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Patagonian Conure

Patagonian Conure

IUCN/CITES Status: Least Concern / Appendix II

Wild population: C.p. bloxami: >3000 in Chile; other populations unknown. Decreasing.

Where found: C.p. patagonus: S Argentina, ranging north to C Argentina and S Uruguay.
C.p. conlara: C Argentina.
C.p. andinus: NW Argentina, from Salta and Catamarca south to C Mendoza and N San Luis.
C.p. bloxami: formerly C Chile, now restricted to localities in central provinces, including Bio Bio.

History: The Patagonian Conure or Burrowing Parrot, Cyanoliseus patagonus, is found in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. The population and range of this species were last studied at the end of the 1970s and early 1980s. Patagonian Conures were once very common in Argentina, but are now only abundant in certain regions, this since the beginning of the 19th century. Their decline in Argentina is due to increasing persecution as a crop pest, conversion of habitat to agriculture and increased trapping for the wild bird trade (since 1981 122,914 individuals have been traded internationally – UNEP-WCMC CITES Trade Database, Jan. 2005). Factors of its breeding biology contribute to the fragility of the species, particularly its tendency to breed in large and conspicuous colonies. During the 1990s a significant section of one of these colonies was dynamited for the building of a pedestrian path and car park near to a beach at Segunda Bajada del Faro. An estimated 800 nest sites were destroyed. During the breeding season in 2000 – 2001 this access was enlarged. The attendant noise pollution and disruption from people has caused the colony to be highly disrupted, then inactive for subsequent seasons (J. Massello, P. Quillfeldt, PsittaScene, Nov. 2003, May 2004, May 2005).

Burrowing Parrots are also considered an agricultural pest in Argentina. This label remains despite the fact that very little actual crop damage has been measured (less than 1% of claims) and where it occurs it is only in very specific locations. In spite of this they have been traditionally persecuted and as a consequence several colonies have been destroyed or severely reduced in size. Unfortunately this was the fate of the formerly largest known colony of the species, located on the Quequén Salado River, in the province of Buenos Aires. In the mid-1970’s this colony contained some 45,000 nests. Only a few hundred remain today.

Threats:

  • Persecution as crop pest
  • Poisoning (DDT)
  • Heavy trading on international market
  • Degradation and destruction of breeding colony

Conservation actions:

Since 1998, researcher Dr. Juan Massello and his team have conducted studies of the breeding biology of Patagonian Conures, also known as Burrowing Parrots, at the largest and most important colony of this species in Argentina. WPT has helped researchers to:
  • Study the species' geographic distribution
  • Determine the conservation status of its subspecies in Argentina and Chile
  • Protect the largest known parrot colony
  • Provide education programmes for local people
  • Preserve habitat crucial to the species
  • Uncover the underlying population structure of the species, determine their geographic origins and suggest possible routes of colonisation
  • Research the role the Andes plays as a potential barrier to gene flow among Chilean and Argentinean populations
  • Determine if a hybrid zone exists between two subspecies C. p.andinus and C. p. patagonus, and if individuals of a third subspecies C. p. conlara are hybrids as has been suggested
  • Learn the extent to which ecological and climatic factors influence the population structure

Progress: In 2003 Dr. Massello contacted the World Parrot Trust when his team's work with the Patagonian Conure in Argentina was interrupted due to lack of funds. The researchers' presence has protected the largest cliff-nesting colony of these birds, and when they stopped work, poachers seized the opportunity to collect over 1,000 nestlings for the pet trade. WPT stepped in and provided much needed funds to help continue the effort. In 2004 Graham Harris from Fundación Patagonia Natural (FPN), Bill Conway from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Dr. Jamie Gilardi from the World Parrot Trust held a meeting with the researchers to coordinate a joint conservation programme for the largest known parrot colony. One of the ideas that arose from this congress was an educational campaign for the people and ecotourism interests in the region.

During a visit to Universidad Católica del Norte in neighbouring Chile researchers learned about the critical situation of the Burrowing Parrot colony at Cerro Tololo. The colony has been intensively poached over many years. It has managed to survive, unlike many other colonies in Chile, thanks to the volunteer protection organized by astronomers working at the Interamerican Observatory. In 2009 and 2010, the team went to the region at Cerro Tololo, visited local schools, gave talks, delivered leaflets and got in touch with the locals in order to learn about the local conservation situation. From that work, it was decided that the most effective way of protecting this colony would be to hire wardens during the breeding season. This was begun, with funds from WPT, in the 2010 breeding season. As a result, “picos blancos” (white bills) were seen flying around the colony. This means that for the first time in years the adults breeding at this colony have managed to successfully raise fledglings.

In 2009 the El Condor nest site in Patagonia, Argentina was declared an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International, bringing it one step closer to being spared from development and destruction. As of 2013 the site is still not legally protected due to conflicts between local parties.

Watch a BBC interview with Juan Massello | January 6, 2009 »

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