Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands

Country/Territory Puerto Rico (to USA),Virgin Islands (to UK),Virgin Islands (to USA)
Area 9,400 km2
Altitude 0 - 1200m
Priority critical
Habitat loss major
Knowledge good

General characteristics

The main part of this EBA is formed by Puerto Rico and its offshore islands (e.g. Mona, Vieques, Culebra) which are a self-governing commonwealth in association with the USA. The land is mountainous and was originally almost completely forested. Because of variations in climate, topography and soils, the forests are diverse and include mangroves, wet and dry coastal forest, wet and dry limestone forest in the west, rain forest in the Cordillera Central and Sierra de Luquillo, and elfin forest on a few summits.

The Virgin Islands comprise two dependent territories, of the UK (main islands Anegada, Tortola and Virgin Gorda) and USA (St Thomas, St John and St Croix), and consists of c.100 small islands and cays with dry scrub forest, mostly heavily modified by man.

Restricted-range species

Nearly all the restricted-range species are forest birds, present in a variety of forest types and man-modified habitats, with the exception of Amazona vittata (now confined to rain forest), Caprimulgus noctitherus (dry limestone forest) and Dendroica angelae (upper montane and elfin forest). All species occur on Puerto Rico apart from Loxigilla noctis, which, in this EBA, is only found on St John in the US Virgin Islands. Three species are confined to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands: Otus nudipes, Melanerpes portoricensis (now extinct on St Thomas) and Myiarchus antillarum. Five further species occur on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and elsewhere: Geotrygon mystacea, Anthracothorax dominicus, Eulampis holosericeus, Orthorhyncus cristatus and Margarops fuscatus. Many restricted-range species are shared with Hispaniola (EBA 028) to the west and the Lesser Antilles (EBA 030) to the east.

Hispaniolan Parrot Amazona ventralis, a restricted-range species from Hispaniola (EBA 028), and Green-checked Amazon A. viridigenalis, a restricted-range species from Mexico (EBA 011), have been introduced to Puerto Rico, but this is outside their natural historical range so they have not been included as restricted-range species of this EBA.

Species IUCN Category
Bridled Quail-dove (Geotrygon mystacea) LC
Puerto Rican Nightjar (Antrostomus noctitherus) EN
Green Mango (Anthracothorax viridis) LC
(Anthracothorax dominicus) NR
Green-throated Carib (Eulampis holosericeus) LC
Puerto Rican Emerald (Chlorostilbon maugaeus) LC
Antillean Crested Hummingbird (Orthorhyncus cristatus) LC
Puerto Rican Lizard-cuckoo (Coccyzus vieilloti) LC
Puerto Rican Screech-owl (Megascops nudipes) LC
Puerto Rican Tody (Todus mexicanus) LC
Puerto Rican Woodpecker (Melanerpes portoricensis) LC
Puerto Rican Amazon (Amazona vittata) CR
Hispaniolan Parakeet (Psittacara chloropterus) VU
Caribbean Elaenia (Elaenia martinica) LC
Puerto Rican Flycatcher (Myiarchus antillarum) LC
Lesser Antillean Pewee (Contopus latirostris) LC
Puerto Rican Vireo (Vireo latimeri) LC
White-necked Crow (Corvus leucognaphalus) VU
Pearly-eyed Thrasher (Margarops fuscatus) LC
(Euphonia musica) NR
Yellow-shouldered Blackbird (Agelaius xanthomus) EN
Elfin Woods Warbler (Setophaga angelae) EN
Adelaide's Warbler (Setophaga adelaidae) LC
Puerto Rican Spindalis (Spindalis portoricensis) LC
Puerto Rican Tanager (Nesospingus speculiferus) LC
Puerto Rican Bullfinch (Pyrrhulagra portoricensis) LC
(Loxigilla noctis) NR

