Cockpit Country-Central is one of three IBAs that lie within the Cockpit Country Conservation Area (CCCA). The other two IBAs, Cockpit Country-East (Litchfied-Matheson) and Cockpit Country-west (Catadupa), are separated from Cockpit Country-Central by rural communities, agriculture, and Class B road networks. The CCCA is located in west-central Jamaica and is the globally recognized type locality for cockpit karst limestone. The Cockpit Country Forest Reserve is the largest contiguous block of wet limestone forest remaining on Jamaica and is surrounded by private lands of disturbed broadleaf forest and agriculture. Surface water is limited except in low-lying areas because of the limestone geology. However, CCCA includes the upper parts of five major watersheds, and rivers originating from it account for approximately one-quarter of Jamaica’s exploitable surface run-off. The two largest rivers in Jamaica (the Black River, the lower portion of which is an IBA site, and the Great River) originate in Cockpit Country. Annual rainfall is 1750-3800mm.
Cockpit Country supports one of the richest assemblages of birds on Jamaica. Of the island’s 67 species of native resident breeding landbirds, 65 have been reported, including 28 of the island’s 29 endemic species and 12 of 14 endemic to the insular Caribbean. Thirty-eight migratory species have been recorded in Cockpit Country environs – 34 wintering Neotropical migrants and four summer breeding migrants.
Cockpit Country is considered particularly important habitat for the globally threatened Ring-tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas caribaea) and Plain Pigeon (Patagioenas inornata). It is also the stronghold of the endemic Black-billed Parrot (Amazona agilis), supporting 90-95% of the island’s total population. The endangered endemic Jamaican Blackbird (Nesopsar nigerrimus) occurs in isolated pockets of Cockpit Country, notably in areas of high relative humidity. The Golden Swallow (Tachycineta euchrysea), an endemic sub-species, whose historical range included the Blue Mountains and central highlands, was last reported with certainty in 1989 in Cockpit Country. Neotropical migrant species that depend upon well-developed forest and woodlands include the Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorus), Swainson’s Warbler (Limnothylypis swainsoni), and the Louisiana Waterthrush (Seirus motacilla).
Of additional ornithological interest is the presence of several species that make pronounced altitudinal migrations, nesting in mid- and upper elevation forest and extending their ranges into the lowlands and secondary-growth habitats during winter months (outside the breeding season). This pattern is most pronounced in the Plain Pigeon, which is endemic to the Greater Antilles, and the Rufous-throated Solitaire (Myadestes genibarbis), which is endemic to the insular Caribbean. Where rivers emerge in low-lying areas of Cockpit Country and are banked with vegetation, Ardeidae and Rallidae occur, along with Limpkins (Aramus guarauna).
Non-bird biodiversity: Giant Swallowtail Pterourus homerus (EN; Cockpit Country population is one of only two known populations; the viability of the second population, in Jamaica’s Blue Mountain’s, is poor because high mortality rates from a parasitic wasp); Jamaican Kite Swallowtail Eurytides marcellinus (VU); Cockpit Eleuth Eleutherodactylus griphus (CR; Alliance for Zero Extinction); Leaf Mimic Eleuth (CR; Alliance for Zero Extinction); Jamaican Boa Epicrates subflavus (VU); Jamaican Slider Trachemys terrapen (VU); Jamaican Flower Bat Phyllonycteris aphylla (EN; Alliance for Zero Extinction). Two crab species (Sesarma windsor; Sesarma fossarum) are restricted in range to the headwaters of rivers emanating from Cockpit Country; their status has not been ranked by IUCN. A minimum of 66 plants have ranges restricted entirely to Cockpit Country
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The major threat to Cockpit Country is non-renewable resource extraction, notably bauxite mining and limestone quarrying. Prospecting licenses issued in 2007 and which cover approximately 75% of the CCCA have been suspended, pending review of boundary delineation. Mining laws pre-date forestry and natural resource protection laws. Secondary threats include clearing for agriculture and the encroachment of non-native plant species following abandonment of farmland and pasture. All Forest Reserves are designated as Game Reserves but illegal shooting during the gamebird hunting season occurs along access roads and trails. Conservation efforts currently are being directed with a call on Government of Jamaica to declare this irreplaceable landscape “closed to mining.” Under the guidance of Jamaica’s Forestry Department, three Local Forest Management Committees (LFMCs) have been established to facilitate co-management of public and private lands for biodiversity conservation and watershed management.
Seven Forest Reserves, encompassing approximately 29,000 ha, occur within Cockpit Country-Central IBA; the largest reserve is the Cockpit Country Forest Reserve (22,327 ha).
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Cockpit Country. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 04/02/2023.