The imperial parrot, known as sisserou in the Caribbean republic of Dominica, is a large parrot. An average adult measures 18 to 20 inches (46 to 51 centimeters) in length and weighs about 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms). It has a wingspan of about 30 inches (76 centimeters).
The color of the bird’s plumage (covering of feathers) on its upper parts and back is green. Its head is greenish–blue, and it has a red streak on its wingtips. The bird feeds primarily on seeds, fruit, young shoots, vines, and shrubs.
Parrots mate for life. The imperial parrot’s breeding season lasts from February to June, with peak breeding taking place between March and May. Male and female pairs rarely leave their nesting territory throughout the year.
On average, a female imperial parrot lays two eggs every other year in a nest high in the trunk of a tree. It is unknown how long it takes the eggs to hatch. After they do hatch, usually only one of the nestlings is raised to adulthood.
Habitat and current distribution
The imperial parrot is unique to the island of Dominica, which lies in the center of the Lesser Antilles between Guadeloupe and Martinique. It is Dominica’s national bird, and its image appears at the center of the republic’s flag.
The parrot seems to be confined to rain forests on the east, north, and west slopes on the upper reaches of Morne Diablotin, a mountain peak in the northern part of the island. It is found chiefly at elevations between 1,500 and 3,300 feet (457 and 1,006 meters).
In the early 1990s, biologists (people who study living organisms) estimated that 80 to 120 imperial parrots existed in the wild. Since then, the population has increased somewhat, but it is still under 250 birds.
History and conservation measures
Early threats to the parrot included hunting for food, for sport, and for the pet trade. In the 1880s, a road was built through the bird’s forest habitat, allowing hunters easy access.
They continued to plague the imperial parrot into the 1970s. Predators brought into the bird’s range—including opossums, rats, boas, and hawks—may have also played a part in the decline of the species.
Because of its remote range, habitat destruction was not considered a threat to the parrot until recently. Beginning in the 1980s, prime forest land bordering the imperial parrot’s habitat has been cleared and converted into farmland. There have been reports that aerial spraying of nearby banana crops with pesticides has led to the deaths of many parrots.
Following Hurricane David, which stuck Dominica in 1979 and destroyed millions of trees, officials imposed a ban on the hunting of all wildlife. Forest patrols have since kept most hunters at bay. Conservationists (people protecting the natural world) are currently trying to raise funds to purchase privately owned parrot habitat before it can be cleared.
A plan has also been established to designate one of the most important imperial parrot habitat areas at Morne Diablotin as a national park. The efforts have had good effect, and the population of the Imperial parrot has risen, although slowly, in the early years of the twenty–first century.