Black Birds Endangered?

The Editor, Sir/Madam:

BirdLife Jamaica received a number of correspondences from concerned Jamaicans following the well-written Sunday Observer story on the plight of Jamaica’s endangered bird species. The overwhelming response was one of deep concern for the pending loss of some of our islands most beautiful and unique natural wild treasures. Among these responses was expressed a surprise at the fact that the Jamaican Blackbird was listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as globally endangered. After all, aren’t black birds common? Indeed, are they not found a dime a dozen all over Kingston and every evening on the electric wires at the Hope Road power station near Hope Gardens?

What these individuals did not know is that Jamaica has eight (8) different species of birds that are black in "colour", most of which are commonly called black birds by the layperson. These are the Greater Antillean Grackle (or Kling-Kling), Smooth-billed Ani (or Savanna Blackbird or Ani), Jamaican Crow (or Jamicrow), Greater Antillean Bullfinch (or Black Sparrow), the Jamaican Becard (or Judy or Rickatee), the Turkey Vulture (or John Crow), the Shiny Cowbird and finally the Jamaican Blackbird (or Wildpine Sargeant). Only the latter of is endangered and is restricted to increasingly disappearing mature rain forest of Jamaica’s interior mountains which now covers less than 6% of the island. The Jamaican Blackbird is the only species in a Jamaican endemic genus of bird species, with the result that it is not closely related to any other Jamaican bird or indeed to any other species of bird world-wide. How it got here and where its closes relatives are to be found are totally unknown to science. It is possibly our islands most endangered bird species and is in urgent need of scientific study.

For those who know this the "true Jamaica Blackbird", it is frequently called the Wildpine Sargeant because it feeds in wildpines (more correctly known as bromeliads) from which it extracts a diet of grubs. Because of its reliance on bromeliads and other such canopy growing plants, this species will not be found in or near cities or other similarly developed areas where its feeding places are hard to find.

As a point of interest for the readership, it should be noted that while black birds are generally thought of as less attractive, it has been proven that may species of birds are whole or partially black for very good reasons. The primary reason appears to be the fact that the dark pigment increases the durability of feathers. Additionally over long distances, black becomes more conspicuous than other colors and therefore is important as a long distance signal particularly in flocking species. Also for whatever reason black birds are also the smartest birds around the world as has been shown by experiment with ravens and crows which are all essentially black.

I am etc.,

Leo Douglas

Media Relations Officer

BirdLife Jamaica

2 Starlight Avenue

Kingston 6

Tel: (876) 927-8444