Important Bird Areas (IBAs)
IBA Code Site Name Country
Bosque Estatal de Rio Abajo Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR002 Acantilados del Noroeste Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR003 Karso del Norte Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR004 Caño Tiburones Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR005 Maricao and Susúa Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR006 Guaniquilla and Boquerón Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR007 Sierra Bermeja and Laguna Cartagena Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR008 Suroeste Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR009 Karso del Sur Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR010 Cordillera Central Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR011 Salinas de Punta Cucharas Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR012 Cienaga Las Cucharillas Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR013 Jobos Bay Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR014 Este Central Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR015 Carite Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR016 El Yunque Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR017 Humacao Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR018 Ceiba and Naguabo Puerto Rico (to USA)
PR020 Vieques Puerto Rico (to USA)
VG001 Great Tobago Virgin Islands (to UK)
VG002 Green Cay Virgin Islands (to UK)
VG003 Anegada: Western salt ponds and coastal areas Virgin Islands (to UK)
VI002 Perseverance Bay Lagoons Virgin Islands (to USA)
VI003 John Brewer's Bay Virgin Islands (to USA)
VI005 Magens Bay Virgin Islands (to USA)
VI006 Mangrove Lagoon Virgin Islands (to USA)
VI007 Virgin Islands National Park Virgin Islands (to USA)
VI008 Southgate and Green Cay Virgin Islands (to USA)
VI009 Great Pond Virgin Islands (to USA)

Threat and conservation

Natural succession has been slowly reforesting Puerto Rico since industry replaced agriculture as the economic base in the late 1940s (Wadsworth 1950, Birdsey and Weaver 1982). Data from 1978 indicated 37% of the island to be covered in woody vegetation, but this comprised 32% secondary growth, 5% native trees used for shade in coffee plantations and less than 1% virgin forest (Harcourt and Sayer 1996). Secondary forest is used by some restricted-range birds, and coffee plantations in the central mountains provide an important refuge for some species (Brash 1987), but hurricanes are a continual threat to small remnant populations (Wiley 1985).

Storms may, however, have positive long-term effects. Thus, because of deforestation, hunting and nest-robbing, Amazona vittata had a population of just 13 in the early 1970s, confined to the Luquillo mountains; but the mountain forests (which are older, undisturbed and not highly productive) may not be optimal habitat. Hurricane damage in 1989 reduced parrot numbers by half but may have stimulated production of buds, fruit and seeds, resulting in increased clutch sizes and numbers of nests of the survivors, as well as forcing them to disperse to the lowlands, which may have led them to discover new nesting sites (Meyers et al. 1993). These effects - along with a conservation programme, involving artificial nest-sites, control of predators and competitors, and captive breeding - probably helped the parrot's recovery to c.40 birds by 1996.

Two further restricted-range species are judged to be threatened: Caprimulgus noctitherus is at risk from loss of its specialized habitat (c.100 km2) and from introduced predators such as mongooses, rats and cats, while Agelaius xanthomus is under pressure from a range of threats, most notably brood-parasitism by Shiny Cowbirds Molothrus bonariensis, loss of mangroves and introduced predators - although the Mona Island population is reasonably healthy and not threatened by cowbirds (J. M. Wunderle in litt. 1996). A population decline has recently been noted in Vireo latimeri in Guánica Forest, also attributable to parasitism by M. bonariensis (Faaborg et al. 1997).

Widespread threatened species which occur in this EBA include West Indian Whistling-duck Dendrocygna arborea (Vulnerable), Piping Plover Charadrius melodus (Vulnerable, winter only), Plain Pigeon Columba inornata (Endangered) and Red Siskin Carduelis cucullata (Endangered, the population here derived from escaped cage-birds).

Forest is present in over 20 protected areas on Puerto Rico including two Biosphere Reserves: the Luquillo Forest (rain forest, also known as the Caribbean National Forest, 113 km2) in the north-east and the Guánica State Forest (dry limestone forest, 40 km2) in the south-west. Private lands also contain large, mature tracts of secondary forest.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Endemic Bird Areas factsheet: Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 01/12/2021.