Dominicans, by and large, know and boast about our two species of Amazon parrots. Our National Bird, the Sisserou Parrot or Imperial Amazon (Amazona imperialis), has as its main colours green on the back and wings, a purple breast, red on the ‘shoulder’ of the wings, black on the back of the neck, a brown tail and orange on the sides of the face.
Our other species of parrot, the Red-necked Parrot (Amazona arausiaca) is locally known as Jaco/’Jako’, Parrot and ‘Pèwotjé sèt koulè’, a name which translates from Dominica’s Kwéyòl language to mean seven-coloured parrot. The Jaco’s main colours are a lighter shade of green than the Sisserou’s on the back, wings and breast, a light-blue face, a yellow tail, and one or two stripes of red on the neck – hence the common name, Red-necked Parrot. A few individual Jacos do not have any red on the neck, while still a few others have a small patch of yellow in between the red on the neck. (See photo at end of article.)
Some of us may have seen a Sisserou Parrot or a Jaco Parrot at Forestry, Wildlife & Parks exhibitions, in their natural habitat, or even in pictures on posters, carvings, souvenirs, etc, and got the opportunity to note the differences in the plumage (colour of the feathers) of the two species.
A few years ago, we were informed by two tour guides who had visited the Syndicate Nature Trail in the Morne Diablotin National Park on separate occasions that an “albino parrot” had been sighted while along the trail. More recently, a PhD candidate who was studying the interaction between the parrots and humans also reported sighting an ‘albino’ parrot in the Brandy area east of Portsmouth. Initially we thought that the bird, or birds, that had been sighted was/were white in colour, but that may not have been the case.
Hurricane Maria, as we all know, hit our forest a devastating blow and as a result most forms of wildlife which depend upon the forest for their survival were under severe stress for several months after the storm. The forest canopy had been destroyed and the food sources of wildlife groups such as our birds became unavailable or extremely scarce for months, forcing several species to go into ‘survival mode’. For example, in their search for food, Jaco Parrots were reported feeding on toppled plantain that had begun to ripen, or even foraging under citrus trees in the fields.
Jacos were also reported feeding on the tiny seeds of a tree locally known as ‘Zing-zing’ (Leucaena leucocephala) in some populated areas such as Belfast and Morne Daniel.
In January 2018, one of the chauffeurs of the Forestry & Wildlife Division, Murphy Mondesire, who resides at Woodford Hill reported to the Division that his neighbours had reportedly seen “a yellow bird” near someone’s house in the village. Thereafter, a decision was taken at the Division to investigate the report as it not unusual for ‘strange’ species to appear in a country during or after a hurricane, as occurred with a White-crowned Pigeon (related to the ‘Rammier’ or Scaly-naped Pigeon) that arrived here in 2018 and spent several weeks in the Roseau area, being sighted and photographed on the edge of the Botanic Gardens and on High Street.
And so, on 19th January 2018 a three-man group from the Forestry, Wildlife & Parks Division set out to investigate the ‘yellow bird’ report and gather some information. The group comprised Assistant Forest Officer Stephen Durand – one of the most knowledgeable individuals on Dominica’s birdlife and a co-author of Dominica’s Birds, Forest Technician Nigel Harve and Murphy Mondesire. Destination: the village of Woodford Hill!
The ‘investigators’ did not have to travel to the Heights of Woodford Hill, but actually made their observations almost in the village centre. And there they confirmed the previous sightings made by the villagers. Not only was the bird bright yellow in colour, but it was actually a Jaco Parrot! The blue on the face was faded to almost a light grey and the red on the neck was quite pale, almost a wash (Please refer to the first photo). The team also observed the bird feeding on the seeds of a Zing-zing tree. Placing a camera, then a cellphone against the eyepiece of a mounted telescope Durand, then Harve, were able to zoom in on the bird and its activities and also to get some very important photos and footage of this unusually coloured Jaco parrot.
Questions have been raised as to whether that Jaco was the same one sighted at Syndicate and Brandy. But importantly, it was photographed, and this may be the first set of photos and footage taken of an unusually coloured parrot on Dominica.
Please note that the dominant yellow colour of this Jaco parrot is the result of a mutation. Albino parrots do exist in nature, not necessarily here, but these birds are white in colour!
It should also be noted that another local authority on Dominica’s birdlife, Bertrand “Dr. Birdy” Jno. Baptiste who is also a co-author of Dominica’s Birds, earlier this year spotted another Jaco with unusual coloration, this one with yellow on both sides of the face and on the top of the head. Dr. Birdy also reported seeing the yellow Jaco at Syndicate earlier this year. So, keep your eyes open. You may never know what might be out there!