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Conserving the Ridgway's Hawk in Punta Cana, DR

by Fundación Grupo Puntacana
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

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!

 

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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's Hawk Project Director
Thomas Hayes - Ridgway's Hawk Project Director
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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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The 2017 Ridgway’s Hawk nesting season once again showed us that all our effort and hard work is paying off. Ridgway’s Hawks in Punta Cana are doing well and we observed an all-time high of 17 pairs of Ridgway’s Hawks during the season. Of these 17 pairs of hawks, 9 pairs nested and produced 10 fledglings, another record for the Punta Cana population. We also continued our release efforts at the Puntacana Resort and Club and released 25 additional hawks into the area. Releases went very well, however we did observe a lot more interaction between older hawks and newly released birds. This is likely due to the fact that the current release area now has adult hawks that consider the release site as part of their territory. While this has happened to some degree since the 2015 season, this year’s interactions were different in that the older birds were more aggressive with the younger released birds. This is actually another sign of success for the project, but it also means that we will likely need to relocate the release site before future releases can be conducted. During the 2018 season we plan to put a hold on releases in the Punta Cana area and focus our attention to monitoring the existing population there.

All the work that we do in Punta Cana is only possible, because of our intense monitoring and management of the stronghold population of Ridgway’s Hawks in Los Haitises National Park (LHNP). In 2017, our team of 16 local field technicians and 6 local volunteers observed 125 pairs of Ridgway’s Hawks in LHNP. Just over 90 of these pairs received hands on management to help reduce mortality in nestlings which is caused by a parasitic nest fly (Philornis spp.). This hands-on management ensures that more nestlings survive to fledging age. Our data shows that we have increased the numbers of nestlings which make it to fledging age by 3-4 times for each of the last 3 years. This means that for every 10 pairs of hawks we manage, we are ensuring that 8-10 additional nestlings reach fledging age. By doing this intense management we are able to ensure that the wild population in LHNP continues to grow and at the same time, we can remove some nestling from that population in order to release them in Punta Cana or in other areas in the Dominican Republic.

Many of you may be wondering how the hawks faired with the recent hurricanes that past the Dominican Republic. Irma and Maria both came very close to both populations of Ridgway’s Hawks. Irma fortunately moved north and had very little effect in Punta Cana. The geography of LHNP helped to protect the area from high winds and rain. Maria passed much closer to Punta Cana and the area did receive winds from a category 1 hurricane. These winds did have enough force to knock down trees and cause some minor damage. Since the storms we have monitored the known pairs in Punta Cana and to our delight, all of them are still on territory.

In September we completed two 3-day Youth Training Workshops for a total of 35 young leaders working in communities next to important Ridgway's Hawk habitat. These workshops are designed to provide young people with the tools necessary to be able to talk about sensitive conservation issues one-on-one within their communities, and to teach them how to utilize materials on hand to create fun and dynamic learning experiences for their target audiences, as well as how to give environmental education programs such as presentations, guided walks, and other activities. 

Our goal was also to instill a passion for wildlife, wild places and conservation at the same time. Apart from the dynamic, hands-on activities - including creating artistic sculptures of Ridgway’s Hawks out of recyclable materials, and putting on a play – complete with actors, costumes and scenery – workshop participants also went on bird watching excursions and enjoyed guided nature walks, all the while learning about Ridgway’s Hawk biology, bird observation, food chains, birds of prey, and conservation issues and actions. Our pre and post evaluations showed a marked increase in participants’ knowledge about raptors, ecological processes, and conservation issues as a whole. We have also received word from some individuals who are already putting what they learned into action. Some have hosted a trash cleanup activity in their community and others are working on creating signs and getting trash bins donated, to prevent future littering in their communities. All in all, this was a very positive experience for all involved and we hope to host at least one more of these workshops next year!

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Red 5/5 is a female released last season in 2016.
Red 5/5 is a female released last season in 2016.

The Ridgway’s Hawk Project is right in the middle of its busiest season ever. After a great release season and record survival rates of released individuals, Ridgway’s Hawks are becoming ever more common in the landscape at the Puntacana Resort & Club and in the surrounding area.

We have been monitoring established nesting pairs and looking for new ones all during the fall and spring and to our delight we currently have established at least 14 pairs of Ridgway’s Hawks in the Punta Cana area. Not only that, so far this season thirteen nestlings have hatched in the area and as of writing this report we have already banded 5 nestlings which will soon fledge. Two more nests, both with two nestlings each are scheduled to be banded later on this week. All in all, we have seen steady growth of the new population of hawks, breeding pairs, and wild nestlings over the last several years.

One of the most amazing parts of this project is our team of local field technicians who live and work in Los Haitises National Park. Since the beginning of the project, this team has been steadily growing in skill and size. Currently, 17 Dominican field technicians and 6 Dominican volunteers are involved in the project. This amazing team is monitoring just over 120 pairs of Ridgway’s Hawks in Los Haitises National Park. This is an amazing feat and what is more amazing is the fact that the population of hawks has doubled in some areas where we have been working intensively to reduce mortality in nestling hawks due to infestations from parasitic flies, Philornis.

At the time of writing this report, we just finished banding 8 new young nestlings which were brought from Los Haitises to Puntacana Resort & Club. These nestlings have been taken to the release site where they will spend the next 7-10 days inside a specially designed box, called a hackbox. The birds are fed inside this box and then on release day the door is opened and the birds are free to leave the box. Food is placed on the platform at the release site and this keeps the birds coming back to the platform for about three months or until they become independent and can catch food for themselves. We will keep you posted about this year’s release season in the next report.

In addition to the busy field season, our environmental education team is working hard to spread the word about the importance of Ridgway’s Hawks, and raptors in general, throughout the country. Right now we are busy preparing for several Ridgway’s Hawk Day events to be held in Santo Domingo and the Punta Cana area next month. We are also organizing our next teacher training workshop – a three day event designed to train teachers in environmental education methods and provide them with the materials and information they need to implement what they have learned in their classrooms, so they can help instill an appreciation for nature and raptor conservation in their students. To date, we have trained close to 40 teachers from several areas throughout the country.

On behalf of the Ridgway’s Hawk Project we would like to sincerely thank all of you who have donated to the project to date. Moving forward we hope we can count on your continued support for this conservation project and hope you share this Global Giving Page with anyone you think may be interested in learning about this remarkable project. 

Nestlings at only 1-2 days old in Puntacana Resort
Nestlings at only 1-2 days old in Puntacana Resort
The first Ridgway's Hawk nest of the season 2017
The first Ridgway's Hawk nest of the season 2017
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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
$75,136 raised of $95,000 goal
 
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