Justification of Red List Category
Once common within its small range, this species has been undergoing dramatic declines since the late 19th century due to the combined effects of habitat loss and trapping. As a consequence of comprehensive conservation measures commencing in 1980 and accelerating since 1990, the species increased slowly from fewer than 50 (post-hurricane David in 1979) to over 300 mature individuals. After hurricane Maria hit Dominica in September 2017, the population plummeted again, so that is is now extremely small. Preliminary post-Maria surveys suggest the species may have fared better during Maria than during David, largely due to effective in situ conservation efforts prior to the hurricane. However, the frequency of intense hurricanes is projected to increase, with potentially severe consequences for the species. Imperial Amazon is therefore assessed as Critically Endangered.
Prior to 2017, when hurricane Maria hit Dominica, the population was estimated to number 250-350 individuals in total, roughly equivalent to 160-240 mature individuals (P. R. Reillo in litt. 2012). Since Maria, the population has not been quantified due to the inaccessibility of the core parts of the range in the interior of the island (C. Palmer in litt. 2019; Reillo 2019). However, inferences can be drawn based on the effects of previous hurricanes and on recent sightings of the species. Maria is considered to be the strongest and possibly most destructive hurricane to strike the island in Dominica's recorded history. Previously, the most severe storm was hurricane David in 1979, after which the population of Imperial Amazon plummeted to 40-60 individuals (Evans 1991). Tentatively assuming that the impact of Maria on the population was at least as severe as David, the population size again may have decreased significantly. Preliminary field data are encouraging with direct sightings of 11 individuals about half a year after hurricane Maria (Palmer et al. 2018) and over 20 since June 2019, distributed broadly across the pre-hurricane range (A. Fairbairn per C. Palmer in litt. 2019; P. R. Reillo and S. Durand in litt. 2019). To account for the uncertainty surrounding the current population size, and until more recent estimates become available the species is here conservatively assumed to number around 50 mature individuals, and placed in the band 40-60 mature individuals.
Historically, the species was common across its small, but relatively inaccessible range in the central highlands of Dominica. Around 1880, the species started to decline rapidly as a consequence of the conversion of habitat for agriculture as well as hunting for food and, at a low level, collection for the cage-bird trade (Collar et al. 2019). Following hurricane David in 1979, the population decreased to only 25-40 mature individuals (Evans 1991). After that, the population slowly recovered as a consequence of conservation action focusing on the protection of habitat and on environmental education. By 1993, the population numbered 50-70 mature individuals, and increased further to 100 mature individuals in 2000. By 2012, the population was estimated at 160-240 mature individuals. However, since the devastating hurricane Maria struck Dominica in September 2017, the population crashed again. As the species matures slowly and typically fledges a single offspring every other year, recovery from the effects of hurricane Maria may be protracted (C. Palmer in litt. 2019; Reillo 2019). The exact impacts of Maria on the habitat availability and the population size of Imperial Amazon are not yet known. However, it is estimated that Maria was the most severe storm to hit Dominica in recorded history, felling 30% of the trees on the island and stripping the remaining 70% of their leaves and fruits (Forestry and Agriculture Department per Palmer et al. 2018). This estimate is supported by Global Forest Watch, which indicates a loss of 24,000 ha of forest, equating to 34%, between 2000 and 2017 (Global Forest Watch 2018). Overall, while Imperial Amazon seems to have the potential to recover after a sharp population decline, as it proved in the aftermath of Hurricane David in 1979, climate change and the subsequent higher frequency of severe storms are of immediate concern. If Dominica were to be struck by other hurricanes in the near future, before the species could recover sufficiently, the risk of extinction could increase drastically (Collar et al. 2019).
Amazona imperialis is endemic to Dominica, where it inhabits the Morne Diablotin area (primarily on the north-east, south, south-west and south-east slopes [Raffaele et al. 1998, Wiley et al. 2004, Reillo and Durand 2008]) and the Northern and Central Forest Reserves; it has recently re-established a small population in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park near Morne John (Reillo 2001, Wiley et al. 2004, P. R. Reillo in litt. 2007). The species is known to have declined significantly in the past, when the population plummeted to an estimated 25-40 mature individuals after Hurricane David in 1979 severely damaged the forests on the island. Conservation action then increased the population to 160-240 mature individuals in 2012 (P. R. Reillo in litt. 2012). Until recently, the species's strongholds used to be in Morne Diablotin National Park and its surroundings, the Central Forest Reserve and the Morne Trois Pitons National Park and surroundings. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, the population likely declined drastically; importantly, some of the remaining individuals have been observed foraging both within and outside of the species's typical montane forest habitat (Palmer et al. 2018). It is likely that the species moved into lower-quality lowland habitat to forage for food as a consequence of the hurricane's impact on primary forest (Palmer et al. 2018). By January 2018, preliminary surveys detected 11 Imperial Amazons at nine localities throughout the island, all outside of typical forest habitat (Palmer et al. 2018). By June 2019, further sightings were reported within and adjacent to the Morne Diablotin and Morne Trois Pitons National Parks, Central Forest Reserve, Northern Forest Reserve and on other sites on privately-owned land (A. Fairbairn per C. Palmer in litt. 2019, P. R. Reillo in litt. 2019). Most sightings occurred along forest edges and on ridges (P. R. Reillo in litt. 2019). Two individuals, one of which was rescued after the hurricane and brought to a rehabilitation centre run by Dominica's Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Division, were exported to a private breeding facility in Germany without coordination with the Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Division or parrot programme managers (Cox and Oltermann 2018, Palmer et al. 2018, Reillo 2019).
