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Rosemary Low Gives a Parrot Conservation Update

A 2022 Parrot conservation update. There are approximately 400 species of Parrots in existence today. Rosemary Low gives us a 2022 update on Parrots and conservation projects in the wild. Unfortunately, Parrots are notable for having the highest number of threatened species of all non-passerine bird orders.

Here, Rosemary shares with us some of the ongoing projects around the world tackling this issue…

2022 Conservation Update On Parrots

More than one quarter are threatened with extinction

In 2020 BirdLife International (the major bird conservation organisation) stated that of 394 extant species of Parrots, 117 (29 %) were listed as threatened. This data is according to the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).

Kakapo in Australia

Kakapo in Australia

Habitat Loss

The lives of individual Parrots in the wild and the continued existence of most Parrot species, are severely affected by human-induced threats. Such as climate change. Parrots are directly affected by habitat loss, shortage of nest sites or trapping for the pet trade. They can be killed as crop pests or even for their feathers.

Deforestation

Of course, human over-population is the most serious cause of habitat loss. As tropical and subtropical forests, the habitats of most Parrot species, are destroyed to grow more food and to build more towns. Deforestation is a major cause of climate change, affecting everyone on this planet.

Growing Awareness of Parrots

Information on these issues has become readily available to everyone. Awareness of Parrots as highly intelligent, sentient creatures with emotions that can be compared with our own is growing. These qualities, for birds in general, were denied, especially by scientists, until recently. Sadly, that is still true today in many areas of the world.

Conservation Efforts

Parrots are a very special group of birds and extremely desirable to the human race, for several obvious reasons. At last, but too late for some species, in many (but not all countries) there are huge conservation efforts. Aiming to prevent further population declines and looming extinctions.

For some species it will be years before population increases are achieved. I relate the stories of some of these attempts, by many inspirational scientists and field workers, in my book Parrot Conservation, which was published in 2021.

Its 430 pages are already out of date for some species. In the world of conservation, things can sometimes happen quickly or unexpectedly. So here I would like to bring you some of the good news stories…

2022 Parrot Conservation Update: Ecuador and Conservation

Macaws in the wild

Macaws in the wild

Those of you who keep Pyrrhura Parakeets, such as the Green-cheeked, and the mutations such as Pineapple, know how readily these birds accept a nest-box and settle down to breed. Fortunately, the same is true of some species in the wild.

Pyrrhura species habitat loss

In the Andes, where some Pyrrhura species have very small ranges, have been severely affected by habitat loss. There’s also a lack of suitable nesting trees. The combination of the creation of  reserves and the provision of nest-boxes has produced spectacular results. The country of Ecuador saw the founding of the NGO Fundacion Jocotoco in 1998 and in 1999 it set up a reserve, partly from abandoned cattle pasture, and started to reforest it.

Buenaventura reserve

The Buenaventura reserve has increased from only 187 hectares to 3,520 hectares. In 2002, only 60 El Oro Parakeets (Pyrrhura orcesi) were protected within the Buenaventura Reserve. Here, there was a shortage of nest sites.

Nest Box Provisions Increasing Population

From 2008 to 2014, due to the provision of nest boxes, the population had increased from 170-180 individuals to 300 to 400 within the reserve. 2015 saw the first recorded fledging of young from some of the 60 nest-boxes outside the reserve took place. Another 60 boxes had been erected within the reserve.

More Successful Fledging

An excellent breeding season for the El Oro Parakeets occurred in 2020, with 114 Parakeets fledged from the nests. From the start of the nest-box conservation programme to 2020, a remarkable total of 559 young successfully fledged from the artificial nests. This included those outside the reserve too. By 2020 the number within the reserve had increased to 240.

Habitat corridors linking reserves and habitat restoration are essential for the long-term survival of this Parakeet.

2022 Parrot Conservation Update: Chile and Conservation

One of the most beautiful and one of the most persecuted Parakeets in South America is the Patagonian Conure. The nominate race from Argentina has been a much-loved pet and breeding bird for many aviculturists. Mainly due to the appalling numbers trapped for export.

Parakeets and Bloxami species at risk

The larger Chilean  subspecies, bloxami, has always been very rare in aviculture. It, too, was terribly persecuted in the past. These birds nest in cliffs or in ravines in hillsides. Fearless men would lower themselves on ropes down to nests and take out chicks, to kill for food. In more recent times the chicks were reared to sell as pets and to street musicians with barrel organs, as an added attraction.

Burrowing Parrots Observation

Christian Boracic is director of Fauna Australia, part of the Catholic University of Chile. In 1986 he saw Burrowing Parrots, as they are also called, in the Rio de los Cipreses National Park in central Chile. He started to study them and made counts over a period and found only 217.

