If Not Saved In Time, The World Will Lose Its Parrots

A rainbow lorikeet is a parrot species found in Australia.

The world's most admired group of birds, the parrots, are also the most threatened. A new study, published in Global Change Biology, warns that the current protected areas are not sufficient to save these birds from extinction. According to the study, habitat loss is the biggest threat to parrots, and the fate of these birds relies on changes in policymaking in specific countries where they occur.

Why Parrots?

Several factors contribute to making parrots vulnerable to anthropogenic activities. Many species of parrots have a small historical distribution (confined to islands). Being large-bodied, these birds have low population densities and also attract human hunters. They have long generation times. And, most importantly, forest parrots depend heavily on forest trees for their survival. Around 70% of parrot species are forest-dependent. They are usually cavity-nesters. Thus, the destruction of primary forests across their range negatively affects their reproductive success. Poaching for the pet trade is also rampant in many countries with significant parrot diversity.

Several parrot species like the blue parrot in the above image build their nests in the tree cavities. Loss of trees due to logging or other anthropogenic activities deprives these birds of their nesting sites.

Thus, nearly one-third of the existing species of parrots (398 species) are classified as globally threatened on the IUCN Red List. 18 species are critically endangered, 39 are endangered, and 55 are vulnerable.

What The New Study Reveals

Macaws, a group of New World parrots, in the Amazon rainforest of Peru.

The study was conducted by a team of parrot ecologists from The Australian National University (ANU) and spatial ecologists from the National University of Córdoba, Argentina. The research team used available information on the distribution of parrots and protected areas, IUCN conservation status assessment of parrot species, and the various threats to parrots to analyze potential changes in the conservation status of these birds. 

Their research identified four parrot conservation hotspots - two in the Neotropics (the northeastern Andes and the eastern Amazon Basin) and two in Oceania (southeastern Australia and the island of New Guinea). However, the extinction risk for parrots inhabiting these hotspots was considerably high with habitat loss due to agriculture and timber extraction being the top threats.

The study also highlighted that the current extent of protected areas overlaps with only 10% of the range of all parrot species and is not enough to ensure their long-term survival. Worse still, the most threatened parrot species have the least representation in these protected habitats. 

The researchers suggest that the mitigation measures must focus on the sound management of the parrot conservation hotspots. Policymakers must use threatened parrots as flagship species to further conservation goals. Also, protected areas need to be created to enhance parrot protection in specific parrot conservation hotspots. 

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