The Cuban Parakeet, or red-speckled conure, was formerly ound throughout Cuba and the Island of Pines . The species was once considered the most common endemic bird in Cuba . Unfortunately, however, their numbers are decreasing, and the species is only found in widely dispersed strongholds throuqhout Cuba. Population surveys at the beginning of this century found the numbers to be as low as 1300~2000 individuals, with a few of their strongholds only containing 15~20 individuals.
The immediate threat to the species is familiar to us all- habitat loss and poaching for the peHrade. The issue of habitat loss is most specifically the loss of appropriate nesting sites, coupled with the ectoparasites that infect and kill the juveniles within their nest cavities in the more humid mountain habitats where the birds have been forced to find refuge.
In 1997, Juan Castillo Perez and Raidel Diaz Aguiar, specialists of the Mogotes de Jumagua, a protected ecological reserve, created artificial nesting sites by topping off 24 Royal Palm trees (Roystonea regia) and partially excavating 42 cavities. The artificial lateral cavities formed this way were modified and utilized for nesting by the parakeet, as well as other species competing for the limited resource.
The major disadvantage of this approach to providing nesting cavities is that the palms rapidly decompose, often rotting and falling within two years, thereby presenting a constant danger to any eggs and chicks that are inside.
Working in the Ecological Reserve "Alturas de Banao''. Maikel Canizares in 1998 approached the problem of limited nest sites by designing and hanging artificial nest boxes. Alturas de Banao ecological reserve is located in the southeastern side of the Guamuhaya mountain chain, in the Sancti Spiritus province. Its area comprises 5000 hectares including five different vegetation zones, with the evergreen forests being the most important for the parakeet. Park guards constantly patrol this reserve and poaching is at a minimum.. Maikel began by locating natural parakeet nests and used the characteristics of these nests to construct eight artificial boxes. This was done by cutting palm trunks into 1.0m ong sections, cutting them in half, hollowing them out and then gluing hem back together. These were then hung on live palm trees within he reserve. To do this, it is necessary for someone to climb up the palm runk, and with two helpers, pulley the nest box up to the appropriate 1eight of between 10 to 20 meters up the tree. These nest boxes 'iave been utilized by a variety of species of birds, including the Cuban l\mazon, and are considered quite a success. Unfortunately, however, hese boxes have a lite-span of only about 2 years.
)uring January and February of 2004, twenty-one nest boxes of a :Jifferent design were constructed with a PVC~like material and placed n a parakeet nesting site in Alturas de Banao. When the reserve was Jriginally established, there were some people living within the park oorders ~~ small families that had self-sustaininq farms in the valley of he reserve. These farms where usually located in the flatlands, where oalrn stands were often found. As most of these families used the land 'or subsistence, much of it was left intact, and their homes were left cehind and turned into biological stations. In these valleys are rem- 1ant stands of palm trees where the parakeets have been seen nesting ooth in rotten palms and in the artificial palm nest boxes. The new plastic nestboxes were placed in two of these valleys. The Aratingas used these boxes only once, although a variety of other species of birds found them to be quite a pleasant place to breed.
For this reason, in 2005 Maikel Canizares and his colleagues returned to the palm nest boxes, and had them ready for the 2006 season. They were a great success and all were used by the Aratingas in 2006.