The Mysterious and Threatened Yellow-faced Parrot

Locals told us about the yellow-faced parrots at Retiro (station) Alicia, and so we showed up in time to get soaked to the skin, and then spent the next 24 hours trying to warm up in the unseasonably cool weather.  Dry by evening, we documented 134 distinct individual yellow-faced parrots (102 slept at the roost site)  and 2 turquoise-fronted amazon parrots.  Of these there were 10 single birds, 41 pairs, 4 triples, 1 group of four, and a group of 26-31 that came and went throughout the day.

In this group of 26, only 2 birds had a lot of visible yellow and red feathers on their abdomen, and two less so. Also, several birds had feather loss around possibly swollen nares. We saw this same plumage distribution in another separate flock of 41 where 2 had a lot of color on their abdomen, and 2 had moderate amounts of color. In this same flock we also observed 4 juvenile turquoise-fronted amazons. The greater amount of colored abdominal plumage other than green is thought to represent older, male birds.  We might then be seeing older “retired” males or females escorting juvenile flocks of individuals that are not paired up during the breeding season. The loss of feathers around the nares is also thought to be a normal aging feather loss pattern.

When not getting wet or shivering, we spent the day time investigating nests in  termiteria. We confirmed two nests, and were suspicious of another. In one of the nests the female sat tight while we observed her and took measurements of the termiteria. Based on what we saw, we were in the breeding season, and ranch workers told us it was early in breeding season.

We  did discover one other roost site of yellow-faced parrots near Estancia (ranch) San Miguel with a  flock of 67 individuals.  We cannot be sure if these might be some of the same birds we counted at Alicia.  Our estimate then of the number of distinct individuals we saw was 175-242. Not bad considering only a few years ago this species was unknown in Paraguay. (Thanks to Andres Alvaréz for documenting their presence in Paraguay!)

We still have much to learn about this species: What is their breeding ecology?  What does the pattern of feather coloration and loss mean?   When do they breed? Are they poached?  Do they migrate? Is their population stable?

We understand from the locals that this species is not highly prized for the illegal bird trade, for they are shier and less talkative then the sought after turquoise-fronted parrot.  Their conservation status is Near Threatened, however, due to habitat loss. Some of the ranches we visited did purposefully destroy termiteria so as to plant pasture grass for cattle. Others, such as San  Miguel, preserve their termiteria because they are good for the soil.

W

e arranged with the people of Retiro Alicia to protect their birds and monitor their numbers, and were glad to hear from the owners and managers of Estancia San Miguel and Hermosa that they would gladly cooperate to protect all their parrot species.

We were grateful that we found the parrots, and the people to cherish them.

Thanks to all the estancia workers and owners, as well as to Arne Lesterhuis of Guyra, Angie Mendoza of Fauna y Vida, y Dr. Andrez Alvaréz of Universidad Nacional Asunción)