Captive-bred parrots released into the wild at Botanic Park

Cayman parrots Jade, Suzy, Teedee and Fiona take to the sky after being released from their cages in the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park Colour Garden. - Photo: Jewel Levy

Four colorful Cayman parrots were released into the wild at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park Colour Garden on Saturday.

The parrots were bred in captivity at the Cayman Turtle Centre in West Bay, where their mother Sweet Pea had spent much of her life after being rescued.

The four parrots, named Jade, Suzy, Teedee and Fiona, quickly took to the sky after their cages were opened Saturday. They settled among a clump of tall date trees loaded with fruit as people clapped and cheered them on.

Fiona was named after the princess in the movie “Shrek” by school kids who visited the Cayman Turtle Centre. Jade was named by jeweler Gale Tibbetts; Suzy was named after Suzy Soto by Deirdre Billes; and Teedee, an affectionate term, was named by Cassandra Barnett.

Geddes Hislop, curator of the terrestrial exhibits and education programs at the Cayman Turtle Centre, said the parrots were a part of the Turtle Centre’s conservation program.

Since 2009, he said, the Turtle Centre has been collecting, rescuing and rehabilitating injured parrots.

“This is a special release because three of the parrots are triplets hatched in 2006. One of them was hatched in 2017, so they are all sisters because they came from the same mother, a parrot named Sweet Pea,” he said.

Mr. Geddes said Sweet Pea was one of the first parrots to be rescued and the first to start breeding. Sweet Pea died a couple of weeks ago. She had a broken wing when she was rescued from a poacher and could not fly, so she lived in a tree at the Turtle Centre. During a heavy rainstorm earlier this month, Sweet Pea fell from her perch in the tree and died.

“So far, the Turtle Centre has managed to raise and release into the wild 14 healthy captive-bred Cayman parrots,” Mr. Geddes said.

He explained that parrots are long-living birds and can live into their 70s in the wild.

“They breed very slowly in the wild … they might have one chick, sometimes two a year or every other year …. Right now, their breeding issues are habitats because the population is growing, and the island is not.”

Before parrots are released into the wild, they go through a quarantine process for 30 days, are given a rigid health checkup, and “trained to be wild.” When they get to the point where they ignore commercial feed and are more adapted to the wild, they are ready to go. This usually takes about a month to accomplish, according to Mr. Geddes.

Monique Bush, of release sponsor Island Heritage, said the company was happy to get involved. “The Cayman parrot is our national bird and it’s really nice to see captive birds go back into the environment from which they evolved,” she said.

Botanic Park General Manager John Lawrus said the park offers the parrots all the natural resources they need, such as food, a safe environment and lots of other parrot friends.

What is known as the Cayman parrot is, in fact, two subspecies of the Cuban Parrot (Amazona leucocephala). Both sub species are endemic to the Cayman Islands – which means they are found nowhere else in the world, according to the National Trust for the Cayman Islands.

Cayman’s parrots have iridescent green feathers with darker edges over the body, a white eye ring, red cheeks, black ear patches and brilliant blue wing feathers, which are only obvious when the bird is in flight. The tail has blue outer edges, with some red and yellowish green underneath.

According to the Trust, Cayman Islands’ parrots feed on seagrapes, red birch berries and the flowers, seeds and berries of many other native plants – items which are plentiful in the Botanic Park.

The birds are usually seen in pairs or in small family groups and are most active in the early morning or just before sunset.

Cayman parrots mate for life and use the same nesting sites repeatedly. They 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 and can fly by mid-summer.