Increasing Knowledge of the Most Endangered Parrots
Parrots magazine|November 2020
Fifty years ago our knowledge of the status of parrots in the wild was limited. Few parrot species were known to be in danger of extinction and these were mainly Amazona parrots which were confined to small islands. At that time very few species had been studied in the wild.
Rosemary Low

Today, knowledge of the status of parrots has increased enormously and nearly all the 400 species have been assessed. We now know that parrots are the most endangered of all the large groups of birds and that about one third of all parrot species are in a threat category. Even if status information had been available 50 years ago, this would not have been the case. The past half century has proved disastrous for parrots due to massive deforestation in all the continents on which they occur, and due to the impact on many species of largely uncontrolled and unsustainable trapping for the pet trade.

In the October issue I described the situation of some species, such as Brazil’s Grey-breasted Conure, Ecuador’s Yellow-faced Parrotlet and Bolivia’s Blue-throated Macaw that have been reduced to populations of fewer than 1,000 individuals due to trapping for the pet trade, mostly illegal. Another species in this category is a cockatoo, which many of us can remember being imported. For example, between 1983 and 1989 more than 350 wild-caught Philippine Cockatoos entered the UK (Cites Trade Database), and many more followed. That number is about one third of the population known to exist today in their natural habitat.

Philippine Cockatoo or Red-vented Cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia)

IUCN Critically Endangered 1994 (1988 Threatened).

Birdlife: 650-1,120 individuals, roughly equivalent to 430-750 mature individuals.

Populations increasing or declining, according to the island inhabited.

Thefts of chicks from nest for the illegal pet trade and deforestation has caused a huge overall population decline, since at least the 1980s. Since 1998 Peter and Indira Widmann have worked tirelessly to save this beautiful cockatoo from extinction, especially to prevent illegal trade. They are directors of the Philippine Cockatoo Conservation Program and co-founders of the Katala Foundation (KFI). They also established the Katala Institute for Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation. This promotes awareness of the need to protect the cockatoo (the Katala) populations and its habitat. Those involved in saving this species in the Philippines do not have an easy task and they deserve our congratulations for what has been achieved so far, with the financial help of Loro Parque Fundacion, the German organisation ZGAP and Chester Zoo, among others. The first and last mentioned organisations successfully reproduce this cockatoo.

Captive breeding: Worldwide, only a few breeders and zoos, with a true commitment to the species, have been consistently successful. Despite the large numbers exported, there are few reproducing pairs, which is highly regrettable. It is well-known that a major cause of failure was caused by private breeders who tried to pair young females with mature males. This almost always resulted in the death of the precious female.

Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis)

IUCN Endangered 2012 (previously Critically Endangered).

BirdLife International population estimate: 50-250 adult individuals.

Habitat loss has been the major cause of the decline of the Night Parrot. Very few people have ever seen one. What does it look like? Imagine a parakeet slightly larger than a wild budgerigar with cryptic, intricately marked yellow-green and black plumage, and huge dark eyes, and with a more horizontal than upright pose – then this is it. And add an unusually long tail.

Many parrot species are active at night, but only the Kakapo and the Night Parrot are truly nocturnal, making them extremely difficult to observe. The Night Parrot almost entered the realms of mythical creatures. It was discovered by Europeans in 1845, and for decades was believed to be extinct. Its unique, terrestrial, nocturnal and possibly nomadic life style had made it a mystery and there was much speculation about its fate. Did it still exist?

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