by CHRISTINA SMITH
IT IS OFTEN SAID that Vincentians are a resilient people, known to handle all manner of adversity and emerge on the other side stronger than when they began.
This resilience can be seen also in the nation’s wildlife species, particularly the St Vincent and the Grenadines national bird, which has flown in the face of disaster and continues to thrive despite hurricanes, volcanic eruptions and threats to its natural habitat.
The Amazona guildingii has been the national bird of St Vincent and the Grenadines since its Independence in 1979 and the species is endemic to the island.
Like the national flag, the parrot, found on the main island of St Vincent, is decorated in predominantly gold and green as well as brown feathers on its neck and body; in its tail are an assortment of green, violet blue and yellow. A mature bird can grow up to 18 inches in length and can weigh up to 700 grams.
Director of Forestry Services, Fitzgerald Providence tells SEARCHLIGHT the forestry division has been conducting censuses on the birds, which are protected internationally under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, since the 1980’s.
1979 & 2021 volcano eruptions Science has proved that some animal species can sense changes in its environment and take action to preserve life. The forestry services recognized this pattern during the most recent eruptions of La Soufriere volcano in 1979 and in 2021.
“They would’ve sensed that something was wrong and moved out of the immediate area,” Providence explains. He says a mini-survey done during the initial phase of the now abandoned geothermal project in 2020 revealed that the birds were again populating the area in the upper Rabbaca valley at the foothills of the volcano.
The 32 eruptions from La Soufriere in April and May, 2021 saw the birds relocate once again as they sought shelter outside the proximity of the volcano to areas in the orange and yellow zones such as the Hermitage and Cumberland valleys. During the eruptions, members of the forestry services assisted the birds by setting up feed and watering stations. However, at least two succumbed to the attack on their habitat.
“We had one report of a bird that died. Another one we rescued from the forest, but it was so dehydrated and didn’t feed for a while so it died.”
The forestry division conducted a follow-up census last month, to build on the results of the last rapid census done in 2010. Providence says there was no decrease in the population, in fact there was a noted improvement in the species numbers, estimated to be around 1,000 strong.
“During that 10-year period there were severe weather events: troughs, hurricanes and the eruption which would have impacted on the forest. We realized that the parrot population is resilient and stable and improving, so we will continue to improve our monitoring.”
Search for food
The Forestry head says in light of changes to the forest caused by the volcanic eruptions and climate change, they are concerned about the changing feeding patterns of the birds.
He says there have been reports of parrots feeding on fruit trees on farms in the north of the island. As the trees on the interior forest close to the volcano experienced major defoliation this forced the parrots to journey elsewhere in search of food.
“We have asked farmers to report sightings because we don’t want to have a parrot-predation conflict where we have them feeding on a person’s fruit trees. It is a national symbol and it is totally protected by law.”
Improving census methods
Providence explains that the forestry department, which is a part of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has sought the assistance of international organizations such as the Florida International University. He admits there have been some gaps in monitoring the areas where the birds exist and the use of modern technology is necessary for accurate monitoring.
“We started to use the Global Information System and we use satellite maps of the island. We are working with the University to bring in modern technology to monitor the population consistently instead of every other year,” Providence told SEARCHLIGHT.
He adds that the census exercise is a costly one for the division but they recognize the need for it and want to conduct it in a way that will not cause financial strain.
“We are trying to improve the methods so it will be more economical and on a more regular basis.When we started the census back in the 1980’s it was done every other year. It is a very costly event so we want to reduce costs and improve accuracy.”
Over the last 43 years since the parrot has been designated as the national bird of St Vincent and the Grenadines the species has displayed the same determination to survive as Vincentians, surely encompassing the theme of this year’s independence celebration: ‘Our Resilience, Our Fortitude, Our People’.