Ridgway’s Hawk is arguably the most critically endangered raptor in the world. So when Jake Kheel from the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation invited us to stay at their beautiful resort on the Dominican Republic and film the birds, I didn’t need a cattle prod or a kick up the old proverbial to make plans to get there! Punta Cana Resort and Club works very closely with the Hispaniolan Ornithological Society on the reintroduction of Ridgway’s Hawk to the eastern part of the island where they once occurred. We had the wonderful opportunity to film both the wild birds in Los Haitises National Park and the reintroduced birds at Punta Cana. But before we get to the Ridgway’s Hawks let me also tell you quickly about two very rare and endangered mammals on the island, the Hutia and the Solenodon. The Hispaniolan Hutia is a cavy-like arboreal rodent that is seldom seen due to its nocturnal habits. The Solenodon is a bizarre-looking insectivore that is a relic from many thousands of years ago. Solenodon look like giant shrews, are about a foot long and, like the Hutia, they are nocturnal. Interestingly both species have recently been discovered around Punta Cana itself…

And the birds are very special too. So special in fact that we couldn’t view them normally. WINGS leader Gavin Bieber and I tried our hands – and our feet – at some endemic segway birding. What a way to view the island’s 27 endemic bird species!

Ridgway’s Hawk previously occurred in Haiti and the islands of Gonave, Grand Cayamite and Culebra. Except for a tiny reintroduced population close to Punta Cana, it now only exists in a remote part of the Dominican Republic called Los Haitises National Park. The Ridgway’s Hawk looks almost like a Red-shouldered Hawk and feeds predominantly on lizards, snakes and other reptiles. The reasons for their massive decline (probably only 300 birds remain) are many but the most significant include habitat loss through clearance for livestock, uncontrolled fires and direct persecution from locals. We actually witnessed the impact of the the latter first-hand…

Los Haitises National Park is the last stronghold of the Ridgway’s Hawk. All known breeding pairs of the bird exist here. Situated in the north-east part of the island, this is an area of limestone karst hills and patchy sections of forest. Unfortunately much of the remaining habitat is under huge duress from encroachment and this is the reason for the critical intervention to try and start another viable population at Punta Cana. Jorge Brocca from the Hispaniolan Ornithological Society guided us to 2 nests that he was aware of. Ridgway’s Hawks seem to prefer nesting on top of Palm Chat nests, high up in a palm tree. We were delighted to find a nest occupied by 2 young chicks with the parent birds in attendance.

After spectacular views of the wild birds in Los Haitises, we joined Jake and Jorge at Punta Cana to document the reintroduction of a few Los Haitises birds to Punta Cana. The work that the Peregrine Fund, the Hispaniolan Ornithological Society and Punta Cana are doing to save this species from the brink is incredible. The top priorities are establishing a viable reintroduced population, ensuring the immediate protection of remaining habitat in Los Haitises and embarking on an urgent education and public awareness campaign.

The Dominican Republic is an awesome birding destination and for those wanting some luxury, beach and sun, spend some time at Punta Cana Resort and Club. You might just be lucky enough to come across one of the reintroduced Ridgway’s Hawks. For more information on the reintroduction please visit www.puntacana.org

Written by James
A life-long birder and native of South Africa, James Currie has many years experience in the birding and wildlife tourism arenas. James has led professional wildlife and birding tours for 15 years and his passion for birding and remote cultures has taken him to far corners of the earth from the Amazon and Australia to Africa and Madagascar. He is also an expert in the field of sustainable development and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in African Languages and a Masters degree in Sustainable Environmental Management. From 2004-2007 James worked as the Managing Director of Africa Foundation, a non-profit organization that directs its efforts towards the uplifting of communities surrounding wildlife areas in Africa. James is currently the host and producer of A WILD Connection and he resides in West Palm Beach, Florida.