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Conserving Ridgway's Hawk in the Dominican Republic

Action needed now!

Ridgway's Hawk Buteo ridgwayi is a forest raptor endemic to the island of Hispaniola. Once commonly distributed throughout the island, the hawk has been reduced in the last century to a single declining population of 80 to 120 pairs, confined to less than 208 km2 of native rainforest in the Dominican Republic's Los Haitises National Park.

In 2004, the Peregrine Fund, York University (Canada) and the Sociedad Ornitológica de la Hispaniola initiated a research project to examine the nesting ecology and conservation genetics of Ridgway's Hawk. This is the first time that nests have been monitored in detail since the species became Critically Endangered.

Twenty-one active nests were monitored in 2005. Nineteen were in royal palms and two in emergent endemic hardwood trees. Nineteen fledglings were produced from 11 successful nests, with one nest successfully fledging three young. Observations have revealed previously unknown breeding traits for the species, including the participation of males in incubation.Four nests were destroyed by human activity during the nestling stage. A fifth nest was abandoned during incubation when two local men flushed the female off the nest during a rainstorm. They then attempted to kill the female with a slingshot. Human disturbance was also likely, but not confirmed, for another five failed nests.

Although human disturbance was the main cause of nest failure, of far greater concern is the loss of habitat through clear-cutting and burning for agriculture. The boundaries of the National Park exist on paper only, and new valleys well within the park boundary were cleared for root crops during the study period. This annual burning is the most critical factor to be addressed if the hawk is to survive.

Research was focused on the village of Los Limones in the northwestern corner of Los Haitises. All field research was carried out with the assistance of Timoteo Hernandez, Pastor Leon, and Hilario Pollanco, three respected community leaders from the village of Los Limones, who provided excellent field support. Funding and support was provided by Wildlife Preservation Canada, the Peregrine Fund, and the Smithsonian Institute's James Bond Fund.

4th July 2014