Parrots Daily News Parrot Breeding, Keeping & Biology Sat, 11 Apr 2020 20:28:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The costs and rewards of conserving the Lear’s Macaw Sat, 11 Apr 2020 20:24:41 +0000 How much does it cost to save from extinction a parrot, or any other species for that matter? There is no straight-forward answer because of the complexity of compiling all necessary information on likely costs. However, it is imperative to try, because the resources available for conservation are limited and should be used to optimum effect.

Over seven years ago an authoritative scientific article (McCarthy et al. 2012) gave an overview of the probable financial costs to prevent extinctions of threatened species and to protect and effectively manage all terrestrial sites of global conservation significance. These costs were calculated to be US$4.76 billion annually to reduce the extinction risk of all globally threatened species, and US$76.1 billion annually to establish and maintain the protection of terrestrial sites.

Lear’s Macaw (Anodorhynchus leari) feeding on licuri palm fruits.

When put into context, these are not impossibly large sums of money. For instance, the amount required for terrestrial sites is only 1% of the US$75.59 trillion Gross World Domestic Product in the year the article was published. In the preceding 15 years the world lost an estimated US$4-20 trillion per year in ecosystem services (supply of clean water, natural flood control, soil formation, etc) due to human-induced change of natural areas. The authors of the article, projecting a decade ahead, estimated that only 12% was available of the total funds needed annually to reduce the extinction risk of all globally threatened bird species.

A view of arid caatinga forest and nesting cliffs of Lear’s Macaws.

The Loro Parque Fundación supports projects intended to reduce the extinction risk of threatened parrots, and to help maintain their natural habitats. Since 2006, one of those species has been the endangered Lear’s Macaw (Anodorhynchus leari) which has a very small geographical distribution in the arid caatinga biome in the north of Bahia State, Brazil. Found in the wild only in 1978, with a population of about 60 individuals, the Lear’s Macaw nests in cavities in sandstone cliffs. It is threatened by extensive livestock grazing and other agricultural activities which cause the loss and degradation of its habitat, especially when an important food resource for the species, the fruits of the licuri palm (Syagrus coronata), is affected. Furthermore, Lear’s Macaws are removed from the wild in two ways: the poaching of chicks from nests for illegal trade, and killing by farmers because of damage to maize crops by the macaws. In the past the macaws were also hunted for food. Currently the species is mainly concentrated in two protected areas called Raso da Catarina Ecological Station and, 38km further west, Canudos Biological Station.

Licuri palms (Syagrus coronata) are a key food source for the Lear’s Macaw.

Returning to the question of calculating the cost to prevent the extinction of a species, a recent article by Antonio Barbosa and José Tella, researchers respectively at the National Centre for Bird Conservation and Research, Brazil and the Do?ana Biological Station, Spain, details how they have done this for the Lear’s Macaw (Barbosa and Tella, 2019). They developed a framework which not only detailed the costs of conserving the Lear’s Macaw in the wild, but also the rewards of such conservation actions, not just for the target species but also for habitat protection, restoration of ecosystem services and economic rewards for local people.

Graph showing the funds invested annually in the project and the growth of the Lear’s Macaw population. Only 0.6% of the total funds was invested in 1992 to 1995.

The study found that the total funds invested in Lear’s Macaw conservation in situ over the 25 years to 2017 reached US$3.66 million (after adjusting for inflation of the Brazilian currency). The proportional contribution of different sectors of society to the total were as follows: state (principally Brazil) 59%, private funders 6%, national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) 10% and international NGOs 25%. As an international NGO, during the period in question the Loro Parque Fundación donated US$462,602, being half (50.6%) of the total for that sector. The proportions varied over time, with the international NGOs constituting the main funding source for the early years, but with the state assuming a major role, in particular between 2001 and 2012 when the Brazilian authorities established and maintained a research base and full-time field team.

Biologists and a farmer assess the damage to his maize crop from Lear’s Macaws.

Different conservation activities received funding in the following proportions: research 51%, protection 22%, social (awareness/capacity-building with local communities) 16%, annual census 4%, meetings (National Action Plan) 4% and population reinforcement 3%. The Brazilian government supported most of the costs of research, annual censuses and meetings as well as almost half of spending on social activities. The international NGOs were the major contributors to the direct protection activities, and covered about 50% of the social activities. Indeed, an important part of the support from the Loro Parque Fundación has included the building of capacity within the local communities (Associations of Artisans) to produce and market handicrafts, for example made from the leaves of licuri palms. The LPF has also helped to supply maize seed to compensate farmers for crop damages caused by Lear’s Macaws, and also contributed to monitoring nests on the cliffs. Of the funds used for protection, the study showed that 80% were used against nest poaching for illegal trade and 16% against killing of macaws by farmers. Poaching and killing by farmers caused 103 Lear’s Macaws to be removed from the wild population.

Products made from dried licuri palm leaves.

No funds were devoted to modify power lines to reduce collision risks, which cause 2% of the losses of macaws from the wild population. Neither were any funds assigned to protect foraging habitats, a matter which should be seriously deliberated by the Brazilian government given that the acquisition, wages and maintenance of land and property are highly expensive. In terms of habitat loss within the foraging distribution of the Lear’s Macaw over the 16 years from 2000, the study showed that forest cover had decreased by 20% from the original

2,219,170 ha, while the agro-pastoral surface increased by 23%. Despite the obvious trends, because of high inter-year variability these changes over time were not statistically significant.

The conservation rewards were satisfactory, with the cost and time needed to down-list (in 2009) the Lear’s Macaw from ‘Critically Endangered’ to ‘Endangered’ being similar to those invested in other bird species. Its global population has increased in parallel with conservation funds invested. However, economic rewards through ecotourism and handicrafts linked to the conservation of the species were low and require promotion. The study did not quantify ecosystem services provided by Lear’s Macaws.

An adult Lear’s Macaw in the captive breeding programme.

The study has the private sector as the only supporter of population reinforcement. However, in the two most recent years, the Loro Parque Fundación has been contributing funds, as well as captive-bred Lear’s Macaws which have been released at a location frequented by two wild individuals 135 km to the west of Canudos. It is expected that this reinforcement and the international captive breeding programme will continue, with ongoing investment in ex situ conservation by the programme partners, of which the Loro Parque Fundación is a founder.

Author: David Waugh, Correspondent, Loro Parque Fundación

Photos credit: 1 – LPF, 2 – J. Cornejo/LPF, 3 – A.E. Barbosa, 5 – ECO, 6 – S. Tenorio, 7 – M. Reinschmidt


Barbosa, A.E.A and Tella, J.L. (2019) How much does it cost to save a species from extinction? Costs and rewards of conserving the Lear’s macaw. R. Soc. open sci. 6: 190190. McCarthy, D. P.,

Donald, P.F., Scharlemann, J.P.W., Buchanan, G.M., Balmford, A.,Green, J.M.H., Bennun, L.A., Burgess, N.D., Fishpool, L.D.C., Garnett, S.T., Leonard,D.L., Maloney, R.F., Morling, P., Schaefer, H.M., Symes, A., Wiedenfeld, D.A.,Butchart, S.H.M (2012) Financial costs of meeting global biodiversity conservation targets: current spending and unmet needs. Science 338: 946–949. (doi:10.1126/science.1229803)


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Nest-box revolution for wild Grey-breasted Parakeets Thu, 26 Mar 2020 11:30:23 +0000 In 2007 the Brazilian NGO Aquasis conducted museum research and exhaustive field expeditions in its historically reported distribution in north-east Brazil. The search was instigated due to the alarming decline in the area of occurrence of the parakeet, caused mainly by habitat loss and the illegal traffic of wild-caught individuals. At least 16 locations were considered to be possible refuges for the species, but at that time only one population was found, in the humid upland forests of the Serra de Baturité in Ceará State. In consequence the Grey-breasted Parakeet was included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as ‘Critically Endangered’ and from that year the Loro Parque Fundación has supported the project of Aquasis to save this species from extinction. The Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations (ZGAP) has also been an early supporter.

