2014 has been the most exciting and successful year yet for the Ridgway’s Hawk Conservation Project here in the Dominican Republic. In Punta Cana in 2013, we witnessed the formation of the first breeding pair of our released birds (2012 released female Red ND and 2011 released male Black AV). They successfully produced the first wild chick (male Blue 44) outside of the last stronghold of Ridgway’s Hawks in Los Haitises National Park. Early in 2014 we confirmed the second breeding pair which formed from two previously released individuals: 2009 released female Red SN and 2012 released male Black AN. Both pairs went on to build nests and incubate eggs. AV and ND were successful again and fledged two young male hawks on May 17th. These birds are doing great and now that they are old enough to be left on their own, both parents are leaving the nest site in search of food to feed the youngsters until they have learned to hunt for themselves. Unfortunately, SN and AN were not successful as both of their eggs turned out to be infertile. They continue to remain together in their territory and we have high hopes that they will try again next year.
Due to last year’s successful nesting from AV and ND, The Peregrine Fund made plans to beef up release efforts, moving the project out of the experimental phase and begin releasing enough individuals to create a second population in Punta Cana. The new plan for 2014 was to release 25 new hawks in Punta Cana, more hawks than have been released in all years of the project combined (19 total in the Punta Cana area). This increase was only possible due to the grueling work of treating all the wild chicks in Los Haitises to prevent botfly infestations. Efforts to increase survivability of nestlings have more than doubled the numbers of chicks which survive to fledging age in the national park population. Thus we can leave a substantial number of chicks to fledge naturally in Los Haitises and have more birds to release as part of the effort to expand the distribution of this critically endangered bird. The final total of released birds in 2014 was 29 individuals with the final release taking place on June 1st.
Another first in 2014 was that we raised many of the chicks we released from about 5-7 days old until they were of age to be moved to the release site, about 35 days old. The hope was that this would enable the wild adults who produced these chicks in Los Haitises National Park to renest. This method seemed to work well as all of the pairs from which we took young nestlings eventually made a second attempt at nesting and many of the birds are currently raising their second round of nestlings.
Education is one of the most important aspects of any good conservation program. Here in Punta Cana it is essential that we make efforts to educate the surrounding communities about the work we are doing and the importance of the hawk. One of the best ways to help people to appreciate an animal is to make it something that they associate with having fun or something in which they can take pride. To this end, in 2014, we launched the very first Ridgway’s Hawk Day right here in Punta Cana, inviting school children from a nearby barrio to the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation to see and learn about Ridgway’s Hawks. The date we chose, May 25th, is the day B-44 hatched last year (B-44 is the first wild chick hatched in Punta Cana and the first known chick hatched outside of the National Park population in more than 30 years). Many other educational activities were carried out including visits to local schools and visits to isolated communities in the area. As the population of Ridgway’s Hawks grows in Punta Cana, it will be essential to continue to grow our education efforts because the people who come into daily contact with these birds will potentially have a huge impact on their survivability as a species. Of course, in order to reach the Dominican communities here we need continued backing from our own community of support. Thank you so much for your interest in this project!