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The United States had three native parrot species at the beginning of the 20th century. Two of those species became extinct in the 1940s. The remaining U.S. parrot is the Puerto Rican Parrot.
This bird is endangered. There were more than a million in the 1800s, but a loss of habitat decimated the population in the 20th century. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo cut the population in El Yunque to 22 birds. It took five years to bring the population up to 39, and this small remaining number had grown to 56 when Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the Island.
Scientists are still searching for survivors from El Yunque’s parrot population, but fewer than a dozen birds have been found.
A second population was introduced on the other side of the Island in recent years, and 92 of those parrots survived. There are also 450 birds living in captivity, and nearly all of these birds survived.
Scientists want to release some of the captive birds in hopes of increasing the number of wild parrots in Puerto Rico. There are challenges, though. The captive birds need to be self-sufficient and to interact with wild birds in ways that encourage the wild birds to accept them.
Scientists also want to begin replanting the devastated forest areas to make it easier for the forests to support the remaining birds.
The Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program has received assistance from FEMA which has made it possible to continue the work of rebuilding the parrot population. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has also provided a grant of $11 million to support this work.
Prior to the 2017 hurricane season, the parrot had been considered a success story among endangered species, with hopes of removing the species from the endangered list. Restoring the habitat will be key to getting these efforts back on track.