The project field base and field team of Aquasis.

Over the intervening years this multi-disciplinary project has registered notable successes. It discovered other small populations in the upland areas of Serra do Mel in Quixadá and Serra Azul in Ibaretama, and very recently has added a fourth, small population located in Serra do Parafuso, Canindé. All these more humid sites are in Ceará State, and all are surrounded by a radically dry lowland environment, called Caatinga, where the species is not found. Surveys by the Aquasis team confirm that 90% of all mature individuals are only in the subpopulation of the Baturité Mountains, and the other three locations have relatively limited forest habitat. In these latter locations the Grey-breasted Parakeet appears to have adapted to these limitations by nesting on the rocky cliffs, whereas in the Baturité Mountains it is a tree-nester.

Grey-breasted Parakeet cooperatively breeding family at a nest-box.

Thus, the main focus of the project is protect and expand population of parakeets in the Baturité Mountains, where it has created a field base and office. From the field base the Aquasis team can liaise with the local environment authority, and especially with local landowners willing to create private reserves which Aquasis agrees to manage for the good of the Grey-breasted Parakeet. From the base the project also raises awareness within the local population about the parakeet and the importance of the forests, and also organizes presentations in the local schools. Another notable milestone of the project is the creation in 2018 of the Grey-breasted Parakeet Wildlife Refuge, an official protected area of 39 hectares created by the Government of Ceará State with the objective of protecting a key breeding area of the species. The area in which the refuge is situated has an environmental police post.

Map of the project area in the Baturité Mountains.

However, without doubt the Baturité population of the Grey-breasted Parakeet has dramatically increased because of the nest-box programme started in 2010. The programme involves weekly inspection of the installed nest-boxes, verification and management of invasive species such as bees and mammals, the selection and cataloguing of coordinates by GPS of new nest-box sites, marking the chicks using leg-bands (supplied by the Brazilian government), and repairing and renewing nest substrate of the boxes before and after each breeding season. At the same time, roost sites and natural nests are found through active searches and from interviews with local people. The leg-bands are important because the presence of marked breeders helps to understand issues such as nest fidelity and breeding site selection.

Putting a leg-band on Grey-breasted Parakeet chick.

The project has increased in the number of nest-boxes to one hundred, the greater number helping to decrease intra- and interspecific competition for nests, and possibly to dilute the effect of predators. By means of specific actions such as reduction of nest-box entrance size, changing the location of nest-boxes with frequent predation, and the capture and removal of predators, the project has reduced predation, but of course these events still occur, and 48 chicks were lost in 2019 due to predation. An opossum took advantage of the weathered wood of one nest-box to break it open and predate the chicks, but the main predator continues to be the paper-wasp, with seven attacks on nest-boxes and one on a tree cavity nest.

The Aquasis team shares project information with the local forest protection unit of the military police.

In some of the attacks the chicks were ready to fledge and escaped, while in some others the chicks flew prematurely or were injured. The project was able to successfully rehabilitate chicks and place them in foster nests. With the creation of the Grey-breasted Parakeet Wildlife Refuge, the Aquasis team placed 8 nest-boxes there and in 2019 recorded the first nest of the parakeet, and two other groups used nest-boxes for roosting. This is good news, because although the public area where the refuge was created is centrally located in the breeding area of the Grey-breasted Parakeet, it previously had no record of nests of the species.

Graph of the population growth of the Grey-breasted Parakeet in the Baturité Mountains.

The increase in the wild population of P. griseipectus in the Baturité Mountains by 2017 was so significant that the IUCN down-listed the species to ‘Endangered’ status. Since then the number of chicks fledging from nests has increased exponentially, and the results for the 2019 breeding season demonstrate a veritable nest-box revolution. There were 65 nest-boxes occupied by breeding parakeets, which between themlaid 523 eggs. From these eggs 379 chicks hatched, and 324 parakeets fledgedfrom the nest-boxes. The 2019 result means that the project has reached the cumulative mark of 1,165 Grey-breasted Parakeets fledged in Baturité Mountains in the 10 years of the nest-box programme. The last two censuses, in 2017 and 2018, of the Grey-breasted Parakeet wild population in the Baturité Mountains revealed a population increase from 314 to 456 individuals. In 2018, more than 120 people participated in three days of activities with lectures, training, bird-watching and the pre-breeding season simultaneous counting at the roost sites mapped throughout the year. Without doubt, the participation of volunteers in the census is an incredible tool for engaging the local community and students in conservation and citizen science.

Confiscated Grey-breasted Parakeets in transport boxes for transfer to Parque das Aves.

In December of 2019 a third census took place and the results will soon be available, with a further increase eagerly anticipated. The final strand of this successful project is that in May of 2019 the first 12 Grey-breasted Parakeet confiscated from illegal trade were sent to Parque das Aves, a zoological institution specializing in birds,to start an ex situ conservation programme in Brazil. These birds are the start of a cooperative breeding effort, in which the Loro Parque Fundación will take part, to create an insurance population, and to reintroduce the Grey-breasted Parakeet into areas of its historical occurrence.

Author: David Waugh, Correspondent, Loro Parque Fundación

Photos: 1,3 – F. Nunes/Aquasis; 2,4-8 – Aquasis


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Winter feeding at Loro Parque Fundación Thu, 27 Feb 2020 21:23:58 +0000 The coldest months of the year is the best time to start forming new couples. Parrots usually seek body contact for warmth and this is a factor that can be taken into account to facilitate the formation of stable couples. 

The fact that parrots can reproduce vigorously is directly related to their preparation in the colder seasons where winter is inevitable.  During this reason, the parrots that live in warm climates do not need a major dietary change, beyond the variety and healthiness of their food. However, in areas where thermal oscillation exists, the needs for calories and vitamins are different and parrots appreciate the availability of seasonal food in accordance with their surrounding climate.

After the first rains of autumn, caregivers should reinforce their diet with annual herbs. Some leaves, as fresh dandelion leaves are essential for metabolism and in order to keep parrots in good shape. Other herbs such as Sisymbrium irio, known as London rocket, are powerful sexual stimulants that can be used when the birds remain lethargic

Stella Lorikeet Charmosyna papou black morph (photo: Moyses Peréz)

It is in the colder months when parrots need a lot of attention. During this time, we put up new perches, clean and replace the nests. Preparations are focused now on the conditioning of their habitat for the next breeding season, when actions in the aviary should be minimal.

At Loro Parque and Loro Parque Fundación we have our own ecological production of annual herbs such as the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis), alfalfa (Medicago sativa) or beet (Beta vulgaris). These herbs do not contain any pesticides and contaminants derived from environmental pollution or toxic chemicals and guarantee therefore a maximum healthiness including sometimes some insects, which the parrots will eat with great delight.

These 100% organic crops, fruits and vegetables have an intense fragrance and flavour. It is interesting to observe how the different species eat these fruits with avidity.

We must remember the importance of seasonal feeding since this is the way how it happens in nature, where the birds not always will find the same availability of food. Providing the birds with seasonal food also ensures that the animals remain active and expectant in receiving their daily basis. One of the important premises in the maintenance of psittaciformes is to enrich their environment.

