The National Audubon Society has released the 2012 State of North American Birds Report, an impressive annual study that highlights species and habitats at risk. Because many birds respond quickly to changes in their environments, the report’s findings are also useful to organizations studying pesticide use, air quality, pollution, climate change and similar concerns. Compiled in conjunction with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, the report also relies heavily upon the input of “citizen scientists” participating in the Christmas Bird Count and similar projects (please see the articles linked below to learn how to become involved…help is needed and appreciated!). Today I’ll summarize some of the report’s key points, including the disturbing finding that populations of many common birds, including typical garden and feeder visitors, are in steep decline.
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Common Birds in Decline
I was especially troubled to read about the population crashes being experienced by quite a few species that were so common that we might have been tempted to “take them for granted”. But as with so many other animals around the world, large populations are proving no match for rapidly changing environmental conditions. All of the common species on Audubon’s watch list have declined by at least 50%, while the 10 mentioned below have lost 70-82 % of their populations. Bobwhite Quails (one of my all-time favorites to observe and care for), for example, have decreased from approximately 31 million to 5.5 million individuals! Read More »
First, I should explain the odd title. I grew up near the Bronx Zoo and dreamed of a career there since early childhood. Early on, however, responsibilities made it impossible for me to consider zoo work, a notoriously low-paying field. By the early 1980’s, however, things changed and I was volunteering at the Bronx Zoo and doing everything else I could think of to break into the field. But I was a lawyer at the time, and, despite years of experience with well-known animal importers and bird breeders, the zoo’s management did not believe I seriously intended to abandon such a lucrative profession. Then the Pink Pigeons came to the rescue…
After a year of failed attempts, I managed to land an interview for a position as bird keeper. As the curator and I walked and talked, I caught sight of a group of unusual birds, and stepped closer. I thought they might be Pink Pigeons, Nesoenas mayeri. I was shocked, as there were but 12 individuals left in the wild at the time, and captive breeding efforts had only just begun. Read More »
Parrot conservation news is usually dominated by stories covering large, popular species, such as African Greys, Black Palm Cockatoos and Amazons. While interest in these threatened birds is commendable, I also find it useful to focus my reading and writing on less well-known parrots and parrot habitats; for example, please see this article on Echo Parrot Conservation. Today I’d like to address parrot conservation concerns in India.
India’s Parrots and Parakeets
India is home to 12 parrot species, but, overshadowed by the needs of country’s tigers, rhinos and elephants, they have a hard time competing for public attention and funds. Adding to the problem, perhaps, is the popularity of the Indian Ring-Necked Parakeet, a hardy species that has established feral populations in such unlikely places as NYC. The fact that all of India’s wildlife is protected by law furthers the false sense of security. Read More »
December 30, 2011Comments Off on The Cape Parrot – Africa’s Rarest Psittacine Threatened by Disease5301 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 »