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Parrot Conservation in Australia, New Zealand and the Southwest Pacific

Most aviculturists are aware that most parrot species face threats to their continued survival in the wild.  However, I sometimes feel that the successes that we have had both in and out of captivity blinds us to the fact that a great many, including several that are well-established in the pet trade, are still declining in the wild.

Parrot Central

KakapoThe region extending from New Zealand northwest through Australia to New Guinea and the islands of Indonesia is home to the world’s greatest diversity of parrots, with over one half of the known genera represented.  Conservation efforts are most effective in Australia and New Zealand, but less in evidence in New Guinea and islands in the Southwest Pacific.

Threatened Species

Of the many parrot species in need of attention in the area, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) considers 20 to be threatened with.  Particularly troublesome is the fact that almost half of these are listed as either “Endangered” or Critically Endangered”, including the New Caledonian, Kuhl’s and Ultramarine Lorikeets, the Night, Orange-bellied and Golden-shouldered Parrots, the Forbes’ and Orange-fronted Parakeets and the Kakapo.


Habitat Loss

CockatooHabitat loss and alteration is the gravest threats facing Australia’s parrots.  The felling of old trees bearing suitable hollows for nesting is particularly serious, as many parrots have specific requirements as to the size, height and location of nesting hollows, and will not utilize alternatives.  Especially hard hit have been Baudin’s, Carnaby’s and Mitchell’s Cockatoos, but most others are affected as well.

The loss of unique feeding habitats, especially lightly wooded grasslands, has severely impacted superb and swift parrot numbers.  These fertile areas are scarce in Australia, and most have long been converted to agricultural use.

The spread of agriculture and the introduction of exotic plants has benefitted those parrots that have been able to adapt to new diets.  Included among these are Galahs, Long-billed Corellas and Turquoise Parakeets.  However, these species are thriving at the expense of others, and their unnaturally high numbers radically upset the normal species compositions of their habitats.

Livestock and Kangaroos

Centuries of intensive grazing by introduced domestic and feral animals such as rabbits, cattle, sheep, goats and camels has rendered natural plant and tree re-growth impossible in many regions.  Populations of native kangaroos have skyrocketed in those places where permanent water holes have been established for livestock, adding to the overgrazing problem.


Certain parrots rely upon fire to spur the reproduction of food plants, while others inhabit stable environments that rarely experience natural fires.  Human engineered fire use – burning off brush in some habitats while suppressing natural fires in others, threatens parrots in both categories.  Night, Princess, Golden-shouldered and Orange-bellied Parrots have declined radically due to changes in fire frequency.

Islands of the Southwest Pacific

While logging is a grave concern on the Solomon Islands and elsewhere, introduced predators account for the greatest losses in this region.  Five parrot species on New Zealand alone owe their threatened status to non-native predators such as Brush-tailed Possums, cats, black and Norway Rats, ferrets and stoats.

It often surprises those unfamiliar with the region that hunting is still a concern in New Guinea.  The highly endangered palm cockatoo is a much valued food item in some areas, and Pesquet’s Parrots are frequently killed for their plumage.

Further Reading

You can learn what the IUCN is doing to help conserve parrots in the Southwest Pacific here.


Kakapo image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Mnolf
Cockatoo image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Snowmanradio

Research Update – Do Parrots Recognize Individual Human Faces?

Those Observant Parrots
Parrot keepers are well aware that individual birds often “take to” one person or to people of one sex only, and respond with aggression or fear to others.  Long –term pet parrots most definitely react differently to the various people living in the household – seeming to know what they can “get away with” with one person,  when to expect a scratch on the head from another, and so on.

The Brightest Birds
Wildlife biologists at the University of Washington have recently (August, 2008) confirmed that crows do indeed recognize and remember the faces of individual people.  Crows and their relatives – jays, ravens and magpies – are among the most intelligent of birds, and are often compared to parrots in this regard.  I’m quite sure that the results of this research would be duplicated if conducted on parrots.

The Experiment
Researchers wearing masks designated as “dangerous” trapped, banded and released crows on the university’s grounds.  While subsequently walking about the campus wearing the “dangerous” masks, the researchers were consistently scolded and mobbed (harassed) by crows….when unmasked or wearing “neutral” masks, the researchers went unnoticed.  When paired with “neutral” mask wearers on walks, only the “dangerous” researchers drew the crows’ wrath.

Birds Teaching Birds
What’s more, although only 7 crows were trapped (the experiment was later repeated with a larger sample), 47 individual crows scolded the researchers.  Although crows will respond to the alarm calls of others, in some instances the originally trapped crows were not present when others sent up the alarm – obviously the trapped crows had somehow passed along their new-found knowledge to their neighbors!

Implication for Conservation
We’ve long known that fledgling birds will imprint (bond with, to the exclusion of their own species) upon general human characteristics…while hand-rearing barn owls and other species destined for release, I always work from behind a curtain, and such is standard protocol at most zoos.  This study, however, offers the first concrete evidence of individual face recognition.

I’m sure you parrot owners have many stories of your pets’ own remarkable abilities.

An interesting article providing further evidence of the keen environmental and people-oriented awareness possessed by parrots is posted at:

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