Only fragmented populations survived in Chile and they had become extinct in some areas. In 1986 the area became a reserve; 6,000 cattle were gradually removed from the area and in 1972 a law was brought in forbidding the killing of the Parakeets.

First conservation plan introduced

However, little enforcement occurred and by 1982 the Parakeet was in a critical situation. So the national forest organisation CONAF developed its first conservation plan and declared the bird Endangered. In 1996 it became illegal to capture it or to take eggs and chicks.

Number of Colonies Increasing

Gradually the natural vegetation returned, providing food for the Burrowing Parrots. By 2008 the number of colonies had increased to six. Now there are 15 colonies in the reserve and two outside it.

The great news is that according to the most recent CONAF count, there are 4,478 Burrowing Parrots! Laws and their enforcement and habitat protection have been the key to saving this handsome Parakeet.

2022 Parrot Conservation Update: New Zealand and Conservation

Increasingly, habitat restoration is contributing to increasing populations of some endangered Parrots. In New Zealand Department of Conservation personnel have been pioneers. Working for years to clear small islands of introduced species, mammals and plants. They have achieved remarkable successes in their conservation projects. These islands are then used as safe sanctuaries for endangered birds and other wildlife.

Success Story – Strigops Habroptila

There is no better example worldwide than that of the Kakapo (Strigops habroptila) which survives only on offshore island sanctuaries. The strangest Parrot on earth, fossil evidence indicates that the Kakapo diverged from the Kea/Kaka lineage about 60–80 million years ago.

Baby Kakapos

Baby Kakapos

Kakapo Parrots

It took humans little more than a century, mainly from 1845 when a Kakapo was found for the first time by a European, to bring it to the brink of extinction. It has so many extraordinary features. The world’s heaviest surviving Parrot, and the only flightless one, males weigh up to 3.7kg (8lb) and females up to 2kg (4.5lb).

It has a facial disc of sensory bristle-like feathers from which arose the now obsolete name of Owl Parrot. When it walks, its body and head are held horizontally.

Facing Extinction

By the 1980s only a few birds had survived. All on Stewart Island where the survivors’ numbers were rapidly reduced by cats. The point came when it was believed the Kakapo was effectively extinct as no females were known.

Fortunately, a few had survived… It was a tremendous battle, led by the Department of Conservation’s hero, the late Don Merton, to pull the species back from the brink of extinction. For years, volunteers have watched over every nest to prevent predation, removing eggs and chicks when necessary.

Nest Monitoring

On April 14 2022 Deidre Vercoe (Department of Conservation Operations Manager) reported the remarkable total of 57 chicks alive. Most were with the females (males play no role in rearing young) on Anchor and Whenua Hou islands.

This good news was slightly diminished after the death of one breeding female from aspergillosis on Anchor Island. Even more intensive management than usual was necessary. Nest monitoring frequency was increased to every four days (previously from 7-14 days depending on nest status).

Detecting Infection and Prevention

Blood samples were taken from all chicks on Anchor Island and several nesting mothers where possible, to help detect infection. Laryngeal swabs were taken on all chicks on Anchor and Whenua Hou islands, for lateral flow tests, which are being trialed for aspergillus detection.

Nest attendance by females and their activity levels were monitored very closely.  Changes in nest attendance patterns, combined with concerning blood results, led to the transfer of two other nesting mothers from Anchor for CT scans.

One was cleared of aspergillosis and returned to her location but the other was severely affected and in a critical condition. She was showing some improvement at Auckland Zoo.  A third nesting mother, who had been sent to Auckland Zoo for CT scanning, after her chick failed to gain weight, was cleared of aspergillosis and returned to Anchor.

Kakapo Parrots in the wild

Kakapo Parrots in the wild

Outbreak in Numbers

The actions gave confidence that this was unlikely to be a widespread aspergillosis outbreak. Despite these worries, the record number of chicks is cause for celebration. Numbers hatched in some recent years have been as follows:

2002    24
2005      4
2008      6
2016    34

This century started with only 62 Kakapo in existence (exact numbers known as all birds are monitored on the reserves) and the population gradually increased until it was hit hard by an aspergillus outbreak in 2019.  The population figures were as follows:

2000   62
2012   125
2017   153
2019   147
2020   205
2021   2022

The year 2022 will hopefully break all the best records! Congratulations are due to the dedicated staff and volunteers who watch over every individual of the most iconic Parrots in existence.

2022 Parrot Conservation Update – Photo Credits
Andrew Digby, Dept of Conservation
Agnes Coenen

Read more articles from Rosemary Low here 

Keep up to date on Everything for your Parrot here





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