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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