A Truly Superb Psittacine – the Superb Parrot or Barraband’s Parakeet

Superb Parrot” width=Gorgeous, friendly and a talented mimic, this Australian native truly lives up to its name.  The Superb Parrot (Polytelis swainsoni), although not as commonly kept as many related species, is very hardy and an excellent choice for those wishing to expand their parrot-keeping horizons.

Description and Natural History

The Superb Parrot has a slim, elongated body of 12-14 inches in length.  The torso is clad in brilliant green and the flight feathers are blue.  The male’s forehead, throat and cheeks are bright yellow, and the throat is decorated with a splash of crimson red.  Read More »

World Cup Twist – Parrots and Vultures Weigh-In with Predictions

VultureMany soccer fans have favorite methods of predicting game outcomes, but 2 bird-based “systems” that arose during the recent World Cup mania struck me as truly unique and, in one case, quite disturbing.  The species involved were Rose-Ringed Parakeets (Psittacula krameri) and Cape Vultures (Gryps coprotheres).

Singapore’s Fortune Teller

Mani the Rose-Ringed Parakeet had already built up quite a reputation as a soothsayer in Singapore’s “Little India” community before this year’s World Cup catapulted him into international fame.  Owned by an 80-year-old fortune teller, the bird had been offering gambling and marriage “advice” to local people for years.  Read More »

Rare Australian Cockatoo Chicks Hatch – Population Now at 25 Birds

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo maleAlthough a total population of 25 individuals does not sound very promising, hope remains that the Eyre Peninsula population of Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus funereus xanthanotus) will rebound.  With only 9 birds believed left in the wild, even the hatching of single chick, the first since the devastating brush fires of January, 2005, is cause for celebration.  A second chick, hatched at the George Wildlife Park in Adelaide, brought the captive population to 15.

Fires Deliver the Knockout Punch

While this species does range into other parts of Australia, the isolated population inhabiting South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula has long been at risk of extinction.  The massive fires of 2005 pushed them further towards the brink, destroying breeding habitat and depressing food supplies. Read More »

The Great Crane Escape or “Should I Trim My Bird’s Flight Feathers?” – Part 2

Sarus CraneIn Part 1 of this article I mentioned some general considerations regarding the trimming of flight feathers, and then launched into a story about a huge Saurus Crane (Grus antigone) that, while under my care at the Bronx Zoo, launched itself into the air and went sailing out over the South Bronx (its previously trimmed flight feathers had grown back in with astonishing rapidity).  I continue with the story here….

Brave Young Bird Keeper to the Rescue

Amazingly, while I was out searching for the nearly 6-foot-tall Saurus Crane, a 13-year-old boy of slight stature showed up at the zoo with the huge bird in tow.  He had its rapier-like bill, which had sent one keeper to the hospital for stitches in the past, tucked beneath his arm, exactly as should be done with potentially dangerous birds.  Read More »

Bird Extinction Announced – the Alaotra Grebe is Gone Forever

Only known photo of now extinct Alaotra GrebeChristening 2010 the “International Year of Biodiversity” has unfortunately been of no use to the Alaotra Grebe (Tachybaptus rufolavatus).  The small waterbird, once endemic to Madagascar, has become the first avian species to be declared extinct since the Liverpool Pigeon disappeared in 2008.  Birdlife International which recently (May, 2010) added the Alaotra Grebe to the IUCN Red List of Extinct Species, noted that it has not been sighted since 1985, despite surveys of the single brackish lake in which it dwelled.

The image posted with this article is the only known photograph of the Alaotra Grebe.  Other recently extinct birds, such as the penguin-like Great Auk, are known only from museum specimens (please see photo).

Recent Bird Extinctions

The Alaotra Grebe joins over 130 other birds that have disappeared since the year 1500.  Nearly all bird families have been affected, with parrots and flightless island dwellers being particularly hard-hit.  In the last 25 years, 2 other grebes (the Columbian and Atlitan Grebes) have become extinct; Peru’s Junin Grebe is thought to be represented by a mere 250 individuals.

In the USA, Hawaii’s Po’ouli Honeycreeper is believed extinct.  Worldwide, 190 species of birds are considered to be Critically Endangered and facing imminent extinction.

Why the Alaotra Grebe was Lost

Although detailed studies have not been conducted, it appears that a number of sinister factors combined to seal the Alaotra Grebe’s fate.  Two large species of predatory fishes that were introduced to Lake Alaotra, the grebe’s sole habitat, consumed chicks and out-competed the birds for food (small fish).  Also, a drastic increase in the use of gill nets by local fisherman resulted in many grebes being drowned, and introduced plants have destroyed critical nesting areas.

Why Should We Care?

Great Auk
I have often faced this question when speaking of the disappearance of seemingly “inconsequential” creatures, especially when addressing children in NYC and others far removed from “nature”.  The answers are numerous and complex, and I must admit that I was not always successful in generating concern.

Birdlife International has come up with a wonderful idea…readers can post their opinions as to why the extinction of this bird, or any plant or animal, should concern us.  There are already a great many insightful comments…please add your own here.


Further Reading

Please check out this BBC article for more bad and good bird conservation news.

Alaotra Grebe image referenced from wikipedia and originally Paul Thompson


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