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Birds of St. Lucia, Caribbean

 



ST. LUCIA PARROT Amazona versicolour
Endemic to St. Lucia
Local Name:
Jacquot
Picture taken by Hank Tseng at the Descartiers Trail.

Length: 42–46cm (16.5–18 in). Like other members of the parrot family, its feathers are mainly green, with iridescent patches of bright red and blue on the edges of its wing. It also has splashes of dark red on its chest and light blue on the top of the head. The St. Lucia Parrot is perhaps one of the most colourful of the entire genus of Amazona parrots, hence the species name versicolour. It is one of the largest birds in St. Lucia.

The St. Lucia parrot is the national bird of Saint Lucia. Affectionately known locally as “Jacquot,” it is the best known St. Lucian endemic bird species.

A few years ago, the St. Lucia Parrot was in danger of becoming extinct. Jovicich (1976) concluded in his unpublished report entitled “Amazona versicolour, study of the Saint Lucia Parrot,”that Saint Lucia’s remaining Amazona versicolour population of 150 +/- 25 is fast approaching extinction in the wild…and considering the overall trend of man’s simplification of Saint Lucia’s ecology, it is certain that Amazona versicolour will not escape oblivion.” Another ornithologist, David Jeggo (1980), commenting on the island’s conservation program: “The future of the Saint Lucia parrot lies in the continuation of conservation measures. It is possible that if the long term effects of Hurricane Allen [1980] are limited, the parrot may not only flourish in the reserve and surrounding forest, but extend its range into the patchy secondary forest which it formerly inhabited.” Now, there are about 800 +/-25 parrots living in our rain forest.

There are several reasons why the parrot population has increased. Perhaps the most important is that in 1979, the parrot was made the National Bird of St. Lucia. In addition, nature conservation policies adopted by the Forestry Department have resulted in a remarkable change in the fortunes of the forest reserves and Saint Lucia Parrot. The Department’s Environmental Education Campaign has ensured that public concern for the St. Lucia Parrot has reduced the incidence of deforestation, hunting and other illicit activities in the forest reserves to near zero and provides a springboard for protection and conservation of our national bird.

The parrots’ habitat is primarily moist forest in the mountains, but it can also occur in the secondary forest and cultivated areas. They travel considerable distances to feed in the forest canopy on a wide variety of fruits (including awali, mangoes, wild passion fruit, etc.), seeds, flowers and sometimes insects. The parrots roost deep in the forest, flying out to the edges to forage during the day, where they can be seen in the Quilesse, Edmund Forest, Millet and Castries Waterworks Reserve.

The breeding season is primarily from February to May. The parrots nest in cavities of tall trees (gommiere, chataniere and others) where the adult female lays two (occasionally three) white eggs deep inside a hollow tree trunk.

Did you know?

Parrots usually mate for life. If one of the pair dies, it may be years before the survivor finds another mate. Parrots do not sing. They fly to their feeding grounds early in the morning and return home late in the afternoon. As they fly, their loud screeching echoes through the forest making them very easy to identify.

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ST. LUCIA PEWEE Contopus oberi

Endemic to St. Lucia
Local Names:
Gobe-Mouche, or Pin Kaka
Picture taken by Jacques Binette on the road to Trou Rolland near the Great House.

Length: 15cm (5.75 in). Our pewee is a small flycatcher (hence the local name Gobe-Mouche), with dark olive-brown upperparts and reddish-brown underparts. It is a very timid bird that is often seen in openings in the forest understory where they sally for insects. The call is an emphatic rising pree-e-e and a high-pitched peet-peet-peet.
The St. Lucia Pewee is a very common bird that can be found in a wide range of forested areas from the coast to the interior of St.Lucia. Most St. Lucians may have known the St. Lucia Pewee as Gobe-Mouche or Pin Kaka. Its habitat is primarily moist forest at high altitude but less commonly in lower altitude and dry areas. They generally occur in the forest understory.

The nest is a cup made of leaves, lichens and moss placed on a branch. The female lays two dark cream-coloured eggs, heavily spotted with brown. The breeding season is May and June.

Formerly, the St. Lucia and Puerto Rican Pewees were considered races of Lesser Antillean Pewee. However, obvious genetic and morphological differences have caused ornithologists to assign full species status to both pewees. We accept St. Lucia Pewee as a full endemic although The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World, 6th edition, January 2007 has not yet done so.

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ST. LUCIA WARBLER Dendroica delicate

Endemic to St. Lucia
Local Names:
Chic-chic, Sequia Ba bad
Picture taken by Hank Tseng.
Length: 12.5cm (5 in). This is one of two St. Lucian endemic warblers. It can be distinguished by its bluish-grey upperparts; yellow throat and breast; yellow eyebrow stripe; and black crescent below the eye. The voice is a loud trill, variable in pitch and speed. They occupy a wide range of forested habitats, primarily at middle and high elevations. They feed actively, gleaning insects and spiders from leaves and twigs.

St. Lucia Warbler is a very common year-round resident in the Quilesse, Edmund Forest, Millet, Union and Castries Waterworks Reserve, and also on western and eastern coasts of St. Lucia.

The nest is a finely woven cup built in a tree or dense thicket from 0.2m to over 6m above the ground. The breeding season is from March to June, when the females lay three to four white eggs, flecked with reddish-brown spots.

