Male Ridgway's Hawk

Once again we are catching our breath after a busy nesting season for the critically endangered Ridgway’s Hawk. Conserving endangered species is hard work, but it can also be very rewarding. One thing I have learned from working on the Ridgway’s Hawk Project for 8 years is that species conservation is a struggle. There will be ups and downs, but this is an inherent part of the process. This past nesting season was a good example of this. In general it was an amazing season, with many records, and for sure an overall success. On the other hand we were reminded how important it is for us to keep a watchful eye on what is happening in nature, especially how our actions as humans can affect a critically endangered species.

A sure sign of success for a conservation project might be measured in many ways. For the Ridgway’s Hawk project, this success has been fairly easy to see. A steady increase in individuals, pairs formed, and wild nestlings fledged have been the project norm year after year. Like each year since the first wild pair was discovered in Punta Cana in 2013, this year we monitored a record number of pairs in the Punta Cana area. We observed 19 pairs with 17 of these pairs attempting to nest this season. We expected this increase and made the decision not to release more hawks in Punta Cana during 2018 so that we could focus on monitoring this ever-growing population. We also saw a record number of hatched nestlings from this population. Unfortunately, of the 21 nestlings which hatched, only 10 nestlings reached fledging (flying from the nest). In late April we began to find some nestlings dead below their nests. After investigating the cause, we feel that the most likely culprit of these mortalities may be secondary poisoning. Secondary poisoning occurs when a pest species such as rats are poisoned, but before the poison can kill the rats, a predator such as a hawk catches and eats them. We are still awaiting conclusive laboratory results as to the cause of this unfortunate loss. Regardless of the final results, we have already begun working with local institutions and residents to raise awareness about this topic. Our goal is to encourage local resorts and residents to search for environmentally safe methods to control rats and other unwanted pests.

Our work in LHNP (Los Haitises National Park) exceeded all expectations with a total of 134 pairs of Ridgway’s Hawks being monitored and a total of 141 new Ridgway’s Hawks fledging into LHNP. The most remarkable part of this achievement is that nearly 100% of the monitoring and hands on management of these pairs was done by locals in the communities where we work. Training and hiring locals is having a huge impact on how these communities view the Ridgway’s Hawk. Prior to our conservation work, many locals viewed the hawks as pests and would often shoot them. Now, locals see these hawks as a benefit to their community. These are the kinds of changes that have long lasting conservation impact.

A conservation project can only truly be successful by ensuring that the attitudes of people change. The best way to do this is through environmental education. The Peregrine Fund and our partners place a heavy emphasis on this aspect of our project. Each year we dedicate a significant portion of our time and budget to make sure that future generations grow to appreciate the natural world around them. A big part of this is understanding how nature can benefit us and that we must make compromises to ensure that we can live in balance with nature into the future. This year we hosted our 5th annual Ridgway's Hawk Day Celebration. We hosted 2 days of field trips to Punta Cana for roughly 97 local students and made a visit to one school where we hosted around 120 students. We conducted art activities focused on the Ridgway's Hawk and its habitat- students painted their individual creations on driftwood and other discarded/recyclable wood, while others worked in groups to create "murals" on plywood. We also played a dart game and a "bowling" game focused on the importance of habitat and the threats that hawks might face, as well as actions we can all take to help improve Ridgway's Hawk habitat. Another activity included birdwatching, where students birded in both forest and lagoon habitat, comparing both. Using field guides, students worked to identify several local bird species. We visited the area of Domingo Maiz where we worked with a student club of approximately 23 students. Participants created "Ridgway's Hawk" masks using recycled paper, felt, crayons and other art materials. We also played the "habitat dart game" with them. Finally, we hosted a Ridgway's Hawk Day Fair in conjunction with the local Farmer's Market hosted by Puntacana. We had a live hawk present, as well as art activities and games. In total, approximately 300 people were reached during the week-long celebration.

All in all it has been another extremely successful year for the Ridgway’s Hawk Project. Even though the nesting season is over there is still tons of work to do. We are currently planning several more education activities to be held in Puntacana as well as searching for the next release site for Ridgway’s Hawks. Next season is shaping up to be one of the busiest yet!

 

Successfully rehabilitate female individual.
Successfully rehabilitate female individual.

It has been an incredible year for the Ridgway’s Hawk Project. It seems like we say that a lot in these reports, but it is true, things just keep getting better and better. Every year we seem to set new records for the number of pairs, number of nesting pairs and number of nestlings fledged. This goes for both Puntacana and Los Haitises National Park.

As we mentioned in the last report we decided not to release any new Ridgway’s Hawks into the Puntacana area this season. This decision was made due to how successful the project has been and the fact that the area surrounding the current release site is saturated with Ridgway’s Hawks, including several nesting pairs. In fact, currently we have a pair nesting and incubating eggs on top of the hackbox at our old release site!

