Jamaican Blackbird Nesopsar nigerrimus


Justification of Red List category
This species is restricted to a severely fragmented habitat, and has a very small and declining range. The primary cause of this continuing decline is habitat loss owing to bauxite mining, agricultural expansion and the charcoal industry. It consequently qualifies as Endangered.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 2,500-9,999 individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. This is consistent with recorded population density estimates for congeners or close relatives with a similar body size, and the fact that only a proportion of the estimated Extent of Occurrence is likely to be occupied. This estimate is equivalent to 1,667-6,666 mature individuals, rounded here to 1,500-7,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
There are no new data on population trends; however, the species is likely to be slowly decreasing as a result of habitat loss.

Distribution and population

Nesopsar nigerrimus is local and uncommon on Jamaica (BirdLife Jamaica in litt. 1998, F. Rowland in litt. 2016). It is widely distributed in low densities throughout Cockpit Country, with small populations in the central hills (e.g. Worthy Park) and the Blue and John Crow Mountains (BirdLife Jamaica in litt. 1998, Raffaele et al. 1998, Davis 2017).


Pairs occupy large territories in mature, wet to very wet montane, mist, elfin and limestone forests, and forest edge, with heavy epiphytic growth of bromeliads or Phyllogonium moss (Cruz 1978, Downer and Sutton 1990, BirdLife Jamaica in litt. 1998, Raffaele et al. 1998). It occurs at elevations of 510-2,200 m, with some birds moving to 210 m in the wet north-east (John Crow Mountains) outside the breeding season, but it is generally absent from slopes exposed to strong winds (Cruz 1978, Downer and Sutton 1990, BirdLife Jamaica in litt. 1998, Raffaele et al. 1998, Stattersfield et al. 1998, C. Levy in litt. 1999). It is most commonly associated with undisturbed forests (Davis 2017). The diet is animal prey, especially invertebrates, foraged for in the canopy among tree-ferns, bromeliads, epiphytes, moss-covered trunks and dead leaves (Cruz 1978, Skutch 1996, Raffaele et al. 1998, C. Levy in litt. 1999). It is an epiphyte specialist, with c.60% of foraging records noted on bromeliads and other epiphytic substrates (Cruz 1978).


Habitat loss has been caused primarily by afforestation (mostly) with Caribbean pine Pinus caribaea, coffee plantations, removal of trees for charcoal-burning, deliberate fires, small-scale farming and development (Cruz 1978, C. Levy in litt. 1999). Parasitism by Shiny Cowbird Molothrus bonariensis increases with ongoing habitat degradation (S. Koenig in litt. 2007). It may have suffered especially from the removal of mature trees, since these support the large tank bromeliads and other sensitive epiphytes in which the species forages (BirdLife Jamaica in litt. 1998, S. Koenig in litt. 2007). However, the most significant current threat is bauxite mining in its stronghold in the Cockpit Country (S. Koenig in litt. 2007).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park extends over 800 km2 and protects a notable population (Skutch 1996, C. Levy in litt. 1999). This is part of a system of protected areas comprising 40 or more legally designated forest reserves, some of which also protect the species (Raffaele et al. 1998). However, the long-term security, and therefore value, of such reserves is uncertain because management and enforcement are weak, and habitat destruction is not restricted (BirdLife Jamaica in litt. 1998, Raffaele et al. 1998). Funding is actively being sought for the conservation of Cockpit Country (BirdLife Jamaica in litt. 1998) and there is an on-going, high profile public awareness campaign to prevent bauxite mining in Cockpit Country; Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group and Local Forest Management Committees are engaged in the process of voicing opposition to mining and having the area declared "closed to mining" by Minister's Discretion (S. Koenig in litt. 2007).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey to improve knowledge of the species's status and ecology (BirdLife Jamaica in litt. 1998). Monitor known populations. Design and implement management plans for all designated reserves where N. nigerrimus occurs (BirdLife Jamaica in litt. 1998). Declare Cockpit Country "closed to mining" by ministerial decree. Enforce habitat protection laws in National Parks. Establish a captive breeding population to support future reintroduction and supplementation efforts.


18 cm. Entirely black, small icterid with pointed bill and short tail. Similar spp. Greater Antillean Grackle Quiscalus niger is larger, with longer, forked tail and pale eye. Shiny Cowbird Molothrus bonariensis has shorter, more conical bill and sometimes forages on the ground. Male Jamaican Becard Pachyramphus niger is heavier built, more upright and has less pointed bill. Voice Loud, wheezing zwheezoo-whezoo whe, also check call. Hints Strictly arboreal, typically foraging alone or in pairs around bromeliads 3-12 m above the ground. Behaves like an oriole.


Text account compilers
Wheatley, H., Everest, J.

BirdLife Jamaica, Capper, D., Koenig, S., Levy, C., Pople, R., Rowland, F., Sharpe, C.J. & Wege, D.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Species factsheet: Nesopsar nigerrimus. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/jamaican-blackbird-nesopsar-nigerrimus on 24/02/2024.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2024) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org on 24/02/2024.