The colorful, elusive Yellow-eared Parrot was considered by many to be a lostspecies until April 1999, when a group of researchers sponsored by ABC andFundación Loro Parque discovered a group of 81 in the misty heights of theColombian Andes.

Since this rediscovery, Yellow-eared Parrot numbers have rebounded due tointensive conservation, but like the Fuertes’s Parrot and Santa MartaParakeet, this bird remains one of the most threatened parrot species inColombia.

The Parrot and the Palm

In most areas where it is found, the Yellow-eared Parrot relies on the waxpalm Ceroxylon quindiuense for its fruit, and to provide nest and roostingsites. This impressive palm, the national tree of Colombia, grows mainly inthe central and eastern Andes. However, local tradition was almost itsundoing, as wax palm fronds were traditionally cut in large numbers each yearfor use in Palm Sunday celebrations and processions. Additionally, the slow-growing palms were logged for wax and wood at unsustainable rates, and cattleate young saplings and palm fruit. As the wax palm became increasingly scarce,so did the Yellow-eared Parrot.

After the bird’s rediscovery, Fundación ProAves (which was formed around thesame time to protect this species) began an intensive campaign to ban the useof wax palm leaves in religious ceremonies, encouraging celebrants tosubstitute the foliage of a common introduced palm instead. This campaign wasalso supported by the Vatican. Reduced demand for wax palm fronds allowedthese majestic trees to recover.

In 2009, a population of approximately 100 birds was located in Colombia at alower elevation, in foothill forest. There, the birds rely upon a differenttype of palm called the Palma Choapo or Bombona.

Feeding on the Fly

Like other parrots such as the Great Green Macaw and Lear’s Macaw (anotherspecies that depends on palm fruit), the Yellow-eared Parrot may wander widelyin search of food, usually in small to mid-sized flocks. Although wax palm isfavored, Yellow-eared Parrots also feed on buds, seeds, and fruits of otherpalms and native trees, as well as ferns. These birds are most noisy andconspicuous at daybreak as they fly from their communal night roosts tofeeding areas.

For a nest site, a pair of Yellow-eared Parrots will use a natural cavity in alarge, decaying wax palm, or gouge one out of a broken-topped palm snag,usually 80 to 100 feet high. This parrot also readily uses artificial nestboxes, as do the Blue-throated Macaw and Thick-billed Parrot. ProAves hassupplemented natural nesting cavities with artificial nest boxes, which hashelped its recovery.

Breeding pairs of Yellow-eared Parrots are sometimes assisted by younger “nesthelpers” while raising their chicks.

Conservation in the Cloud Forest

The Yellow-eared Parrot almost disappeared due to habitat loss – over 90percent of the cloud forest in Colombia has been cleared for farming orsettlement, including the wax palms so essential to this species’ survival.Although it once was found in Ecuador as well as Colombia, the Yellow-earedParrot hasn’t been seen in that country for many years.

Fortunately, in Colombia, conservation efforts centered on saving andrestoring the Yellow-eared Parrot’s habitat and educating local people havebeen successful. These efforts included media campaigns, festivals, ecologicalworkshops, and even a brightly painted “parrot bus” — a mobile classroom thatvisited hundreds of schools around the country, spreading the message ofparrot conservation to more than 150,000 children.

In 2009, ABC, ProAves, and other conservation groups established theThreatened Parrot Corridor, which includes four reserves that protect over18,000 acres of key habitat for endangered parrots including the Yellow-earedParrot, Fuertes’s (or Indigo-winged) Parrot, Rusty-faced Parrot, Golden-plumedParakeet, and Rufous-fronted Parakeet.

By 2010, the Yellow-eared Parrot population had climbed to more than 1,000individuals, and the species was downlisted from Critically Endangered toEndangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Numbers continue toincrease, and birders keen on sighting the Yellow-eared Parrot can find anumber of tour operators that visit its habitat in Colombia.

Source: American Bird Conservancy

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