‘Near-threatened’ birds released

Eleven white-crowned pigeons and 18 white-winged doves were released last week as part of the Cayman Turtle Centre’s captive breed-and-release programme last Thursday.

“These birds are a keystone species, that means they play a very important role in our environment,” said Shona McGill, the centre’s education officer.

“The white-crowned pigeons, in particular, are fruit and seed eaters; they help disperse seeds for local species, like our thatch palms and also sea grapes.”

White-crowned pigeons are considered ‘near-threatened’ species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Jennifer Chatmon stands with her father Floyd Chatmon before releasing the white-crowned pigeon. – Photo: Carolina Lopez

The Turtle Centre said it has released more than 100 white-crowned pigeons since 2008.

According to Geddes Hislop, the centre’s curator for terrestrial exhibits and education programmes, the breeding initiative started in 2008 with white-crowned pigeons and white-winged doves that had been rescued following Hurricane Ivan.

“We put them into the aviary. Some of them couldn’t be released and we kept them as display birds, and then a couple of them started breeding, so we figured why not make this a formal thing,” Hislop said.

The centre recently invited visitors to enter a draw to release a pigeon themselves. Jennifer Chatmon, who was vacationing in the Cayman Islands with her parents, took part after her father’s name was called. She described releasing the bird as a “special, spiritual experience”.