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The Ups and Downs of Parrot Nesting Season in Guatemala

Four climbers from WCS - thanks for coming!

Abundance is thy name fortune!

Not only did the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCs) lend us one experienced field technician, parrot conservationist, and tree climber, like they did last year, but sent 4 climbers for our 2019 season! They came from Northern Guatemala to help us understand the nesting success of the endangered yellow-naped parrot in our 6 conservation sites in Southern Guatemala.

Our first conservation area - Tarrales Ecoreserve

We skipped our first monitoring location because the only active nest of yellow-naped amazons is in a dead tree that would be really dangerous to climb. The good news is that it’s harder for poachers to climb as well, and this nest might actually fledge chicks.

Inspecting the nest that the iguana took over

So we passed by that ranch, and ended up at our second location, where our climbers, after an all night bus ride from Northern Guatemala, immediately started going up trees. While getting the ropes ready to climb up to our most likely active nest, we found a dead chick on the ground that appeared dead for only a few hours. It seemed to have died from a wound, likely from an iguana’s bite or nails, and indeed, an iguana was found in the now empty parrot nest. Our guess is that the iguana wanted the cavity and pushed the chick out.

Dead chick at base of tree

Sunrise at our next location

At our next location, we found two nests we had been watching previously that had been poached. After this disappointment, the team started climbing trees from which some activity had been spotted and reported. It is a long shot to just go about willy-nilly climbing trees, but on one tree we struck gold – deep in one cavity we found 3 nestlings ready to fledge! (We confirmed that they did indeed fledge the following week.)

The next tree we visited had a pair of bat falcons perched in the upper branches. Our experienced climber knew what that meant and armed himself with a long branch to swish at the bat falcons each time they swooped upon him, which they did enthusiastically and often.

Bat falcon resting between swoops at climber

The only active nest at this site was a white-fronted parrot nest (female leaving above)

in a rubber tree, a primary crop of the farm where it is located

The following conservation site for yellow-naped amazons didn’t have any active nests, though our climbers went up and down tens of times checking cavities and also putting up nest boxes that the parrots might use as nesting sites next year.

Placing artificial nest boxes

Our next site, Patrocinio!

Going on to our next location, we once again found a raptor in a suspected parrot nest – this time 2 barn owl chicks who clicked and hissed at our climber. Two other trees were suspicious, but because they had Africanized bees we could not climb them (one of these nests was later confirmed to be active through observing parents feeding a chick).

Two barn owls in what had been a parrot nest in previous years

Parrot nest box at this location being used for a nest, and a perch,

after this raptor caught a bird for food

Green parakeets protecting a nest box that had hosted

a white-fronted parrot nest the year before

At our last site we were once again stymied by Africanized bees, but though we couldn’t climb it, we later confirmed it was active through observation. Our other two nests yielded nothing, although the white-fronted parrots had been very actively defending the nest box, which held one old egg.

White-fronted parrot guarding her nest, which she later abandoned ( there were many parrots raising a ruckus near this nest box - perhaps the competition was too great)

So let’s do the math:

6 field locations where we are monitoring and protecting nests, with 7 active nests

1 nest was predated

2 nests were poached

1 nest fledged with three chicks

3 more nests were likely to fledge (trees too dangerous to climb)

At first glance this seems hopeful, as 14 adult parrots were likely to produce 8 or more chicks. Maybe, just maybe, there are enough sneaky parrots where poachers cannot confirm the nest and enough trees that are too dangerous to climb (though poachers will take far more risks than biologists). Further analysis shows the reality of this data:

These 6 areas are located where there are the most yellow-naped parrots in all of Guatemala, which is along the pacific coast of the country leading up into volcanic slopes. We have counted about 200 adults in these 6 sites. This means that Guatemala’s very reduced and endangered population of yellow-naped amazons is producing very few chicks. The partial good news is that we may not have found all of the nests - there may be more successful nests than we have been able to document so far. Regardless, the situation is dire: we don’t know for sure, but current estimates put the entire population at 400-500 (max!) parrots left.

Some species of parrot are doing better, such as these green parakeets nesting in a tree in the center of Retalhuleu, Guatemala, near our Burger King coffee stop at 6 a.m

At our recent workshop on yellow-naped conservation some participants remarked that this low number means that, functionally, this species is extinct in this country.

Our workshop participants, flying free

Going from thousands of active nests 3 decades ago to only a handful is unfortunate, for the parrots yes, but also for the humans who desire parrots to fly free over their native lands.

Scarcity is thy name misfortune!

They may be scarce, but they are also fierce and beautiful!

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