For this purpose, we include plants inside and outside the aviaries. Being surrounded by these vegetation, they feel protected and enjoy also a different environment. The birds will relish the growing of the plants, which after the rain will offer new leaves and branches and during the spring season will delight them with flowers and fruits that will be eaten willingly by the birds.

Author: Rafael Zamora Padrón, Scientific Director of LPF

Title photo: Moyses Peréz


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The Yellow-crested Cockatoo clings-on to its eastern fringe Fri, 21 Feb 2020 09:48:01 +0000 Imagine searching for a very rare species on scores of islands in an area of the tropics measuring 1,400 km between its north and south extremes, and the same distance again between its most eastern and western limits. Would anyone take on such a task? The answer is yes, because biologist Anna Reuleaux has taken-up the challenge to search for the Critically Endangered Yellow-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea) within an area of those dimensions. Hardened to the duress of field conditions, Anna is the principal investigator and doctoral student in a project by Manchester Metropolitan University, UK in collaboration with Burung Indonesia, the country representative of BirdLife International. The project has been running since the second half of 2016, and is supported by the Loro Parque Fundación, with additional support from the Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations. 

Adult Yellow-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea).

The project exists to gather the information crucial for the future conservation of Cacatua sulphurea. Of its several objectives, a vital one is to conduct surveys of remaining cockatoo populations across the entire geographical distribution of the species, to produce accurate estimations of local population sizes, and to determine their ecological requirements and need for interventions. Areas are being identified which have, or could have, the right conditions to be sites for future interventions or re-introductions. Like other Asian cockatoos, Yellow-crested Cockatoos have been particularly affected by over-exploitation for trade, as well as loss of their forest habitat. Indications are that the species has disappeared from almost all of its geographical distribution, a situation affecting all seven subspecies (recognised since 2014), all in the biogeographical region of Wallacea except for C. s. abbotti on the Masalembo Islands.

Historic Cacatua sulphurea records 1856-2016. The seven subspecies (recognised from 2014) are coded by colour. Most sites are certain to have no cockatoos today.

Anna has already travelled through many islands, and has concentrated her survey efforts on the locations with the highest likelihood of populations surviving. She has not needed to survey locations with a known absence of cockatoos, nor those with known populations surveyed recently by other researchers. She has been able to confirm that the current most important strongholds of the species are the islands of Sumba, where C. s. citrinocristata is endemic, and Komodo where a population of C. s. occidentalis is found. Awaiting her attention have been locations along the eastern fringe of the Yellow-crested Cockatoo’s distribution, and her most recent field excursion has been to survey those remaining sites, taking her to West and East Timor (C. s. parvula), south-east Sulawesi and Buton (C. s. sulphurea), and the Tukangbesi (Wakatobi) islands (C. s. paulandrewi). Romy Limu, who has been working with Burung Indonesia for more than five years, accompanied her as field assistant.

Anna Reuleaux (left) and field assistant Romy Limu (second from right) with field staff of the BKSDA (Natural Resources Conservation Centre) in West Timor.

Survey locations were initially selected based on reports and records in digital and printed literature, and prior to field work Anna and Romy consulted each local conservation office (BKSDA – Natural Resources Conservation Centre) about recent cockatoo sightings. Promising areas were then visited, and leads followed from village to village until cockatoo presence or absence could be confirmed. For fragmented habitat, minimal abundance of cockatoos was estimated by counting the maximum number of individuals sighted at one time, and where larger or several flocks were suspected, searches for communal roosts were undertaken to attempt observation of all individuals simultaneously. More sophisticated counting methods were only suitable for the largest and densest cockatoo populations.

The surveys began in the island of Timor, of which the western half belongs to the Republic of Indonesia and the eastern half is the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste (East Timor). Differences between the two in conservation laws, administration, law enforcement and trade connections seem to make a big difference to the survival of cockatoo populations. Trade and travel from East Timor to Indonesia is highly controlled, effectively excluding the East Timor bird populations from the Indonesian bird market. Bird trapping was very common during the Indonesian occupancy but has almost ceased now. However, in the same period hunting birds for food became normal and consequently shooting cockatoos opportunistically when hunting pigeons is more common in East Timor than trapping them.

Anna and Romy observing Yellow-crested Cockatoos flying over a mangrove-covered island Tourism Nature Reserve in West Timor.

At four locations in West Timor, the cockatoos reported by others totalled between 125 and 128 individuals, with a minimum flock size of three and the largest maximum flock of 47 cockatoos, observed on the island of Rote. Anna and Romy could only visit two locations, with a total count of 51 cockatoos. A diversity of habitats were used by the cockatoos, including dry lowland forest, coastal forest, mangroves, degraded primary and secondary forest remnants, and plantations. Three locations had some kind of protected area status, and the fourth had no formal protection by law but the cockatoos there are protected by traditional beliefs instilled in the community by the village head, an ex-trapper who decided 30 years ago to save the cockatoos instead. At two sites the cockatoos are monitored annually by the conservation authorities, and there is opportunistic monitoring by local communities at the remaining sites. Cockatoos commuting daily to adjacent plantations outside of a protected area run the risk of being shot or trapped, but the main threats include further habitat degradation and resulting nest site shortage, encroachment of agriculture into protected areas, and infrastructure development for tourism.

Primary forest cockatoo habitat in the highlands of East Timor.

At six locations in East Timor, a total of between 179 and 206 cockatoos were sighted, and the largest flock was of 55 and the smallest of four individuals. Once again there was a variety of habitats from mangrove and savannah interspersed with gardens and forest patches, through mixed cultivation and coffee plantations, to largely or entirely primary forest and montane tropical forest. Three locations had no protection, but the other three were in national parks. In one of those, the Nino Konis Santana National Park, the cockatoos appear to form one large continuous population, because the habitat is not as fragmented as in nearly all other surviving populations of the species. Anna and Romy could only obtain an absolute minimum estimate of the population, and more research is needed at this location. The population is probably the third largest of the species (after Sumba and Komodo) and relatively well protected in a national park, in the far corner of a country without a commercial cockatoo trade. Furthermore, reports of direct encounters with cockatoo from mountainous zones suggests that cockatoos could still be widespread in less populated higher altitude areas. However, threats which require vigilance are the potential intensification of trapping, shooting and agriculture, and the encroachment of cultivation into primary forest.

Hunting trophies in Nino Konis Santana National Park, East Timor, where hunting is theoretically forbidden.

Sulawesi is the largest island in the distribution of C. sulphurea, but alarmingly might have the smallest population of the Yellow-crested Cockatoo, with the nominate subspecies among the closest to extinction. The only confirmed cockatoo populations are on Pasoso Island, to the north-west of Sulawesi, and in Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park, south-east mainland Sulawesi. Inside this large park there is only a very small area where cockatoos can be encountered more frequently. Anna and Romy surveyed five locations in that region, observing a maximum flock of 11 individuals at one site and failing to find any at two other sites. Reports from other observers give a total of only 21 individuals counted across the five locations. The national park authorities seem incapable of preventing illegal logging for cultivation, plantations and other activities in the centre of the forest, such that this habitat is very fragmented, in some areas functioning only as a corridor. Furthermore, there are ownership claims by an established village community inside the park, and villagers report that outsiders come every year to capture wild C. sulphurea.

Fruit of the Java olive (Sterculia foetida) dropped by feeding Yellow-crested Cockatoos.