To date we have monitored 18 pairs of Ridgway’s Hawks in Puntacana and 16 of these pairs have attempted nesting. We have observed 17 nestlings in nests and so far we have banded 13 nestlings. Three pairs of hawks are still incubating and several pairs may still nest or attempt their second nest after their first nest attempt failed. It seems like we may see about twenty nestlings fledge from the Puntacana population this year and all from wild nests! In total the project is monitoring over 150 pairs of Ridgway’s Hawks this year. We also recently received a very weak Ridgway’s Hawk (Red 6/9, female released in PC in 2017) in Puntacana and we were able to successfully rehabilitate this individual and release her. So all in all, we are very optimistic about the future of the Ridgway’s Hawk population in the island!

Ridgway’s Hawk Day is coming up soon on May 25th. Make sure and stay tuned for the next report which will contain details on all the fun and exciting educational activities that take place this year. Our long-term goal is that one day Ridgway’s Hawk Day will be a special and celebrated day throughout all of the Dominican Republic!

The Peregrine Fund Team in action.
The Peregrine Fund Team in action.
Thomas Hayes - Ridgway
Thomas Hayes - Ridgway's Hawk Project Director
Ridgway Hawk at the Punta Cana area.
Ridgway Hawk at the Punta Cana area.

This is one of my favorite times of year on the Ridgway’s Hawk Project. It is also one of the busiest! It is this time of year that the hawks begin courtship in full swing. If you are observing a pair of Ridgway’s Hawks this time of year you may see display flights, copulating, nest building, and a few pairs of hawks may even start laying and incubating eggs in January. At the time of writing this update the very first pair of hawks has started incubating in Los Haitises National Park (LHNP). What does all this mean? Well, it means a lot of work for the Ridgway’s Hawk team during the nesting season.

 

Last year we monitored a total of 142 pairs of Ridgway’s Hawks in LHNP and Punta Cana (PC). All of this activity also makes it a great time to try and find new pairs of hawks. Our field technicians have already located two new pairs in the PC area. Another interesting thing is that we are getting reports of Ridgway’s Hawks further from the release site than ever before. This is likely due to the fact that the territories closest to the release site have been occupied and new individuals have had to disperse further and further to find territories.

 

During our last report we mentioned that we may put a hold on releasing more individuals at the PC release site. This decision is now final and instead of releasing hawks, we will focus our attention this season on monitoring the expanding population as well as continuing to make the PC area a better place for the hawks, by continuing with our environmental education program as well as making power lines safer for hawks with continued retrofitting. Close monitoring will tell us if the current population in PC can grow on its own or if we will need to continue with releases in the future. For now, we will continue to monitor every pair of hawks that we can find as well as provide hands on management to nests to make sure that maximum number of nestlings survives.

 

Environmental education is a critical component of our Ridgway's Hawk Conservation Program. Each year, we reach around 1,500 adults and children through presentations, door-to-door visits, teacher and youth training workshops, and school programs. One of our most successful activities to date has been the celebration of Ridgway's Hawk Day on May 25th. Four years in a row we have brought close to 70 students and teachers from a local school to visit the Ridgway's Hawk release site in PC. It is an amazing opportunity for them to see these hawks up close, to appreciate the effort being put into their conservation, and to understand why they are so important to the Dominican ecosystem. Apart from a visit to the release site, students also participate in a bird walk to learn about the other avian species found in Dominican Republic, an art activity which allows them to creatively express their views on nature and conservation, and several interactive games which teach about ecosystems and the role top predators play in keeping nature in balance. This year, we also took our Ridgway's Hawk Day celebration to Santo Domingo - the nation's capital. At the National Zoo (ZOODOM), we hosted over 80 students and 20 adults. They got to see a live hawk up close and also created "hawk masks" to take home with them.

 

For conservation projects to be truly successful, they must have the support of local community members. Through capacity building and training and hiring of local biologists we believe we have taken great strides in connecting to individuals and giving them a sense of pride and ownership of Ridgway's Hawk conservation. One of the biggest obstacles in the past has been the fact that people shoot hawks - mainly to protect their domestic fowl from falling prey to these raptors. In order to create a "win-win" situation, we began donating chicken coops to people who were experiencing trouble with raptors predating on their fowl. To date, the results have been quite positive. This year, we were able to combine an important educational opportunity with this activity when 76 students from Carol Morgan School (Santo Domingo) visited Punta Cana from Oct 18th to 20th. Students were divided into four groups and each group received an introductory talk about the project and a 2-hour-long workshop on how to build chicken cages - taught by our local field technicians. Once the cages were complete, the students visited the communities of Juanillo and Suero Juanillo to personally deliver cages to locals who raise chickens. In total, 18 cages were built and 6 have been delivered so far. 

 

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Organization Information

Fundación Grupo Puntacana

Location: Santo Domingo, no applicable - Dominican Republic
Website:
Project Leader:
Jacob Kheel
Vice President
Santo Domingo, N/A Dominican Republic
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