Sun parakeets, like the sun, move across landscapes from east to west. There is a small population of them left in Guyana, though their historical range was much greater before trapping for the wildlife trade mostly wiped them out in that country. None were seen for years but they began appearing again in the 1980s, and based upon our monthly counts, they move frequently to and from Brazil, which is to the west of Guyana. The larger resident population of this endangered bird appears to be in Brazil, and to protect the birds that move freely over the human-made national boundary, both countries need to have conservation programs protecting this species.
Sunrise over the purple plains of West Virginia as Dr. Joyner wings her way
first east and then south to Brazil.
There is a strong conservation program in Karasabai, Guyana and to help Brazil take their next step in sun parakeet conservation, I journeyed with the Parakeet Rangers of Karasabai to Boa Vista, Brazil to be part of a four-day training, conference, in-the-field teaching, and conservation planning.
Presentations were part of the bi-national conference where we heard about research findings and conservation efforts in both Brazil and Guyana
(speaking are Dr. Whaldener Endo and Willington Millington)
The first evening's parrot count in Brazil.
We knew we couldn’t visit the majority of the communities where sun parakeets fly free because these communities are located in Indigenous territory and permission to enter must be obtained first, and is not easy to procure. We did hope to see the resident population of parakeets in Boa Vista, but alas, it was not to be.
First morning's parrot count
Some of the many people we met during the workshop, and during the in-the-field trainings, including J. Pavani of Birding Roraima in the video below, told us that they regularly used to see the birds, but not for the last several months. I was surprised to hear about how many people sought the birds out to count them, and to bask in their sunny orange and yellow colors. They told us they were worried and sad about the birds. No one knows where they have gone, and speculations included the hypotheses that the current drought was responsible and the birds moved off to another location, or that the birds had been trapped (illegally).
Before returning to Guyana, a bi-national working group was formed, committed to helping with sun parakeet conservation on both sides of the border. A crucial component will be the engagement and leadership of the Indigenous communities where the birds currently exist. The work conducted at the Federal University of Roraima by Dr. Whaldner Endo (pictured above) in partnership with the American Bird Conservancy suggests that community members feel that there are more sun parakeets than decades before. So maybe they are already being protected by the people in these communities, in ways that conform to their traditional land use. But there has also been a severe loss of habitat and intensification of agriculture, and there is conflict with the species because they are reported to eat the corn the communities plant. Birds are trapped and shot to reduce loss of their crops.
Parakeet rangers teach their counterparts in Brazil how to climb up to parakeet nests.
What we learned on this trip is that there is ongoing love and threats on both sides of the border. There are also tremendous human resources to keep this bird flying free wherever they need to go, hopefully throughout their historical range once again. May it be so.
The last evening's parrot count.