Anna and Romy visited eight areas on Buton, an island which still has relatively large areas of forest, but failed to find any cockatoos, and all local reports were discouraging about the possibility that the species still survives there. They moved on to the Tukangbesi Archipelago, which is contained in its entirety within the Wakatobi Marine National Park.  Islands inhabited since before the creation of the park receive no protection under the national park status, but uninhabited islands function to protect terrestrial biodiversity. Although the Yellow-crested Cockatoo does not feature in the plans and reports of Wakatobi National Park, the remnant populations are known to the local national park staff.

To observe cockatoos, the ridges of Gunung Modus give a view over the central forest of Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park, Sulawesi.

Cockatoos were recently reported by other ornithologists on four islands in the archipelago, and Amy and Romy confirmed presence on three of those islands, with a maximum flock size of 18 individuals.  A previous maximum flock size of 50 was recorded, contributing to a total count of only 69 cockatoos across the four islands, but high encounter rates indicate a more sizeable population. One of the locations had primary forest, mangrove belts and emergent trees among plantations, and logging there is regulated due to traditional beliefs and access is forbidden. However, most locations have highly modified habitat, mainly coconut and banana plantations, interspersed with small forest remnants, sparse woodland with emergent trees, and mangrove forest. Therefore, the main concerns are the potential intensification of agriculture if the terrestrial areas of the national park are not protected better, ongoing capture of adult cockatoos, and competition by introduced parrot species.

A pair of Cacatua sulphurea paulandrewi in Tukangbesi.

The diligent searching of this project has revealed that the Yellow-crested Cockatoo has a better chance in some parts of its eastern fringe, but is barely clinging-on in others. Without urgent action the long-term viability of the smallest populations is very unlikely. It is now with great anticipation that the project makes its key recommendations to boost the protection of the species in all its areas of occurrence.

Author: David Waugh, Correspondent, Loro Parque Fundación

Title photo: Anna Reuleaux/MMU

Credit other photos: 1 – C. Lam, 2-9 -Anna Reuleaux/MMU


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The 20th Anniversary of “Proyecto Ognorhynchus”: Back from the abyss, the Yellow-eared Parrot unites a nation Sun, 09 Feb 2020 11:19:57 +0000 Please raise a glass to the beautiful Yellow-eared Parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis), because 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of a remarkable project to save a species teetering on the edge of extinction, following its rediscovery in Colombia. Fundación ProAves, the Loro Parque Fundación and other contributors are celebrating the historic accomplishments of shared relentless efforts in research, conservation, and education over the last two decades of ‘Proyecto Ognorhynchus’.

Yellow-eared Parrots (Ognorhynchus icterotis).

Throughout the 20th century to the present day the decline of wildlife populations, particularly in tropical forests, has been inexorable, but few species showed such a catastrophic decline as the Yellow-eared Parrot. At the beginning of the last century the Yellow-eared Parrot, a large brilliant yellow and green parrot, was common in mountain forests in the Andes of Colombia and Ecuador, where it depended on Quindío wax palms(Ceroxylon quindiuense), the world’s tallest palm, for nesting in their trunks, roosting on fronds at night and feeding on the fruit.

A rare patch of Quindío wax palm forest.
Cattle-grazing prevents the growth of new wax palms.

By 1991 only two flocks were known to survive, none were recorded in captivity, and the global population numbered less than 50 individuals. Extensive conservation and research efforts in Ecuador were led by Dr. Niels Krabbe and supported by the LPF and the Zoological Society for the Conservation of Populations and Species (ZGAP). The LPF purchased land to protect a stand of palms and forest used by the last dwindling flock of 21 individuals in Ecuador, but this last flock vanished in 1998, and extinction seemed inevitable. In 1986 the wax palm was declared the national tree of Colombia, but is also threatened, having been assessed as globally vulnerable by the IUCN. Deforestation for cattle pastures combined with overharvesting of the trees’ leaves for use in the Catholic celebration of Palm Sunday have nearly wiped out the wax palm.

A pair of yellow-eared parrot on a wax palm trunk.

However, in 1997 there was a report of a flock of 24 Yellow-eared Parrots in the Cordillera Central of Colombia, prompting a team to establish a search and recover project, ‘Proyecto Ognorhynchus’ (and eventually to establish Fundación ProAves), with support from the LPF, ZGAP/Fund for Threatened Parrots (FfBP), American Bird Conservancy and Sociedad Antioque?a de Ornitología. Subsequently the species could not be relocated, but just as efforts were drawing to a close the project team visited the remote Cucuana valley in the Central Andes of Tolima. There, on 18th April 1999, Yellow-eared Parrots were found once again, with a total of 81 birds, including a breeding pair at a nest at the site. There was hope after all!

Plumaged Yellow-eared Parrot chicks in the nest.

The Proyecto Ognorhynchus team immediately launched a conservation programme in an emergency response to study and protect the species, gathering a wealth of information on the species’ ecology and natural history. It was clear that the Yellow-eared Parrot was an exceptionally social and strongly bonding species, dispersing from the wax palm roost sites at first light, gradually returning and arriving at the roost sites by mid- to late-afternoon. Multiple major threats faced the Yellow-eared Parrot and the wax palm upon which the bird depends. The four principal threats were hunting for food and sport, habitat loss and complete lack of protected areas where the species occurred, lack of nest site availability because dead standing wax palms were cut down by farmers, and overharvesting of wax palm fronds for Palm Sunday by felling wax palm stands. With these principal threats identified, the team formulated a conservation strategy, and its implementation has been fully supported by Loro Parque Fundación, to date with US$1,611,444.

Juvenile Yellow-eared Parrot in a weighing bag.

The project sought permission to work at the newly discovered colony, located within a stronghold of the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) guerrillas and a zone for confrontations with the National Army of Colombia. The FARC declared that any person who killed a Yellow-eared Parrot could face death.  Unsurprisingly, local inhabitants strictly adhered to the ban so that the threat from hunting stopped immediately, and thereafter the ProAves team had no evidence of a parrot being harmed.

A precarious climb to maintain a nest-box on the wax palm trunk.

A majorobstacle was lack of enforcement of wax palm protection, and by the 1990’s the core populations of Quindío wax palm were restricted to 12 sites in Colombia (and four in northern Peru). Wax palms develop slowly, not reaching maturity until 75+ years old. In the Cucuana valley, sporadic pastures have stands of uniformly mature wax palms of almost 100 years and over 20 meters tall. The height of the palms makes them ideal nesting sites for the parrots, being largely inaccessible to terrestrial predators. However, cattle grazing of palm seedlings results in almost zero recruitment. Research by ProAves showed that standing dead palm trunks were scarce, causing a lack of suitable nest sites to form a colony. From the Cucuana flock of 81 birds, just one chick fledged in 1999 from a 20-meter standing dead hollow palm. To address these problems, Fundación ProAves sought the collaboration of local farmers to change farming methods.  Once the rural community of Roncesvalles Municipality was made aware that the fate of the parrot and palm was in its hands, that knowledge triggered an extraordinary positive response from farmers and the entire community. 

Yellow-eared Parrot leaving the nest through the cut entrance.

No more dead palms were cut down and project staff helped farmers to protect forest patches from cattle. A palm nursery was established by the project to grow seedlings and plant a future generation in secure locations. Within just a few years, Yellow-eared Parrot breeding activities and reproductive success rates drastically increased. Furthermore, the project developed one of the first artificial nest-box campaigns in the Neotropics to supplement natural sites.  Using wood shaped and painted as palm trunks, nest-boxes were mounted on live palms. The parrots’ use of the boxes was slow at first, but later deployment in new colonies with limited dead palms proved more successful.  The most successful technique to facilitate nest availability was to cut a small (10-12 cm diameter) hole half-way up the side of a recently dead palm. Parrots readily took to these palms and breeding productivity accelerated. Within only three years the breeding colony grew and fledged 93 young in 2002, with two “back-to-back” nesting seasons per year. The fledgling recruitment success rate averaged 64% for all breeding pairs. Of successful nests, an average 55% of nests fledged one chick, 31% fledged two chicks and 14% of fledged three chicks.

