Gundlach's Hawk (Accipiter gundlachi)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 212526677
Reproductive Biology of Two Endangered Raptors: Accipiter gundlachi and Accipiter striatus fringilloides, Implications Towards a Local Conservation Management Strategy
The study take place mainly at the important endemic area in eastern Cuba where we have identified couples of both target species currently breeding, with surveys for comparative results in other locations in central and western Cuba. Interacting with each other in shared geographical locations and facing similar conservation challenges, the populations of each target species of this project are considered to be rare and endangered. In the case of the Cuban endemic Accipiter gundlachi, the subspecies A. g. gundlachi is located in the central-western part of the island and some cays in the northern-central region, while the race A. g. wileyi is restricted to the eastern, specially the mountains. The Cuban Sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus fringilloides) is currently considered a Cuban endemic subspecies of the Sharp-shinned Hawk (Caribbean), which also includes the subspecies venator in Puerto Rico, and the nominal striatus in Hispaniola. Recent studies on molecular, morphology and vocalization differences, determined that the three Caribbean forms can be split from continental forms and from each other into three full species.
While IUCN status for Accipiter gundlachi is Endangered, Accipiter striatus fringilloides was treated as lumped by the IUCN with the North American subspecies A. s. velox, which it considers as Least Concern. Recent taxonomic studies demonstrated the specific status of the three Caribbean forms, if it is true, them A. s. fringilloides will join the list of Cuban endemic bird species. These have been rapidly declining over the last decades due to habitat loss; land repurposing for farming; hunting and hurricanes. Before this project there is no available data about the latest one, only a few historical comments, but no recent studies and it is crucial to undertake an assessment to determine its actual threat status (Endangered/Critically Endangered). Both target species breed in shared transition zones between tropical rain forests/pine forests and farmlands. While emerging trees are central to their reproductive viability, proximity to farmlands is key to their feeding needs and critical when migrant smaller birds go to breed in North America.
Our main goals are:
To increase understanding of the reproductive biology of Accipiter gundlachi and Accipiter striatus fringilloides, focusing on active pairs breeding in eastern and western Cuba.
To design a conservation management plan based on local farmers' community engagement, education and involvement, to be recommended to the managers of Protected Areas along Cuba.
To increase knowledge of Philornis parasitism's impact (not previously studied in Cuba) on local raptor populations' mortality, threat levels.
To increase the accuracy of both target species' taxonomic status. Gundlach's Hawk: the status of the two subspecies is unclear, as the description of the eastern form (wileyi, by Wotskow, 1991) lacks strong field marks, related to Cuban Sharp-shinned Hawk, its presence in collections is scarce. We found evidence of geographical variations between the western and eastern populations that needs to be confirmed, in which case a new subspecies will be described for science as result of the present project.
MBZ support was crucial to undertake this project. The most important activity during the first stage early 2022 consisted on a field expedition that lasted over four months, staying at the study area, covering the reproductive period of both species of raptors. The results obtained were extremely satisfactory and allowed us to describe data never before mentioned for these species, as well as a large bank of photos, videos and recordings of each one, which will allow us to deepen our knowledge of their natural history and spread its knowledge through scientific articles and medias. It was also possible to organize a team throughout the island for simultaneously monitor the entire nesting process of seven pairs of Gundlach Hawk, both subspecies (A. g. gundlachi and A. g. wileyi), and describe the process. In addition, the different patterns of variation and differences in coloration and vocalization between males and females were determined, as well as for the first time the molting stages for Gundlach's Hawk, since chicks new hatchings until they take on the plumage of an adult bird, something never before described for this species and will facilitate future studies and monitoring programs of this threatened bird.
The impacts and threats on each sites were determined and documented, mitigation measures were proposed, focused on localities in protected areas, to be taken into account especially during the reproductive period, which is when we found greater interaction with the human communities, and therefore greater possibilities of elimination individuals by local farmers by hunting due they feeds on his poultry. Based on the experiences obtained with nests that had been knocked down by local farmers, we designed a protocol where we developed a strategy on how to deal with the frequent felling of trees with nests and therefore a way to save these nest with hatchlings, the result of which was in 100% survival of the nestlings recovered in the pilot test.
In the case of the Cuban Sharp-shinned Hawk (A. s. fringilloides), we studied the natural history for the first time, because there is not any information about it since its description (more than 170 years ago), emphasizing the first records of nests, eggs, and chicks, as well as the first detailed photos, videos and recordings of the subspecies (both sexes) in the wild and interspecific variations, we also discovered that both forms (Gundlach´s Hawk and Cuban Sharp-shinned Hawk) follow a reproductive asynchrony period that probably has influenced on the speciation and evolutionary process of each entity.
The information generated will allow us to prepare a proposal to be submitted to the AOS-NACC Committee for its validation at the species level (Cuban form, A. s. fringilloides), which is added to the previous results of molecular analyzes and which will be combined under the integrative taxonomy approach. If this proposal will be accepted, them it will turn in a new endemic bird of Cuba, adding other species to the main list of currently 398 (see Navarro, 2022), considered the second more rare and endangered raptor of Cuba, after the Cuban Kite, with urgent needs of deep studies. A new subspecies will be described for the mountains in the east of the country, which differs in various characters from western populations; similarities with a South American subspecies were detected in various aspects such as plumage and vocalizations, which raises questions from the evolutionary point of view. Considerable differences in vocalization between females and males of this form (fringilloides) are determined and described for the first time. Workshops and conferences were held with the local community in “El Recreo” and with technicians and park rangers from the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, and training sessions were held with five local activists on issues of bird monitoring protocols, recordings, photography, and charismatic species that need attention to follow-up, these colleagues actively participated and supported us during the field work. Philornis impact was not reported for any of the seven samples (nest) covered into the program, but was recorded for the first time in the island for a nest in central Cuba, which requires imminent studies by the impact it could cause in the endangered raptor population along the archipelago.
Project 212526677 location - Cuba, North America