Parrot Mission Wraps Up With Unsettling Evidence of Poaching Discovered

Christine Dahlin, PhD

posted July 01, 2016

We experienced a common theme while driving in Costa Rica - there were often cows on the road, and sometimes horses, pigs and even a crocodile. Chris Dahlin photo

Pitt-Johnstown assistant professor Christine Dahlin, PhD, is travelling this summer through Central America, specifically Costa Rica and Nicaragua, to study communication in yellow-naped amazon parrots.

We ended our last day of field work with satisfaction and sadness. At this point we were now back in Liberia, and all of us were happy to have left the border area, which, despite many lovely beaches, has an unusual atmosphere with so many immigrant men spending so much time just waiting for the chance to make it across the border. We had also found a greater scarcity of parrots near the border and saw ample evidence of poaching, all of which left us depressed. The word from the Nicaraguan team, led by Tim Wright, is that birds are few and far between on the ground there as well.

 Costa Rican black hawk

A common black hawk was perched near La Cruz (above), and Molly Dupin, Alyssa Trimeloni, and Dr. Dahlin at Palo Verde (below).

Molly Alyssa Chris

The 29th was the last day of official work for Alyssa and Tom, and after slogging through mud, barbed wire, endless fields and spending day after day together we had pulled together as a family. Tom was heading back to Ara Project to resume his responsibilities there, and we had plenty of hugs and tears before he left. We also discussed the status of the parrots and what should happen next for them. Our population counts indicate that the population has decreased more than 40% as compared to 11 years ago.  At Irigirary, one of our new roosts, we observed 3 poached parrots, including one juvenile in a group of just a few houses. Poaching of parrots is clearly still a thriving business that presents a massive threat to parrot populations across Costa Rica.  

That night the dream team of myself, Alyssa and Molly drove south to Palo Verde, which presented a hole in the middle of our range in which we had never previously found a parrot roost. Despite showing our permits and explaining we only needed to survey for a couple of hours, we were asked to pay the full entrance fee, but honestly it felt worth it after observing a purple gallinule (it really IS purple and I literally shrieked with glee!) and a great curassow (like a massive black Costa Rican turkey).

The rangers we spoke to said yellow-napes were rare in the park and could not give us any precise information on their location, so we drove the entire length of the park. As dark approached we had found no parrots, but as we neared the entrance once more I spotted a pair flying low across the road, which meant they were landing nearby! We pulled over and the Molly and Alyssa dragged out our recording equipment, while I started searching up and down the road. A short drive beyond the park and towards more calls led to the full roost calls (e.g., we really didn’t need to pay that entrance fee!). The roost was small, but presents an importance piece of information in an otherwise previously un-surveyed part of their range. 

The drive back involved many kilometers on very bumpy rural roads, and in the dark we were surprised by our first crocodile in the calle (road)! We gleefully took some photos and watched as he ambled back into his ditch. We plan to spend an actual day off enjoying some beach time, cleaning some of the accumulated filth off our field clothes, and pondering the end of our great parrot adventure.

Accompanying blogs:

Note: Dr. Dahlin's study and trip are funded by a grant from the Central Research Development Fund (CRDF),through the University of Pittsburgh.