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Refugees (Parrots) with Few Options

White-fronted amazon nesting in palm tree in El Salvador

White-fronted amazon parrot nesting in Palm in Barra de Santiago

Parrots take refuge wherever they can. Sometimes it is in cities where poaching might be less and where there is more protection. Other last stands for many parrots are on steep volcanic slopes, such as our project on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua. Another location is the mangroves along the Atlantic coast of Guatemala where there is still a roost site for the endangered yellow-headed parrot, and possibly for the yellow-naped parrot on the Pacific coast of Honduras, both locales of our current projects. We have wondered if perhaps the parrots are not just roosting there, but also breeding, though we know little about the nesting habits of parrots in mangroves.

Entrance to Barra de Santiago Protected Area

Entrance to Barra de Santiago

This mystery was partially resolved in January 2017 when our yellow-naped parrot project in Guatemala, COLORES, visited a study site in El Salvador. We had been counting parrots from up near the Mexican border and traveling south along the coast until we reached El Salvador.

Once in El Salvador we went to Barra de Santiago Protected Area to meet up with Salvadoran colleagues Adriana Hernandez and Walter Mendez. They are students from the University of El Salvador who wish to document the nesting behavior of the yellow-naped parrot in mangroves. This is an historical study site where this species had been documented in both natural mangrove tree nests and artificial nest cavities.

Climbing mangrove trees looking for parrot nests

Climbing mangrove trees looking for parrot nests

Perhaps one reason that parrots have sanctuary in the mangroves is the difficulty of traversing the terrain, which became immediately clear to us.

mangrove trails looking for parrots

Typical mangrove terrain where parrots nest

You begin by boat, and then land on muddy banks and from there have to crawl over uneven mangrove roots. When returning, you often have to first haul the motor and then the boat out because of lowering tides. The students told us that in the rainy season, they actually have to swim through the mangroves to reach potential nest sites.

We conducted several observation periods looking for nests, and also counting parrots. From what the rangers from MARN (Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources) tell us who have worked here for decades, the number of parrots is decreasing, as are the nest sites.

MARN ranger with parrot conservationist in Barra de Santiago, El Salvador

MARN Ranger Alberto with COLORES Project Director Manuel

I thought of this while counting zero parrots on our last night there. I was laying flat out (due to food poisoning) in a sugar cane field with the mountain El Imposible (The Impossible) to the north. Truly we work with the shadow of the impossible looming over us, to save these parrots and be in solidarity with refugees of all sorts who find themselves in ever narrowing circumstances.

El Imposible mountain in El Salvador

El Imposible (view from sugar cane field)

But wherever two or more conservationists are gathered, there is love and hope.

Parrot hunting crew in El Salvador

Muddy crew back from morning parrot watch (Manuel front left, Dr. Joyner front right, Adriana behind Dr. Joyner and Walter near back with gas can)

Thank you conservationists of El Salvador for making a corridor between our yellow-napes of Guatemala and Honduras. May all those refugees journeying along corridors to safety, either in Central America or other regions, either of the parrot or people kind, find and be offered sanctuary.

One Earth Conservation is dedicated to providing a safe home for parrots and their "people communities" in Latin America. If you would like to help us make a home for these parrot refugees, consider donating your financial resources by going here.

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