It’s not easy to stand-out among such spectacular birds as the cockatoos, but the Moluccan Cockatoo (Cacatua moluccensis) does so admirably. In size, color, trainability, and many other ways, it is in a class by itself. This adds to the species’ allure, but there is a downside…wild populations are plummeting, and their needs, as pets, are beyond the capabilities of many owners.
At 20 inches in length, the Moluccan is the largest of the white-colored cockatoos. Females often exceed males in size, and are also distinguished by their brown, as opposed to black, eyes.
The white body feathers, infused with pink, are often described as having a “peach-colored hue”. Even by cockatoo standards, the head crest is magnificent, being very long and colored deep-pink to orange-red. Read More »
The Echo or Mauritius Parakeet (Psittacula eques) population was reduced to 10-12 individuals by the late 1970’s, and remained at similar levels into the next decade. Thus, it had the dubious distinction of being the world’s rarest parrot. Thanks to the efforts of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the World Parrot Trust, and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, its future is now somewhat brighter. However, the Echo Parakeet is still one of, if not the, most endangered parrots on the planet, yet receives little of the attention granted the Kea and other better-known species.
Former Home of the Dodo
The birds of Mauritius, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean, southeast of southern Africa, have a troubled history. The infamous and now extinct Dodo lived there, and the Pink Pigeon, Mauritius Kestrel and other endemics (species found nowhere else) are barely holding on. Read More »
The brilliantly-colored Gouldian Finch is something of an avian anomaly. One of the most sought-after of all cage birds, it is bred in huge numbers by aviculturists worldwide. Wild populations, however, are in serious decline, and have been so for over 30 years. But, in conjunction with governmental and private groups, one dedicated conservationist is helping to brighten the species’ prospects.
Self-made millionaire Michael Fidler was first captivated by Gouldian Finches over 40 years ago, when he chanced upon a group in a store in Manchester, England. From that point on, he has been concerned for their future. And while few people can afford to follow in his footsteps, his efforts illustrate the importance of doing whatever is within one’s abilities on behalf of conservation. Be it through money, ideas, teaching or a new observation, we all have some potential to help. Read More »
December 30, 2011Comments Off on The Cape Parrot – Africa’s Rarest Psittacine Threatened by Disease5724 Views
The problems afflicting the African Gray Parrot have been very much in the news recently (please see video below), and some important conservation efforts have been initiated. Less well-known, however, is the desperate situation facing the Cape Parrot, Poicephalus robustus. With a wild population hovering at approximately 800 individuals, this relative of the Senegal and Meyer’s Parrot is Africa’s rarest Psittacine, and the most threatened bird in South Africa.
650 Years of Habitat Destruction
The Cape Parrot is limited in range to mountainous forests in South Africa (please see photo), a habitat that has been heavily logged for over 650 years. In addition to actual habitat loss, deforestation also limits the availability of the tree hollows. Rare even in intact forests, hollows are essential to Cape Parrot nesting success…the bird cannot adapt and utilize alternative nest sites. Cape Parrots have also been hunted as crop pests and illegally collected for the pet trade.
Disease Complicates Conservation Efforts
But it is disease that may finally finish-off this beautiful, little-studied bird. Just as an unprecedented fungal epidemic is now causing amphibian extinctions worldwide, Cape Parrots are being decimated by a disease that seems not to have been a major threat in the past.
Over the past 5 years, increasing numbers of Cape Parrots have been succumbing to Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD). Long known in both wild and captive populations of many species, PBFD has never affected so many individuals, and to such a degree, as now. In one study along the southern edge of their range, 100% of the Cape Parrots sampled tested positive. Ornithologists fear that some environmental factor is worsening the disease’s effects or increasing its ability to spread.
Researchers noticed that birds undergoing treatment for PBFD quickly began to put on weight and recover when they were fed Yellowwood Tree fruit. Subsequent lab tests confirmed that Yellowwood Tree fruit contains compounds that kill a variety of microbes. Yellowwood Trees are now scarce in the Cape Parrot’s range; a lack of this formerly common food may, to some degree, account for the species’ new susceptibility to PBFD. DNA sequencing of the PBFD virus was also commenced, in order to determine if a recent mutation might be involved.
Other work is in progress. Twenty-five thousand native trees have been planted in Cape Parrot habitat, and 600 nest boxes have been erected. Local communities are paid to care for and monitor the new trees. Potentially toxic plants, introduced from the USA, Japan, Mexico and India, are being studied, and supplementary food sources have been planted. The rehabilitation of PBFD-infected parrots continues. It is hoped that a new population of disease-free Cape Parrots can be established in an area from which they disappeared over 150 years ago.
Established in 2003 by Birdlife International, the WorldBirds Birdwatcher’s Data Base now has 16,000 regular users and over 3 million recorded observations. Unlike many professionally-organized efforts, WorldBirds is open to ornithologists and casual and serious birders alike. It is an excellent, enjoyable way to contribute to worldwide conservation projects and communicate with others who share your passion.
Your Observations Count
Research fund availability and the sheer scope of what needs to be done places severe limits on conservationists…paid professionals can not handle everything. Even when I worked for the Bronx Zoo and other well-funded organizations, I relied heavily upon volunteers. Much of the data that later found its way into professional publications was generated by them, not I. Read More »