Our island of Hispaniola is home to the most threatened hawk in the Western Hemisphere, the Ridgeway’s hawk. Unfortunately, this gavilán with its handsome brownish-gray wings, gray underparts and reddish thighs, has fallen victim to the same superstitions and popular beliefs attributed to other birds of prey. Since the arrival of the first Spanish settlers, hawks, called guaraguaos by the Tainos, have been indiscriminately persecuted in the Hispaniolan countryside. Many farmers still consider raptors as dangerous or harmful, with their sharp beaks and talons always at the ready to steal chickens.
Our smaller Ridgeway’s hawk is too often mistaken for its larger counterpart, the Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). Its rather diverse diet consists mainly of lizards, amphibians, snakes, insects and small birds. This hawk is both patient and agile in flight when maneuvering between farms and forests, which allows it to capture rodents, a valuable contribution to the control of harmful agricultural pests. For this reason, the naturalist Anabelle Dod referred to this hawk as our “helpful, endangered friend.”
Historically, the hawk was widely distributed in the forests of Hispaniola and its adjacent small islands. By the early 2000s, however, the hawk population was reduced to only 250-300 birds tucked away in the steep-sided limestone hills or mogotes of Los Haitises National Park. Many of these birds nests failed, destroyed by the wind or their chicks fatally infected by an insidious parasitic botfly. Fortunately, the incredible efforts carried out by international experts working closely with local community members in recent years now paint a much more favorable picture for the conservation of our beloved hawk.
“In no time at all my husband found a place to look for orchids. I continued on alone in the trail that led me to a rather wide stream. And there my day was made! I came across a pair of Ridgway’s Hawks in courtship and they were building a nest.” Anabelle Stockton de Dod
“We found a nest of the Ridgway’s hawk with two white, fluffy nestlings. The nest was high in a tall tree, on top of a pile of twigs that proved to be home of a colony of palm chats. Both species were feeding young and living together in peace.” Anabelle Stockton de Dod
A program created to manage nests and to treat hawk chicks for insect parasites has greatly boosted the number of chicks fledged each year. Further, as an additional safeguard against the vulnerability of Los Haitises’ single population to hurricanes or disease, a new population of hawks has recently been successfully established with private support in the tourist area of Punta Cana. Each January, pairs of hawks can readily be seen performing their majestic courtship flights and plummeting dives, as they form new territories and secure the future of their species.