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Monday, July 25, 2011

The White-Breasted Thrasher (Ramphocinclus brachyurus santaeluciae)

Author: Janice Mathurin-Poleon

For the past weeks you’ve been introduced to five endemics St Lucian birds; St Lucia Oriole, St Lucia Parrot, St Lucia Black Finch, St Lucia Warbler and St Lucia Pewee. By definition endemic species are only found in one country and nowhere else in the world.
In the coming weeks we will be introducing our endemic subspecies. The white-breasted Thrasher is a Lesser Antillean Regional endemic found both in St Lucia and Martinique which comprises their entire global range. This charismatic bird is a perfect example of an endemic subspecies because of their separate island homes and an accepted subdivision of its biological classification or the difference in the third name in Latin; Ramphocinclus brachyurus sanctaeluciae (St Lucia) and Ramphocinclus brachyurus brachyurus (Martinique).
What does this bird look like?
The santaluciae race is 23 – 25 cm in length; with dark brown upperparts, white underparts and long bill. Very interestingly also is that this bird often drops its wings when excited or curious. The immature bird is dark brown, developing a creamy white patch on the breast as it ages.
How many are out there in the wild?
The White-breasted Thrasher is also rare and endangered, restricted to the northeast coast from Praslin to Petite Anse. Present research shows that the majority of thrashers (75%) of the global population are found in the dry forest areas of Praslin with between 1100 – 2400 breeding adults on St Lucia.
Where do they live and what do they eat?
 It inhabits dry and semi-dry woodland and scrub with abundant leaf-litter, often in areas with a clear understorey but sometimes in dense bushy areas. In the northern part of its range on St Lucia (Petite Anse-Dennery Knob) it tends to occur along ravines and river-valleys, but in the rest of its range on St Lucia it also occurs on dry hillsides well away from streams. It primarily forages on the ground tossing aside leaf litter in search for invertebrates, small frogs and lizards but have also been seen taking berries.
When can we expect to see baby thrashers?
Breeding occurs with the beginning of the rainy season. The Thrasher builds a deep cup-shaped nest in saplings or shrubs and is placed 0.5 - 3 m from the ground. Usually two eggs are laid from May to August. Those cute young thrashers spend much time on the ground before finding a home of their own and are sometimes very noisy attracting terrestrial predators like rats, mongoose and snakes.
Are there any threats to its survival?
The thrasher faces a real threat of habitat loss to agriculture, charcoal burning and wood cutting, and other development pressure. It is still legally protected but sad to say most of its home range falls on privately own land.
Major conservation measures have to be in place for the survival of the species and these are what have been proposed. Future plans include;
·        Protected areas need to be established and effectively protect coastal dry woodland and scrub within the thrasher's range.
·        Allow adjacent farmlands to regenerate into scrub woodland, providing additional habitat and allowing populations to expand.
·        Enact legislation to protect critical wildlife sites.
·        Consult with the hotel developer to preserve and protect suitable areas of thrasher habitat in a private reserve.