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Nature’s Message is Loud and Clear

Wild yellow-naped parrots flying overhead during a transect survey in Nicaragua

Last week’s blog discussed how parrots are important indicators of both environmental health and the impact of climate change. I mentioned how the science of this needs more study, particularly as it applies to parrots. A few days after the blog was published, an article appeared in the New York Times written by Dr. John W. Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, and Nathan R. Senner, a scientist who studies migratory shorebirds. The article’s headline is, “Shorebirds, the World’s Greatest Travelers, Face Extinction.” Not surprisingly, it seems that many bird species other than parrots are showing the strain of environmental degradation and our changing climate.

Collecting the data to demonstrate the impact of our troubled environment on parrot species in Latin America is not easy to do. One Earth staff and volunteers are often distracted by the urgent need to protect wild parrots’ nests from poachers and rescue, rehabilitate and liberate individual parrots that have been confiscated from and/or injured by poachers. There often is not time to do the deliberate data collection, such as weighing chicks and measuring them over time, that is necessary to track trends in the size of the babies as compared to the local climate in a given nesting season. We also want to disturb nests as little as possible, so parent birds will raise healthy chicks and the number of endangered and threatened parrots living in the wild will increase.

One type of data One Earth does collect is the population size of parrots living in the wild in each of our conservation project areas. To do this, One Earth uses transect surveys, during which people are positioned in four different sections of a specific area and count the number of parrots flying overhead, while noting the time and direction in which they are flying. We then compare the counts from each quarter of the area and duplicate counts are deleted. One Earth trains local people to do such bird counts as often as possible. They also climb trees to check on known nest sites, which are registered and tracked. The people do this to monitor the rate at which baby parrots survive to leave the nest (known as fledging) and to discourage poaching of the registered nests. These techniques together provide information about the status of parrot populations over time.

The disappearance of various species, whether they are parrots, shorebirds or other types of birds, is certainly a harbinger of trouble brewing (not to mention other disappearing animals, such as insects and amphibians). It’s time to listen to what nature is telling us and change our ways, the sooner the better.

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