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Tanya Martínez

I'm a conservation biologist helping to save the endangered Puerto Rican parrot (Amazona vittata). I tell stories from the field about the scientists who work with this amazing species.


My story

I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the youngest of three children. Compared to my siblings, I was a strange little girl. I preferred playing with animals to dolls and always kept a variety of scaled or feathered creatures in the house. My father's office was across the street from a pet shop and he would indulge my love of critters by smuggling new pets home when my mother wasn't looking. When I was 12, my father brought me a pet lorikeet and, from this moment, I became obsessed with parrots. 

After graduating from high school, I moved to the US and attended college at the University of Florida. I spent several summers as an intern in the US Forest Service and worked with endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers in the Ocala National Forest. I also worked for a domestic parrot rescue and adoption group for many years. I earned my B.S. in Forest Resources and Conservation from UF in 2010. After completing my bachelor's degree, I decided that I wanted to go on to graduate school. My dream was to work in the conservation field, ideally conducting research that would benefit parrot species.

 Releasing a Puerto Rican tody ( Todus mexicanus ) after attaching a bird band. This one bares a strinking resemblance to one of the "Angry Birds" from the video games. 

Releasing a Puerto Rican tody (Todus mexicanus) after attaching a bird band. This one bares a strinking resemblance to one of the "Angry Birds" from the video games. 

I spent the next couple years working as a research assistant on different bird related studies. I returned to Puerto Rico to assist on a study on movements and distributions of native birds. I had been gone from the island for a long time, so I embraced the opportunity to reacquaint myself with my homeland's avifauna. Although I greatly enjoyed my time assisting with conservation research and working with local birds, I still longed to get involved with research on a parrot species. 

 A handful of baby green-rumped parrotlets ( Forpus passerinus ). The average clutch size is six but they can also lay as many as 12 eggs in a single nest.

A handful of baby green-rumped parrotlets (Forpus passerinus). The average clutch size is six but they can also lay as many as 12 eggs in a single nest.

 

 

 

In 2011, I traveled to the Venezuela to work as a research assistant on Dr. Stephen Beissenger's green-rumped parrotlet project, one of the longest running studies of wild parrots in the world. The study site was the famous Hato Masaguaral, a beautiful reserve and research station in the Venezuelan llanos. Working with the parrotlet project was both fun and fascinating. These tiny parrots lived exciting little lives and had fascinating stories to tell, if you knew how to listen. I spent three months intruding on the lives of breeding parrotlets as they struggled to find mates, defend nests, and rear young in the hostile tropical ecosystem. One of the most interesting parts of the project was Dr. Karl Berg's research on parrotlet call learning. Karl discovered that baby parrotlets learn their contact calls by imitating calls produced by their parents in the nest. Parrotlets can tell each other apart just by hearing each other's contact calls, so in a way, baby parrotlets were acquiring "names" from their parents. The research was mind blowing and really got me interested parrot social systems and vocal communication.

In the spring of 2012, I began working with the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program at the Rio Abajo State Forest. Working with this iconic species was the most enjoyable field experience of my life. I immediately fell in love with the project and the parrots and realized that I could happily dedicate my life to this cause. My desire to get closer to the parrots led to develop a passion for photography. At first I mastered the practice of placing a point-and-shoot camera up to a spotting scope, but eventually I saved up enough to buy some real equipment. I've been taking pictures of the parrots ever since. I enjoy being able to witness and capture their most intimate moments with a lens.

In 2013 I joined Dr. David Logue's lab at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez. David's lab focused on studying acoustic communication in birds. My interest in this topic had sparked after working on the parrotlet project and it was a research area that had barely been explored in the Puerto Rican parrot. I conducted my M.S. research on vocal dialects in the different Puerto Rican parrot populations. At the time, there were captive and a wild population in both the Rio Abajo State Forest and the El Yunque National Forest. By recording parrots from all four populations and comparing their calls with bioacoustic analysis software I documented four discrete dialects (one in each population). I also found that parrots that were transferred between populations would eventually learn the calls of the new population. I graduated from Mayaguez in 2016 and have been working for the Puerto Rican Parrot Program ever since.

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