El Yunque and the Northeast Feature


210 Parrots and Counting

The Taíno Indians called it the iguaca, Spanish speakers refer to it as the cotorra, and scientists know it as Amazona vittata. Whatever moniker it takes, the Puerto Rican green parrot—the only one native to the island—is one of the world's rarest birds. It nests primarily in the upper levels of El Yunque and in the nearby Sierra de Luquillo. The bird is almost entirely green, though there are touches of blue on its wings, white rings around its eyes, and a red band just above its beak. It's only about 12 inches long, and its raucous squawk doesn't match its delicate appearance. The parrots mate for life. In February (the rain forest's driest season), they build nests within tree hollows and lay three to four eggs. Both parents feed the young.

When the Spanish arrived, the parrot population was an estimated 1 million on the main island, Vieques, and Culebra. But deforestation, hurricanes, and parasites have reduced the population (parrot hunting was common before being outlawed in 1940). By 1967 there were only 19 birds; a 1975 count totaled only 13.

But things are looking up, especially with work beginning on a $2.5 million, state-of-the-art breeding facility in El Yunque. At this writing, an estimated total of 300 green parrots were living in both the wild and captivity. Officials are optimistic that the numbers will continue to grow. If you're very observant (and very lucky), you just might spot one.

Updated: 2013-10-04

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