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A Hack Site Attendant's Experience in Dominican Republic
Marta Curti — in West Indies Project    Share

With only an estimated 200-250 individuals left in the world, and the only known sustainable population found in Los Haitises National Park (LHNP), Dominican Republic, the Ridgway’s Hawk is a critically endangered species in need of strong conservation actions. The Peregrine Fund,in conjunctionwith the Sociedad Ornitologica de la Hispaniola, has been studying this species for years, and has begun what is known as an “assisted dispersal” program. The idea behind this is to take wild hatched chicks from some nests in LHNP and release them in other areas of the island where this species once existed that still contain suitable habitat. The hope is that, eventually, this will create additional populations on the island, thus making the species as a whole less vulnerable to major catastrophes such as hurricanes or disease outbreak.

What follows was written by Carlos Cruz, one of our volunteers who is spending three months working at the assisted dispersal release sites...

A young Ridgway's Hawk

Greetings!

The days pass quickly in Pedro Sanchez, Dominican Republic, where we have just released 5 Ridgway’s Hawks. From our observation point in the forest, we have gathered interesting information about these young birds’ behavior: we know which hours of the day they are most active; we know that they like the rain; and though they do not like company when they are eating, they do enjoy spending time together stretching or perching on the branches near the hack box. Over the many weeks I have spent here so far, I have come to learn a bit about the personalities of each of them - the smallest male is the most active and vocalizes more than the others and the largest female always gets the best piece of food. I know they roost close to each other at night and I like to hear their vocalizations and watch their activity in the morning.

After observing them for some time, I can understand why this species is seriously threatened – the young hawks are naturally unafraid of people and they often land in trees very close to us. For me, this is a pleasure - as I can take pictures and observe them in detail. But I am not sure that everyone would feel the same way. These beautiful birds feed mainly on small rodents and reptiles but are persecuted by people who peg them as “chicken eaters.” Because of this persecution, plus the destruction of their already greatly reduced habitat and other factors such as fires, nests falling, and parasites that affect the development of their young, they have been brought to the brink of extinction.

A young female vocalizes in the early morning

This release site is very close to a small village and the people there are something special. They seem to be very happy and I always see a look of joy on the children’s faces – whether they are throwing stones at the mango trees trying to fell the juicy fruit to eat, or when they are just playing barefoot in the grass, they laugh a lot and always have funny stories to tell.

This is why I think we can instill in their minds the desire for conservation, not only of our hawks, but for all living things. We all must understand the importance and magnitude of saving this endemic, critically endangered bird. Losing it would be like losing a part of our essence as inhabitants of this planet.

For me, being able to give a little bit of help to these hawks so they can develop and disperse without problems, has relieved a little bit of the burden of being of the same species who has done so much damage, and it also brings me a feeling of great joy. I believe that the goal of humans living in harmony with these hawks, with each one doing his part, will not be too difficult to achieve. But it will be imperative to continue working with local people, who are essential for the conservation of these raptors.

Find more articles about Ridgway's Hawk, Neotropics

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