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ST. LUCIA BLACK FINCH Melanospiza richardsoni
Endemic to St. Lucia
Local Name:
Moisson Pied-blanc
Picture taken by Ten Di-Wu.
Length: 13–14cm (5–5.5in). The St. Lucia Black Finch can easily be mistaken for the Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, Loxigilla noctis at first glance. However, the male black finch does not have a patch of red on its throat like the bullfinch. The female can be recognized because the top of the head is grey, not brown as the bullfinch. Also, both male and female have pink legs and they bob their tails vertically. The vocalization is a burry tick-zwee-swisiwis-you with the accents on the second and last notes. At a distance, the song sounds similar to that of Bananaquit.

The St. Lucia Black Finch is often found in pairs in both moist and semi-arid forest to 700m (2300ft). Like most finches, the black finch eats seeds and berries as well as some fruits. The breeding season is from November to June. The female usually lays two white eggs with evenly spaced brownish-red spots. The nest is loosely constructed of twigs, rootlets, ferns and leaves, with an oval side entrance, usually built in a shrub or small palm up to 3m (10ft.) above the ground.

The bird was first described as Loxigilla richardsonii by Charles B. Cory in 1886 from a specimen purchased by W. B. Richardson* who claimed to have seen a live bird. The specimen was purchased from a man who declared that the bird “lived in the forest.”

*A U.S. professional bird collector working in the Neotropics in late 1800s and early 1900s.

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ST. LUCIA ORIOLE Icterus laudabilis
Endemic to St. Lucia
Local Name:
Carouge
Picture taken by Jacques Binette at the Great House.
Length: 20–22cm (8–8.5 in). The St. Lucia Oriole belongs to the family Icteridae, the same family as the Carib Grackle or Merle, Quiscalu lugubris. The adult is black except for the lower back, rump, shoulder and lower belly which are rich orange or orange-yellow. The adult female is similar to the male, but orange-yellow is duller; the immature is mostly greenish with a blackish throat.

St. Lucia Oriole is an uncommon species that can be found in both rainforest and in fairly dry scrubby areas near the coast. The breeding period is from April to July. The nest is a well-made basket woven of grass and fiber. It is usually hung from large leaves, e.g. balizier, banana, coconut or palmiste. In it the female lays three white eggs with dark brown spots.

Like most birds, the orioles are good parents feeding and protecting their young until they are ready to fly away from the nest. In St. Lucia, orioles are susceptible to man-made and natural disasters such as hurricanes, pests and diseases, deforestation, aerial application of agricultural pesticides, hunting, etc. An additional and major threat to the oriole population is the brood parasite, Shiny Cowbird or Merle Bar Bade, which lays its eggs in the oriole nest, and is reared by the orioles instead of their own rightful young. This is a serious problem affecting the St. Lucia Oriole, and difficult to manage or control.

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HOUSE WREN (ST. LUCIA WREN) Troglodytes aedon mesoleucus
Endemic subspecies
Local name:
Rossignol
Picture taken by Hank Tseng.
Length: 11.5–13cm (4.5–5 in). The St. Lucia Wren is considered an endemic subspecies of the House Wren. It is a small, active brown bird with a large head relative to body size. The St. Lucia race is slightly paler below than the St. Vincent and Dominica races. The song of the wren is a bustling, gurgling warble compared to other birds. There is also a distinct variation in the dialect between the St. Lucia race and that of the other islands. This provides good grounds for elevating the St. Lucia subspecies to full species status.

The breeding season is May to August. The female lays two to six whitish eggs, heavily speckled brownish-red.

Similar to all of St. Lucia’s endemic birds, the wren is threatened by the loss of its forest habitat. It is now confined to the northeast coast of St. Lucia and Gros Piton. The decline of its population is also related to predation by rats, mongooses, etc. Brood parasitism by the Shiny Cowbird is also a major threat to the wren’s survival.

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WHITE-BREASTED THRASHER Ramphocinclus brachyurus sanctaeluciae
Local Name:
Gorge Blanc
Picture taken by Hank Tseng.
Length: 23–25cm (9–10 in). The upperparts are dark brown with contrasting white underparts and long, slightly down-curved bill. It often droops its wings and may twitch or flick its wings when excited or curious. The immature bird is dark brown, developing a creamy white patch on the breast as it ages. This subspecies is endemic to St. Lucia.

The White-breasted Thrasher is very rare and critically endangered, restricted to the northeast coast from Praslin in the east to Petite in the north. The global population is just 1250 breeding adults, 80% of which live in coastal scrub and dry woodland along the northeast side of St. Lucia. The habitat is dense thickets of semi-arid, wooded stream valleys and ravines. It is now on the IUCN Red List* as a result of habitat destruction due to resort development, urbanization and charcoal burners. Other threats include rats, mongooses, and Boa Constrictors which prey on juveniles. Young thrashers spend much time on the ground before fledging; they are noisy and attract terrestrial predators. White-breasted Thrashers primarily forage on the ground, tossing aside leaf litter in search of small invertebrates. They feed to a lesser extent on berries, fruits, small lizards and tree frogs.

The White-breasted Thrasher is the only member of its genus. It is a Lesser Antillean Regional Endemic; St. Lucia and Martinique comprise its entire range; Ramphocinclus brachyurus sanctaeluciae (St Lucia) and Ramphocinclus brachyurus brachyurus (Martinique).

*IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Red List (a list of species most at risk of extinction).

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