It is that time of year again. The hustle and bustle of our busiest season is coming to an end. We completed the nest monitoring in the middle of July and at the release site in Puntacana Resort & Club, only a few Ridgway’s Hawks continue to return in the evenings to feed. This does not mean that the work is over until the next nesting and release season. It is actually just a transition into focusing on monitoring the new population in Punta Cana and preparing ourselves for the upcoming season.
Speaking of monitoring, we are tracking more Ridgway’s Hawks than ever – a result of our most successful season this past year in Punta Cana. Not only did we release more Ridgway’s Hawks than ever before (31), we also had a record low number of mortalities with only one confirmed. We credit this incredible achievement to all the hard work we have put into our education program and our efforts to make all the power lines in Puntacana Resort & Club and the surrounding area a safe place for Ridgway’s Hawks. With so many new birds, we have to focus our attention on keeping track of each individual hawk. This allows us to hone in on areas where the hawks are starting to establish territories, and educate community members living nearby and who are most likely to come into contact with these birds. . We also work with locals - providing them with materials and information on building chicken coops - so they can protect their chickens by keeping them in a coop at night or while they are unsupervised. This not only protects the chickens from predation by hawks, but also from other predators such as rats, mongoose, feral cats, snakes and owls. Once people no longer see Ridgway’s Hawks as a threat to their chickens, they can begin to understand how these birds are beneficial to have around.
This past season we found six new pairs of Ridgway’s Hawks in the Punta Cana area, bringing the total number of pairs in the new population to eight pairs. This is a major achievement for the project. Four of these pairs attempted nesting in 2015 and one pair was successful in producing the fourth wild young to fledge naturally in the area. In the last report we wrote about one of these nests failing due to the adult female being infested by parasites while incubating a nest. This female has fully recovered and has been returned to the wild. We hope to see her trying to nest again in the coming year. We are very hopeful that we will see even more pairs in 2016, as well as more nesting success and wild hatched young.
Our research in the past few years has showed us that parasitism by bot flies (Philornis spp.) is one of the major causes of mortality in young Ridgway’s Hawks. We have been working very hard to develop treatment protocols that will help us to increase the productivity of the species. This undertaking has been very successful and is allowing us to take larger numbers of hawks from the source population in Los Haitises National Park without having a negative effect on the numbers of nestlings which fledge there. In fact, we are more than tripling chick production in this population. This is great news as it allows us to work faster towards the end goal of having a self-sustaining population in Punta Cana. This year we also embarked on research in order to gain a better knowledge of these parasites. This work is being conducted in a laboratory right here in the Puntacana Ecological Foundation. We hope that in the future we will understand why these parasites are so prevalent and so devastating to some bird populations. Eventually we may be able to use what we learn to implement control methods on a larger scale which could have a positive impact on other bird species both in Dominican Republic and in other parts of the world, as well!!
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