Sign for the Loro Andinos Reserve.

The Yellow-eared Parrot feeds on more than 18 different fruiting trees, regularly changing routes to seasonal sources of fruit, but predominately feeds on only six plant species. With 89% of montane cloud forests in the region having been cleared, mainly for cattle pasture, and the last surviving forests of the Cucuana and Cucuanita valleys totally unprotected, habitat protection was the next focus for the project. While the Loro Parque Fundación continued its support of all on-going project activities, in 2009 the Rainforest Trust and the American Bird Conservancy helped the purchase of private properties to establish the 3,998 ha Loros Andinos Bird Reserve in Roncesvalles Municipality (Tolima). The 189 ha Loro Orejiamarillo Bird Reserve was also established in Jardín Municipality (Antioquia) to create a base of conservation efforts for this new population. Furthermore, private property owners in the Cucuana valley were willing to enrol in a land stewardship scheme to set-aside land for regeneration and reforestation.

Yellow-eared Parrot feeding on fruits.

Palm Sunday is observed by hundreds of thousands of adherents to the Roman Catholic Church across the Andes of Colombia. Sadly, just in Jardín alone in 2001, 200-300 wax palms were cut down to secure the 4-5 innermost emerging fronds used in the Palm Sunday procession. Wax palms were decimated ahead of each Holy Week, presenting perhaps the single biggest long-term threat to the survival of the parrot and palm. However, the project succeeded in convincing several priests in rural villages to stop using wax palms. ProAves helped by providing hundreds of wax palm seedlings for parishioners to carry in the processions with the message to plant them at home.  This was largely a success, with only a few wax palm fronds used. From 2002, with Loro Parque Fundación support, ProAves and Conservation International-Colombia united with regional environmental corporations across Colombia to form a major national awareness campaign, called “Reconcile with Nature”.  This immediately gained media attention, with a free TV advertisement on the palm and parrot repeated on national TV channels before and during Holy Week for several years. The attention galvanized authorities to enforce the law and then, in 2004, the Cardinal of the Catholic church of Colombia instigated a nationwide ban on using wax palms in Palm Sunday processions, which from that moment celebrated nature and life.

Children celebrate the Yellow-eared Parrot in front of their school.

To sustain the momentum, ProAves in partnership with governmental entities sent the “Loro bus” (Parrot Bus), a mobile environmental classroom, to reach hundreds of remote rural schools and communities across the Andes. For almost five years the bus toured the Andes educating and involving an average of 2,600 children and 400 adults per month.  Saving the wax palm and Yellow-eared parrot was the new tradition, embraced and institutionalized across all generations of Colombians. 

Palm Sunday with no wax palms, but many other colourful plants.
The whole town participates in its Yellow-eared Parrot and wax palm festival.

How has the Yellow-eared Parrot population responded? In addition to 93 chicks fledging successfully by 2002, a second breeding population of Yellow-eared Parrots was located in the Western Andes between the Municipality of Jardin (Antioquia) and Rio Sucio (Caldas), 155 km directly north of the Cucuana valley. This was the beginning of the species recolonizing areas with wax palms from the two source populations with significant nesting activity.  By 2010, the population had risen to 1,103 although only 106 breeding pairs were active (most individuals were immature), and by 2013, there were 1,408 individuals. A national parrot census was organized by ProAves in December 2018 which was simultaneously conducted at 41 sites in seven Departments in the Western, Central and Eastern Cordilleras, and confirmed exactly 2,250 individuals. A repeat census in April 2019 surveyed 12 locations in four Departments and documented 2,601 individuals, including 998 in Roncesvalles (a 13-fold increase since 1999). The April count is deemed most accurate as it was undertaken when most individuals congregate at roosts in the breeding colonies. The current best estimate of 1,000+ mature individuals and the continued recovery warrant a downgrade of IUCN threat status to Near-threatened. Flocks have already expanded southward to within 110 km of wax palms in Ecuador, where the Yellow-eared Parrot’s expected return is imminent.

The Global Big Day Bird Count also includes the Yellow-eared Parrots.

Two decades of an intensive, multifaceted, science-driven conservation effort initiated by Fundación ProAves, with twenty years of major support from Loro Parque Fundación, have resulted in the most successful recovery of a species on the brink of extinction in the Americas. Many other individuals, organizations and entities also deserve gratitude for supporting the initiative to make a difference. Last but not least, thanks are due to the people of Colombia. The dire plight of the parrot and palm united a nation to work collaboratively, to make changes and give nature hope.

Author: Paul Salaman1, Alex Cortes1 and David Waugh2

1. Fundación ProAves de Colombia, 2. Loro Parque Fundación

Title photo: A pair and one helper of Yellow-eared Parrots at a nest-box. (c) Fundación ProAves

Other photos: 1,2,4-16 – Fundación ProAves; 3 – A. Advent


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Conservation, Management and Breeding of the Yellow-Shouldered Amazon. PART I Tue, 04 Feb 2020 21:14:18 +0000 CITES: Appendix I


Wingspan: 33 cm

Weight: 260-360 g

Ring: 9,5 mm

Clutch size: 3-5 eggs

The Yellow-shouldered Amazon (Amazona barbadensis) is a small parrot that has an extroverted character and is surprisingly active, if we compare it with other species of greater weight. Their populations, generically isolated in Venezuela, make it possible to distinguish subtle differences between individuals from one region or another.  It should not be forgotten that their populations disappeared from the Peninsula of Paraguaná, Bonaire and Cura?ao. This explains their vulnerability and at the same time the differences between populations in which there is no genetic exchange.

A Venezuelan with a Yellow-shouldered Amazon pet. (c) Rafael Zamora

It’s quite common to see cages in the backyards of houses all over Venezuela with a Yellow-shouldered Amazon as a pet.  This might seem inexplicable, given the wide range of local fauna. Venezuelans also prefer the also called “Cotorra Cabeciamarilla” to the Yellow-crowned amazon (Amazona ochrocephala), which are known for their ability to repeat words, since the Yellow-shouldered Amazons are especially affectionate to its owners and do not bite as other parrot species.

It is frequent to see them perched on the spikes of the cacti. (c) Fundación Provita

Its habitat on Margarita Island is a tropical Caribbean paradise of the northern coast of Venezuela with miles of white sand beaches under the radiant sun. It also inhabits the western tip of the island, formed by the Macanao Peninsula. Kilometres of shimmering beaches also extend here, but just a few steps inland, the landscape is semi-arid dominated by shrubs, cacti and other plants covered with sharp thorns. This is the habitat of the Cotorra Margarite?a, which faces the plundering of its nests and poaching.

Thorny forest. Habitat of the Margarite?a Parrot. (c) Fundación Provita

Loro Parque Fundación has supported the in-situ conservation project of the Amazona barbadesis with $434,799 over the years. For this purpose, the foundation has collaborated closely with local non-governmental organizations, like the Provita Foundation, in monitoring and preventing the theft of chicks, also in making people aware of the importance of protecting this species. But above all, the foundation has supported the protection of the thorny forest, where the Yellow-shouldered amazon lives.