The species mainly inhabits montane and elfin forest at 600-1,300 m, but forages down to 150 m in response to food shortages (Dominica Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment in litt. 2000, Snyder et al. 2000, Wiley et al. 2004). It is highly sensitive to habitat modification, readily abandoning traditional foraging and nesting territories (Dominica Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment in litt. 2000). Nests are situated in cavities in tall forest trees (the same species used by Red-necked Amazon Amazona arausiaca), with breeding between February and June (coinciding with the dry season). The nest cavity is heavily festooned with vines and epiphytes, making observation of nesting activity difficult (Dominica Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment in litt. 2000, Wiley et al. 2004, Reillo and Durand 2008).
The species is threatened by habitat loss, forest degradation and by direct exploitation. Currently, the most severe among these threats is hurricane damage, which not only leads to vast destruction of habitat, but also to direct mortality. Hurricane Maria destroyed about 30% of the forest cover on Dominica and defoliated a large proportion of the remaining trees (Forestry and Agriculture Department per Palmer et al. 2018). In the aftermath of Maria, most individuals were observed foraging in lowland areas outside of their range (S. Durand per C. Palmer in litt. 2019), indicating that, at the time of the sightings, montane forests had not sufficiently recovered from the impacts of the hurricane and by now only offer a low quality habitat (C. Palmer in litt. 2019). Hurricanes frequently occur in the Caribbean and therefore are a natural feature of the species's habitat, which may cause the species to undergo cyclical fluctuations (C. Palmer in litt. 2019; Reillo 2019). However, as the frequency of particularly intense hurricanes in the Caribbean is projected to increase as a consequence of climate change (Bender et al. 2010; Knutson et al. 2010), there is an increased likelihood that severe storms may hit Dominica before the population has a chance to recover (Collar et al. 2019; C. Palmer in litt. 2019).
Apart from hurricane-related damage, forested habitat is also lost for conversion to agriculture (Snyder et al. 2000). Deforestation may increase competition for nest-sites with the more numerous Red-necked Amazon Amazona arausiaca, as the two species come increasingly into contact (Dominica Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment in litt. 2000; Wiley et al. 2004).
Imperial Amazon is further threatened by trapping. Opportunistic hunting for food and occasional trapping for the cage-bird trade contributed to the species's decline up until the 1990s (P. R. Reillo in litt. 2012). Local trade has been considerably reduced, if not eliminated, as a result of a successful education programme, but foreign bird-collectors still pose a threat (Snyder et al. 2000, Reillo 2019). Two captive individuals housed at a facility run by Dominica's Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Division, one of which was rescued after Hurricane Maria, were exported to a private breeding facility in Germany without coordination with the Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Division or parrot programme managers (Cox and Oltermann 2018; Palmer et al. 2018; Reillo 2019). While issues relating to the ex-situ conservation of this species are complex and often controversial (Reillo et al. 2011; Reillo 2019), the overall number of individuals held in captivity is extremely low (Reillo et al. 2011; C. Palmer in litt. 2019; Reillo 2019). The species's life-history characteristics and ecology render ex situ captive breeding an unjustified, ineffective recovery tool, whereas comprehensive in situ conservation efforts have proven successful (Wiley et al. 2004; Reillo and Durand 2008; Reillo et al. 2011; Reillo 2019). The potential extirpation of the species in the wild may result in the functional extinction of the species (C. Palmer in litt. 2019). However, Dominica's Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Division has successfully maintained the Parrot Conservation and Research Center (PCRC), a rehabilitation facility for releasable parrots with a long-term holding capacity for non-releasable birds.
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendices I and II. The species is protected by domestic legislation, and it is recognized as the National Bird of Dominica. In recent years, there have been considerable efforts to protect suitable habitat and sensitise local citizens to its needs. Successful conservation education programmes have markedly reduced local trade. It is protected across all national parks, the Northern Forest Reserve and the Central Forest Reserve, but important areas adjacent to these reserves remain unprotected (Dominica Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment in litt. 2000; Snyder et al. 2000; Wiley et al. 2004). An area of 33 km2 of the Northern Forest Reserve has been designated as the Morne Diablotin National Park (Collar 1997; Wiley et al. 2004). It is also present in small numbers in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park (Reillo 2001; Wiley et al. 2004; Reillo and Durand 2008). The Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Division has successfully maintained the Parrot Conservation and Research Center (PCRC), a rehabilitation facility for releasable parrots with a long-term holding capacity for non-releasable birds. All birds held at the PCRC survived hurricane Maria, and the center successfully rehabilitated many individuals impacted by the hurricane (Reillo 2019; P. R. Reillo and S. Durand in litt. 2019). The only captive breeding of the species occurred at the PCRC in 2010 (Reillo et al. 2011). Post-Maria conservation efforts include rebuilding the PCRC and increasing the Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Division's capacity to recover parrots entirely on the island (P. R. Reillo and S. Durand in litt. 2019). Information about this cryptic species's ecology and life-history has slowly accumulated since the inception of Dominica's parrot conservation and research programme in 1981 (Wiley et al. 2004; Reillo and Durand 2008; Reillo 2019).
45 cm. Spectacular, purple-and-green parrot. Dark purple head, nape and mantle. Purple underparts with dark fringes giving scaled effect. Dull green thighs and vent. Green wings with red carpal. Purple speculum and blackish primaries. Reddish tail tipped green. Immature has green nape and neck. Similar spp. Red-necked Parrot Amazona arausiaca is smaller and largely green. Voice Loud, trumpet-like flight calls. Also variety of shrieks, whistles and squawks. Often quiet during middle of day.
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Durand, S., Isherwood, I., Khwaja, N., Mahood, S., Palmer, C., Reillo, P., Sharpe, C.J., Wege, D. & Wheatley, H.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Amazona imperialis. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/imperial-amazon-amazona-imperialis on 03/06/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 03/06/2023.