Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots 09

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Time to write some more about Abaco’s most famous bird, the unique ground-nesting Amazon / Cuban parrot sub-species that makes Abaco its home, and breeds in the pine forests of the Abaco National Park in the south of the island. You’ll find lots of information and photos on the dedicated page ABACO PARROTS.

This post covers the 2012 breeding season, and highlights the success of scientist Caroline Stahala and her team in helping to secure the future of these rare endangered birds. The population had shrunk to around 2500 (or fewer) some years ago. More recently it had risen to 3000. An intensive conservation program, including anti-predation measures, has proved effective; and a systematic ringing program has enabled the team to keep a close eye on recovering parrot numbers. Caroline says that the population is now in the region of 4000, confirming an encouraging reversal of a dismal decline towards extinction for these beautiful birds.


The parrots breed only in the pine forest, where they nest in quite deep holes in the limestone rock. This makes the nests and the areas round them vulnerable to predation from feral cats and rodents etc; but conversely it offers protection from the forest fires that would destroy tree nests. 

The holes are often well concealed in the undergrowth and take some searching for…

Both parents are involved in the nesting and later chick care. The female lays 2 – 4 eggs.

The chicks hatch after an incubation period of around 26 days

Some of the nest holes are remarkably deep: the parent parrots clamber up and down the sides

The chicks grow the beginnings of feathers, remaining quite unattractive except to their parents

The parent parrots share feeding and care duties

The chicks / fledglings stage are ringed so they can be identified – see ABACO PARROT CHICKS

By coincidence, as I was producing the post above, Craig Layman at THE ABACO SCIENTIST was also ruminating on the topic of Abaco parrot breeding. He posted the comments below, which raise the very interesting question whether the Abaco parrots, with their increased population, may be starting to breed outside the National park. Caroline can probably answer this (see COMMENTS), but does anyone have any direct evidence to suggest a wider breeding habitat? I guess there would need to be a suitably pitted rock structure for the nests, and an absence of the usual cat- and rat-type predators that one might find nearer human populations. Answers welcomed via the comment box…

(Sort of) A Bahama Parrot Study

Posted by laymanc 26 Nov 2012

It isn’t really much of a study, but the only “science” I have been able to do over the last week with the continued turbidity of  nearshore waters.

The Bahama parrot (more information HERE and HERE) is one of the iconic Bahamas animals, and the main factor behind the establishment of the ABACO NATIONAL PARK in southern Abaco.  But my study has been conducted instead from my desk in Little Harbour.  My main finding is simple: the range of the parrot has clearly expanded; it has now been a full calendar in which parrots have been in the area.  Just a few days ago two dozen were squawking around the harbour.  The key will be whether they begin nesting here as well – I havent heard reports of that yet.  But if they do, the expanding nesting range will substantially increase long term viability of the parrot on Abaco.  That ends my first ever Bahama parrot study (I really need more time in the water when I come back).


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  5. Hi Craig and Keith,

    Keith, you are right…not yet. Since parrots are being seen more frequently in certain parts of S. Abaco, my crew and I did some nesting surveys outside of the primary nesting area. We took some time and surveyed from Bahama Palm Shores north towards Little Harbour and Cherokee. No nesting. But Craig, you are right, they are becoming much more common in areas that had infrequent or uncommon sightings previously. But the actual range has not expanded considerably…still only in S. Abaco.

    My dissertation is addressing some of the questions you guys are posing about why they are nesting only in S. Abaco. I think it is a behavioral issue…require others nesting nearby but I am also addressing the ecological (limestone holes and vegetation), and natal dispersal. Give me a bit more time and I may have some answers for you. Until then, Craig, keep collecting sighting data for me in Little Harbour!


  6. Has Caroline said if they are nesting further north yet – I was just thinking about that today: http://absci.fiu.edu/?p=3805. There are high numbers in Yellowood, Cherokee and Little Harbour year round now, but I havent heard if they are nesting in these areas (my guess is yes at this point, based on the numbers we saw this summer).


    • Hi Craig. First, I’ve got a feeling the answer is “no, not yet ” or possibly “unconfirmed”. I’ll check with C – we are working on a small parrot book based on a prototype I made earlier this year.
      Second, although I sometimes get a heads up from Absci / cover similar territory, that’s a weird coincidence today! C sent me some info, I wrote the post and you were on the same topic too!



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