This parrot species is commonly kept in Venezuela as pet (c) Rafael Zamora Padrón

As far as Ex situ conservation is concerned, Loro Parque Fundación has created the largest population of Yellow-shouldered Amazons in Europe, giving international breeding centres the possibility of obtaining specimens of the highest quality and beauty born in controlled environments. In this way, the pressure that wild populations had in the past have been alleviated to a great extent.

Author: Rafael Zamora Padrón, Scientific Director of Loro Parque Fundación

Title photo: author


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Monitoring, protection, rescue and release help the Yellow-headed Parrots of Belize Fri, 24 Jan 2020 22:24:46 +0000 “They’re curious about what’s going on, and so they fly in close to take a good look”. Mario Muschamp, land manager of TIDE, is making reference to the wild resident Yellow-headed Parrots (Amazona oratrix belizensis) perched in the trees close to an aviary in the open pine savanna habitat of this endangered species in Belize. The aviary is used for the release of rescued and rehabilitated individuals of the same species, this being just one part of a comprehensive project for the conservation of this eye-catching parrot.

Adult Belize Yellow-headed Parrot. (c) Charles Britt/Belize Bird Conservancy

Since 2016 the Loro Parque Fundación has been supporting the conservation efforts, led by parrot biologist Dr. Charles Britt of the Belize Bird Conservancy, in collaboration with the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) and Belize Bird Rescue, all within the Belize Yellow-headed Parrot Working Group chaired by the Belize Forest Department. Such action is deemed necessary because the species is in danger of extinction across its distribution in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. In addition to habitat loss, A. oratrix is highly valued in trade because of its attractive plumage and ability to imitate human speech, with up to 10% of households in surveyed villages owning a Yellow-headed Parrot. In 1994 there were an estimated 7,000 individuals remaining in the wild, representing an approximate decline of the population by 90% from the 1970’s.

Map of the distribution in Belize of open and closed pine savanna. (c) Charles Britt/Belize Bird Conservancy

The subspecies belizensis is primarily restricted to the lowland pine savannas found throughout Belize, either the open grass-dominanted savanna with scattered trees and shrubs, mainly Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea) and palmetto (Acoelorraphe wrightii), closed savanna conspicuously dominated by pine or oak (Quercus oleoides). The coastal pine savannas in southern Belize have experienced annual illegal fires that likely reduce the presence of natural cavities in dead pines. Artificial nests have been quickly occupied, suggesting a lack of suitable natural cavities. In contrast, there are areas in northern Belize with extensive occurrence of natural nest cavities in pines resulting from hurricane-related damage. Legal and illegal pine logging is currently occurring across Belize and threatens current and future nesting opportunities for this species, especially because breeding pairs of the parrot tend to select larger, mature pines.

The Yellow-headed Parrot project vehicle in open pine savanna. (c) Belize Bird Conservancy

In 2016, the initial counts recorded 983 individuals in the lowland pine savannas in Belize, with greater densities observed in the northern and southern portions of the distribution, and fewer in the central region. In that year only 32% of monitored nests survived to fledge at least one young, with poaching the greatest known cause of failure, but there was also natural predation and other nests that failed due to unknown causes. The post-hurricane breeding season of 2017 experienced a reduction in reproductive effort and success, but his rebounded in 2018 and 2019. Nevertheless, the threat of poaching resulted in the need to extract more chicks at extreme risk of being poached, or with health concerns, in those years than the previous two.

Table 1 shows the nest attempts, chicks fledged and chicks rescued over four breeding seasons. The 71 nestlings extracted from nests were raised under laboratory conditions at Belize Bird Rescue, using methods with their basis in aviculture. Following relevant guidelines, in particular the observance of strict screening for potential pathogens, all have been subsequently released into the wild population.

Year Nests Fledglings Nestlings Extracted
2016 76 58 13
2017 66 23 7
2018 74 52 31
2019 72 48 20
Total 288 181 71
A Yellow-headed Parrot chick being assessed in the field. (c) Belize Bird Conservancy

The releases are “soft”, i.e. that the once-confined parrots are gradually introduced back to the wild, with supplemental food being available at the release aviary in order to help the parrots adapt to a completely wild diet and existence over time. In addition to the rehabilitation of extracted nestlings, the Belize Forest Department has conducted a one-year programme for the registration of parrots under human care and has instigated a process to certify their good care. The Department is now confiscating all newly captured and poorly cared-for parrots.

Mario Muschamp introduces a rescued Yellow-headed Parrot into the soft release aviary. (c) Belize Bird Conservancy

In spite of the success of the rescue and release, the partners working for Yellow-headed Parrot conservation in Belize understand that a strong nest monitoring and protection effort is continues to be essential. One component has been the installation of 41 artificial nests in two protected areas and some private properties in December 2017. They are being successfully utilized by A. oratrix, with 32% used by Yellow-headed Parrots and an additional 31% used by other species of Amazona parrots. However predators, including other birds, arboreal mammals and snakes, continue to have a large impact on nesting success, and therefore the next breeding season will have a new model of nest-box with a double chamber in an effort to reduce the detectability and accessibility of eggs and nestlings to potential predators.

Poachers ripped the nest-box from the tree, but dropped it and fled on hearing the project vehicle approaching. The chick was still inside and unharmed. (c) Belize Bird Conservancy

Furthermore, poaching models have identified time period during the season when susceptibility of nest-robbing increases dramatically. Therefore in 2020, Belize Bird Conservancy and partners will increase monitoring presence and security patrols during those times. Chicks at risk of imminent poaching or with health issues that cannot be resolved in the field will still be extracted and raised at Belize Bird Rescue and then returned for soft release. The combination of these measures aims to increase the number of chicks successfully fledging in the wild, and thereby improve the fortunes of Belize’s Yellow-headed Amazon.

Author: Dr. David Waugh, Correspondent, Loro Parque Fundación

Title photo: A group of released Yellow-headed Parrots on the feeding platform outside the release aviary. (c) Belize Bird Conservancy


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Breeding of the Purple-naped Lory (Lorius domicella) Sat, 16 Nov 2019 18:54:35 +0000 English: Purple-naped Lory
Spanish: Lori Damisela
German: Erzlori
French: Loris des dames

CITES: Appendix II

Size: 28 cm
Weight: 180-250 g
Ring: 7,5 mm
Clutch size: 2 eggs

Origin: Indonesia

Purple naped Lories (Lorius domicella), breeding pair (c) Lubos Tomiska

The purple-naped lory (Lorius domicella) is endemic to the Seram and Ambon Islands in Indonesia. This species is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as ENDANGERED, with a population of no more than 7,000 mature individuals in its natural environment.

Yellow-bibbed Lory (Lorius chlorocercus)

Their decline is due to the capture to turn them into pet birds, but above all to the loss of their habitat, due to deforestation by human action.
Coming from island ecosystems, it is a fragile species in terms of sensitivity to changes in its habitats. Any kind of imbalance can decimate the species in a very short time.

Yellow-backed Lory (Lorius garrulus)

For this reason, it is very important to ensure a breeding stock of this species in controlled environment. At Loro Parque Fundación we follow a reproduction protocol based on observations of the common behaviour of the species in the wild.

Purple-bellied Lory (Lorius hypoinochrous devittatus) (c) Moisés Pérez

Our breeding achievements are the result of changes in management, such as offering various nest options and grouping them into wide aviaries to stimulate them. To ensure a healthy stock, the new generations are paired with new bloods from different parts of Europe.

