Releasing New World Parrots into the Wild: Conservation Considerations

Jack Clinton-Eitniear



It is common knowledge that a number of New World (Mexico, Central and South American) parrots are at risk for extinction (Parrot action plan publications/Pap/paphome.htm). The reasons for such endangerment include landscape alteration, internal and external trade for pets, hunting for meat and feathers, as well as destroying parrots when they become agricultural pest (both on a small and large scale). Restoring parrot populations to healthy sustaining levels, it stands to reason, often requires a multifaceted approach. A comprehensive conservation plan must address all the factors limiting population growth. If such factors are not dealt with satisfactorily they will continue to hinder population growth and stability will not be achieved. Under some circumstances it has been desirable to incorporate projects involving captive propagation and release of the resulting progeny into the strategy. In this article I review five conservation efforts involving releasing parrots from captivity into the wild. They include the Puerto Rican Amazon, Hispaniolan Amazon, Yellow-shouldered Amazon, Thick-billed Parrot, and two species of Mexican Amazons; the Green-cheeked and the Yellow-headed.

These projects were chosen because the author was familiar with the details surrounding the efforts (see Literature Consulted). Additional projects involving the release of parrots into the wild, all not captive bred, include:

Military Macaws (Guatemala), Blue and Gold Macaws (Trinidad), Various Amazon parrot rehabilitation center releases (Guatemala, Belize, Mexico), Scarlet Macaws (Costa Rica), and Scarlet Macaws (Peru). Undoubtedly other similar efforts are ongoing or planned for the near future.

In order to establish a foundation for this paper I have summarized some of the high points of the five projects. References are included so that the reader can obtain additional details should he/she desire them.

Puerto Rican Amazon (Amazona vittata) in Puerto Rico Captive breeding was initiated in 1973, with the establishment of the Luquillo Aviary. The effort was expanded in 1993 with establishment of a second flock at the Jose L. Vivaldi Aviary in the Rio Abajo Commonwealth Forest. These two captive flocks now ensure against loss of the entire population to a single catastrophic event such as a hurricane or disease. The aviaries also are invaluable as a safe haven for parrot chicks suffering from mishaps in the wild, a genetic reservoir for the species, and a source of parrots for release into the wild.

• 2000 - ten captive-reared birds were released after a training period that addressed 1) developing and improving flight ability, 2) wild food manipulation, and 3) predator avoidance and recognition. They were released into the heart of their rainforest territory with radio transmitters attached. Half did not survive the first year mainly due to Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) predation. The remaining parrots settled in a valley already inhabited by wild parrots

• 2001 - sixteen captive-reared parrots were released with intensified predator avoidance training. All had radios. About half survived the first year but first three month survival was improved over year 2000.

• 2002 - nine all captive-reared parrots were agam released. About half survived first year.

Yellow-shouldered Amazon (Amazon barbadensis) on Margarita Island, Venezuela

Fourteen hand-reared parrots were involved in the project. Four had radios attached and were monitored for eleven months. All survived. Ten of additional twelve birds survived twelve months. The project attributed its success to environmental education, public awareness, studies on parrot biology, and releasing of parrots in an area that maintained a resident parrot population. Estimated cost at $2,800.00 per bird.

Hispaniolan Amazon (Amazona ventralis) releases in Dominican Republic

Forty-nine captive-reared parrots were released in Parque Nacional de! Este, Dominican Republic. The object was to test if survival was related to movements and whether modifying pre-release protocols influenced survival rates. Twenty-four birds (two w/radios) were released in 1997. Twenty-five additional birds were released in 1998. First year survival in 1997 was 30%, 29% in 1998. Increased exercise and reduced blood sampling contribute to a lower early post release mortality in 1998.

 Green-cheeked (Amazona viridigenalis) & Yellow-headed Amazon (Amazona oratrix) released in northeast Mexico. Seven captive-hatched Yellow-headed Amazons and a group of 14 confiscated Yellow-headeds and 16 Greencheeked Amazons. One out of every four was radio-collared (4 Green-cheeked and 6 Yellow-headeds) for 12 months after release. After six months of training, all the birds were successfully converted to a natural diet consisting of wi Id seeds and native fruits. During the eight months of acclimation, the birds were held away from people and domestic animals. Primary motivation to release the birds was their endangered status. Considerations included: disease contamination, 2. Unintended ecological effects, and 3. cultural/genetic pollution of wi Id populations. After 12 months of release, 14 parrots were still observed in the area.

Arizona Thick-billed Parrot (Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha) releases...

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