Parrots a link to Cayman’s past

Years ago, Cayman parrots were plentiful in these islands, and were often kept as house pets.

parrots

Hobby farmer Jessie Arch with family pet parrot Jessie.
Photo: Jewel Levy

Today these colourful birds represent a national symbol and are recorded on Cayman’s endangered list alongside sea turtles, whistling ducks and the blue iguanas.

Tradition has given way to the realities of the modern world there is a now a law prohibiting the keeping of Cayman parrots as pets.

Hurricanes – as well as development – have destroyed trees that provided nesting sites and food. Nest robbers, who saw quick cash in parrot trading, also added to their downfall.

Those who often see flocks of parrots in the wild may wonder why the Cayman Islands’ parrots are protected. The Cayman Islands National Trust warns that, as the birds are only found in Cayman, a healthy local population must be maintained if these unique birds are to survive.

In practice, those that were taken before this law was introduced are allowed to remain in captivity, and owners are advised to consult with local experts to ensure that their bird is kept in the best condition, according to the National Trust.

Cayman parrots in captivity are sociable creatures and need entertaining – sometimes nearly as much as children do.

They learn to adapt quickly to their surroundings. They also learn how to get noticed and have their needs met. They mimic you and if ignored make their presence known by squawking loudly.

Cloaked in iridescent green feathers with touches of brilliant blue, red and yellowish green, these birds are a beauty in flight and just as captivating when they say ‘hello’.

Although most farmers consider parrots a pest because they ruin fruits on trees, most Caymanians will tell you that having one in the home is traditional.

A lot of our local parrots went missing after Hurricane Ivan in 2004, but local farmer Buddy Wood thinks they are now coming back.

‘I think the hurricane destroyed most of the mangrove habitats that were closer to civilization, which caused them to move their nests further inland,’ he said.

‘Cayman parrots use the same nesting sites over and over, but when they are destroyed they have to find new habitats. Parrots mate for life and usually nest in hollow trees or mangroves,’ said Mr. Wood.

Cayman parrots love sea grapes, almonds, mangroves and most local fruits and seeds. Those in captivity usually get fruit scraps from the table.

It’s easy to hear these noisy birds if it’s nearby, especially early morning or late afternoon, because of their loud squawking.

Parrots nest in rural areas, either mangrove or dry forest, in hollow trees, laying between one and five eggs every spring. The eggs hatch after about 24 days, and the young remain in the nest for about eight weeks, states the National Trust.

Hawks and owls are natural predators, but now the parrot has additional ones to contend with – the rats and cats that have been introduced here by man.

According to the Trust both Cayman and the Brac populations appear to be stable for the time being, but vigilance and protective measures will be required if the parrots are to survive the increasing pressures on our natural environment.

Good places to see Cayman parrots are in the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park; on the Mastic Trail in Grand Cayman; and the Brac Parrot Reserve in Cayman Brac.

Tracing the Cayman Parrot

The Cayman Islands’ parrots are two subspecies of the Cuban Parrot (Amazona leucocephala). Both subspecies are endemic to the Cayman Islands – which means they are found nowhere else in the world. In fact, there are only three other subspecies of this parrot in the world – two in Cuba and one in the Bahamas. The Grand Cayman Parrot (Amazona leucocephala caymanensis) in particular has a pink flush to its whitish forehead. The male is slightly larger and more brightly coloured than the female. Juvenile birds have yellowish foreheads, gradually becoming more washed with pink as they mature.

The Cayman Brac Parrot

The Cayman Brac Parrot (Amazona leucocephala hesterna) is slightly smaller, with more black trim on its green feathers. The crown is pure white, and there is a large maroon area on the abdomen. It is now found only on Cayman Brac: although it used to inhabit Little Cayman it was apparently wiped out from there in the great storm of 1932. The Cayman Brac Parrot has the smallest range of any Amazon parrot and so is one of the rarest.

– From the Cayman Islands National Trust.

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