There are several species within the genus Lorius, so breeders should be aware of hybridisations. Sometimes, due to the lack of available specimens, crosses are produced that are camouflaged in a second or third generation. The species differ between them, but they maintain basic similarities that allow a specialized breeder to handle them in a similar way, although each one needs to cover its own particularities.

Black-capped Lory (Lorius lory) (c) Rafael Zamora

As far as food is concerned, they mainly receive first quality nectar, varied fruit in large pieces, cooked seeds and our self-prepared cake. Depending on the season, and according to our curator and her team, the diet is complemented with egg breeding paste or other complements. Thanks to this diet, the specimens of Loro Parque Fundación achieve a considerable longevity.

Author: Rafael Zamora Padrón, Scientific Director of Loro Parque Fundación


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Compelling research and hi-tech nest-boxes help wild Swift Parrots Thu, 10 Oct 2019 21:13:06 +0000 Recognising that the wild population of the migratory Australian Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor) was in free-fall, in 2010 the Loro Parque Fundación began supporting a vital research initiative to unearth the principal threats and to devise effective measures to combat them. Since then, a cooperative effort of several in-country institutions has been led by Professor Robert Heinsohn of the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University. The research includes the ecology of the species in the south-east of mainland Australia during the Austral winter non-breeding season, and in Tasmania where core team member Dr. Dejan Stojanovic and colleagues have been studying the parrots during their breeding season in the Eucalyptus-dominated forests. The remarkable detective work of the researchers is revealed in several recent publications, and surely nobody back in 2010 could have predicted all the twists and turns in the life of this little parrot.

Logging of forest in Tasmania (c) E. Capp

At the inception of the research, the Swift Parrot was already in the ‘Endangered’ category of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but the researchers found the population decline so rapid that the species was soon up-listed to ‘Critically Endangered’, with a maximum total of 2,500 individuals, and possible as few as 1,000. The most immediate serious threat was found to be the nocturnal predation of nest-contents, including adult females, by Sugar Gliders (Petaurus breviceps)?introduced on mainland Tasmania (not the smaller satellite islands).

Satellite image of Tasmania showing forest loss/disturbance between 1996 and 2016 (red) and potential swift parrot breeding range (yellow line). The enlargement shows the Southern Forest study area. (c) Webb et al., 2019

The research team surveyed Sugar Glider occurrence at 100 sites within about 800 km2 in the Southern Forest, a key breeding area for Swift Parrots. They found a very high detectability and occupancy of Sugar Gliders, with na?ve occupancy (i.e. the proportion of sites in which Gliders were detected) of 79%. Predictions of occupancy indicated higher levels in areas with greater cover of mature forest (best quality breeding habitat for swift parrots), those areas with almost 100% cover suffering nearly complete occupancy by Sugar Gliders. Furthermore, the research revealed high rates of occupancy of available forest habitat throughout the heavily logged study area, such that even when mature forest cover was less than 10%, Sugar Glider occupancy was more than 50%. Therefore, the risk of predation by Sugar Gliders for Swift Parrots and other small birds may be widespread across logged Tasmanian forests. The researchers are now working to determine whether population densities of Sugar Gliders vary with forest cover, and whether this may affect the frequency of predation (Allen et al., 2018).

Total loss of eucalypt forest (ha) between 1997 and 2000 (grey bar). Cumulative loss of eucalypt forest each year from 2000 to 2016 (black line). (c) Webb et al., 2019

There has been another disturbing effect of the Sugar Glider’s behaviour. The high predation on females not only causes severe population decline, but also produces strongly biased adult sex ratios (more than 73% are male) in a normally monogamous species. The research has shown that 50.5% of Swift Parrot nests had shared paternity, although the birds remained socially monogamous, and that shared paternity increased significantly with the local rate of predation on breeding females. This suggests that rates of shared paternity increased when the adult sex ratios became more biased. Nests not predated had fewer fledglings as the local adult sex ratio became more male‐biased, possibly due to more harassment during nesting from unpaired males. Analysis of population viability predicted that the Swift Parrot population would decline by 89.4% over three generations if the birds maintained the lowest observed rate of shared paternity, but reductions of 92.1–94.9% under higher rates of shared paternity. In short, shared paternity is very costly and can lead to changes in the mating system and negative impacts on both individual fitness and long‐term population viability (Heinsohn et al., 2019).

Dejan Stojanovic checks a nest-box (c) Dejan Stojanovic

That the Swift Parrot faces a severe extinction risk is further supported by evidence from a population genetic analysis using samples obtained over six years from across the breeding range of the species. The analysis showed no evidence for genetic differentiation across the samples both spatially and temporally, indicating a lack of population genetic structure and that the species is a single panmictic population, i.e. where all individuals are potential partners and there are no mating restrictions. It supports the premise that Swift Parrots act as a single conservation unit. This is a key difference from sedentary or site-faithful species, because unpredictable resources (flowering Eucalyptus) can stimulate large scale movements of nomadic Swift Parrots away from predator-free offshore islands towards mainland areas with many Sugar Gliders. The researchers conclude that island nesting alone may be insufficient to offset extinction risk from high mainland predation rates and that conservation action in predator-infested mainland habitats will be critical to prevent extinction of the Swift Parrot. Action must include limiting deforestation in breeding habitat, protecting parrot nests in Sugar Glider-infested forests, and augmenting nesting habitat on islands (Stojanovic et al., 2018a).

The hi-tech nest-box door excludes a Sugar Glider. (c) Dejan Stojanovic

In light of the afore-mentioned findings and recommendations, it is reasonable to expect that existing conservation plans could be implemented, and even improved. Regrettably, failings in forest policy and management still allow Swift Parrot breeding habitat in Tasmanian forests to continue to be logged. Positive changes require that official recommendations for the management of threatened fauna be binding on the relevant government agencies, instead of voluntary as now. Also, Swift Parrot habitat requirements must be used to identify areas for exclusion from logging from those areas designated to meet legislated timber quotas. Finally, budgetary provision must be made to compensate for forestry curtailment on private land (Webb et al., 2019).

Thus, if habitat loss continues it will be for socioeconomic reasons, not uncertainty about the species’ requirements. Not to lose time, practical action by the researchers is underway to address conservation needs of the Swift Parrot. Because it is a nomadic species, its unpredictable settlement patterns could make its conservation problematic because of the difficulty to identify where to implement action. However, the research shows that flower bud growth is the primary cue for Swift Parrots to select an area and the parrots settle wherever bud abundance is highest, including the Southern Forest study area. Using this knowledge, the researchers created artificial nests of two types, nest-boxes and carved cavities, at three predicted breeding sites before the birds arrived. The subsequent occupancy of artificial nests was greatest at the site with abundant historical natural nesting sites.

A brood of Swift Parrots in a nest-box. (c) Dejan Stojanovic

The average temperature of nest-boxes (12.8oC) was cooler than natural cavities (14.1oC), the average absolute maximum temperature of nest-boxes (15.6oC) was lower than natural cavities (17.6oC), and the average absolute minimum temperature of nest-boxes (11.0oC) was also lower than natural cavities (12.0oC). Despite these significant temperature differences between artificial and natural nests, differences in clutch size, brood size, or body condition of Swift Parrots in each were not significant. Average clutch size in nest-boxes was 4.55 (+0.85) and in natural cavities 4.33 (+1.02), and brood size in nest-boxes 4.22 (+0.75) and natural cavities 4.06 (+0.98) (Stojanovic et al., 2018b).

A skilled arborist carves an artificial nesting hollow. (c) N. Whiting

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the nest-boxes is the incorporation of hi-tech to exclude Sugar Gliders. The box has a light sensor which, as soon as it’s daytime, automatically detects that there is ambient light and triggers a small motor to open a door over the entrance to release the adult Swift Parrot to continue its normal daytime activity. As the light fades at the end of the day and the Swift Parrot is back in the box, the sensor triggers the door to close for the night. Trials with the nest-boxes have shown that the parrots are not at all disturbed by the light-triggered door. Each nest-box is expensive, but the researchers are crowd-funding to be able to install as many as possible. Similarly, the artificial nesting hollows have proven popular with the Swift Parrots. Carved by volunteer skilled arborists, only two weeks after their completion seven pairs of parrots had claimed hollows and three eggs had been laid.

Stages in the creation of an artificial nesting hollow. (c) DELWP

Therefore it seems that these techniques will help to provide a much-needed breathing-space for the Swift Parrot, during which time it is hoped that forest conservation policy will take due note of the research, and that practices will improve to avoid the extinction of this little nomad.


Allen, M., Webb, M.H., Alves, F., Heinsohn, R. & Stojanovic, D. (2018) Occupancy patterns of the introduced, predatory Sugar Glider in Tasmanian forests. Austral Ecology 43: 470–475.

Heinsohn, R., Olah, G., Webb, M., Peakall, R., & Stojanovic, D. (2019) Sex ratio bias and shared paternity reduce individual fitness and population viability in a critically endangered parrot. Journal of Animal Ecology 88: 502–510.

Stojanovic D., Cook H., Sato C., Alves F., Harris G., McKernan A., Rayner L., Webb Matthew H., Sutherland W. J. & Heinsohn R. (2018b) Pre-emptive action as a measure for conserving nomadic species. Journal of Wildlife Management 83: 64–71.

Stojanovic D., Olah G., Webb M., Peakall R. & Heinsohn R. (2018a) Genetic evidence confirms severe extinction risk for critically endangered swift parrots: implications for conservation management. Animal Conservation 21: 313-323.Webb M. H., Stojanovic D. & Heinsohn R. (2019) Policy failure and conservation paralysis for the critically endangered swift parrot. Pacific Conservation Biology 25: 116–123.

Author: Dr. David Waugh, Correspondent, Loro Parque Fundación

Title photo: Swift Parrot and Eucalyptus flower buds. (c) J.J. Harrison


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Loro Parque Fundación supports genetic profiling of Great Green Macaws in Costa Rica Fri, 06 Sep 2019 20:21:24 +0000 Against a multi-green background of lush vegetation, a splash of yet another shade of intense green commands attention as a flock of Great Green Macaws (Ara ambiguus) flies across the clearing. However, the sighting is not in the forest home of these majestic macaws, but in the controlled environment of the NATUWA Macaw Sanctuary (“Santuario de Lapas NATUWA”) in Puntarenas in western Costa Rica. The 65 Great Green Macaws in the sanctuary (all of the nominate subspecies ambiguus) are integral to the “Ara ambiguus Conservation Project”, a key step of which is to apply molecular biological techniques to survey the genetic variability of these captive individuals.

This genetic survey is regarded as an essential component of the several stages leading to the eventual reintroduction of the macaws to their wet lowland and foothill forests on the eastern (Caribbean) slope of Costa Rica. Genetic variability of wild Great Green Macaws in Costa Rica has previously been studied*, and the value for variability (HE = 0.587) is lower than values for species of macaws with lower (IUCN) categories of threat, but not as low as those reported for other threatened species of macaws (e.g. Hyacinth Macaw Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus, HE = 0.438). The study found a low percentage of related individuals and no evidence of inbreeding.

The hard seeds of the mountain almond are dispersed by Great Green Macaws (c) NATUWA

With its support to the Great Green Macaw project in the NATUWA sanctuary, one of the most important Costa Rican breeding centres, the Loro Parque Fundación (LPF) continues its involvement in efforts to conserve this species and its forest habitat. This involvement commenced in 1997 and has included projects in Ecuador, Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. On the eastern side of the latter country, between 2009 and 2014 the LPF aided activities by Dr. Olivier Chassot and Dr. Guiselle Monge, of the Tropical Science Center, for research and conservation of the species in 340,067 hectares of forest in the Castillo-San Juan-La Selva Biological Corridor, and adjoining areas. These activities have had a positive effect. A census conducted in 1994 revealed an estimated population of 200 individual Great Green Macaws in Costa Rica, but by 2013 a new census estimated the abundance of the species in Nicaragua and Costa Rica to be 1,530 individuals, a significantly higher figure than the 871 extrapolated from 1994 population data.

Aerial view of NATUWA Macaw Sanctuary showing the ample aviaries inter-connected in circles. (c) NATUWA

Nevertheless, the threats to the Great Green Macaw still exist and the species is listed as ‘Endangered’. Annual deforestation rates remain high throughout its geographical distribution, and there is illegal capture for trade, food and feathers. Even the key tree species for the feeding and nesting of the macaw, the mountain almond tree (Dipteryx panamensis) is selectively logged in Costa Rica. Within this apparently unpromising scenario there are windows of opportunity, in particular some protected areas currently depopulated of Great Green Macaws which offer the chance of re-establishment through reintroduction.

Two Great Green Macaws in a sanctuary aviary (c) NATUWA

Hence the purpose of the NATUWA Macaw Sanctuary is to increase the number of A. ambiguus in captivity with a science-based ex-situ breeding programme, leading to a release and in-situ programme for conservation of this speciesin its natural habitat. Given that the macaws help to keep the forest healthy by dispersing seeds of a large variety of trees, NATUWA sustains its management programme for macaws to preserve the functions vital in the wild. The programme involves rescue, rehabilitation and environmental enrichment in spacious aviaries, and experimental reintroduction to the environment. Naturally, the information generated in the sanctuary is being well-used to create awareness within Costa Rica about the protection of the macaws. For all these purposes, the sanctuary receives macaws that are confiscated by the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), as well as those surrendered voluntarily by the general population or through the police and fire departments.

Three plumaged Great Green Macaw chicks at the sanctuary (c) NATUWA

The genetic survey part of the “Ara ambiguus Conservation Project” rests on an important collaboration between the sanctuary and experts elsewhere, notably Dr. Federica Ardizzone and Professor Oliviero Olivieri at the University of Perugia and Professor Mauro Delogu at the University of Bologna, Italy. Also in Italy, another partner is Parco Natura Viva, Bussolengo, and in the United States the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center of Texas A&M University. Using blood samples collected from the 65 macaws, a cutting edge technique (double digest restriction-site associated DNA – ddRADseq) makes possible a genetic characterization and the selection of individuals of higher genetic diversity to form breeding pairs. If each member of the pair likes the other, the first purpose, to avoid any increase in inbreedingrate the sanctuary population, can be fulfilled.

A group of Great Green Macaws in the “Crucitas” aviary (c) NATUWA

This charismatic macaw species will only be saved by the integration of actions which complement each other, but without doubt the use of molecular biology for the genetic profiling of individual macaws will contribute in no small way to help maximise genetic variability within the Great Green Macaw population. The NATUWA Macaw Sanctuary and the LPF are committed to make that happen.

* Ramírez Molina, H. A. (2018) Análisis de variabilidad y diferenciación genética poblacional de la lapa verde (Ara ambiguus) en Costa Rica [Analysis of genetic variability and population differentiation of the Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus) in Costa Rica]. Master’s thesis, Nacional University, Heredia.

Author: Dr. David Waugh, Correspondent, Loro Parque Fundación

Title photo: Three Great Green Macaws at the NATUWA Macaw Sanctuary (c) NATUWA


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