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Sun Parakeets Will Drive You Crazy: Preliminary Observations

Updated: Feb 11, 2023


(Photo by Agnes Coenen)


When we first started studying sun parakeets in Guyana we thought it would be a slam dunk - just repeat nest and population monitoring as in every other parrot project I have ever worked in to get the desired results.


Wrong! Sun parakeets are very different from macaws or amazon parrots. Every time we think we have figured them out, they throw us a curve ball. So, we needed to see what others had found out. Surely there must be reports of the breeding ecology in the literature. Wrong! No one has studied them in the wild. We were learning that we would need to do a lot of basic science to understand them, which you must do before you can conserve them.




Parakeet rangers heading out to a nesting area



The parakeet rangers of Karasabai, Guyana then set about not only protecting the endangered parakeet from poaching, but also intense observing and data collection. There previous work will be augmented by a recent Tree Climbing and Parrot Conservation Workshop so they can actually look into active nest or roosting cavities to see what is going on with these birds. (blog).



Back of form used to summarize cavity observations


There is much work yet to be done in the next several months and I’ll be going back there in November. In the meantime we’d like to share some preliminary findings, which we presented at a recent workshop “Status and Parrot Conservation in the Guianas” held in Georgetown in September, 2022. The Center for the Study of Biological Diversity cosponsored this with us and we had representatives from parrot monitoring and conservation projects from several countries



Schedule of Parrot Workshop (contact us if you would like to hear about results presented)


We shared with the people present the challenges this species presents that keeps us so far from arriving at clear and simple conclusion on nesting ecology. Here is our list of challenges:


1. The parakeets both nest and roost in the same cavity. Many other parrot species roost in different locations and outside of cavities. This means that when we see parakeets spending the night in a cavity, we don’t know if it’s an active nest with eggs or chicks, or just a roost cavity. Often when parrots spend the night in a cavity, bingo, you have an active nest.

2. They do not always roost in the same cavity in a given week, or year long. We don’t know where they go but suspect that they have several different trees and even areas where they might roost or nest. This makes it difficult to understand their roosting and nesting ecology if they just disappear and go some where else. And when birds do come back we can’t tell if it was the same ones we say before because…

3. The total numbers of birds entering a cavity can change from day to day. Some birds will enter a cavity but decide to spend the night somewhere else. So, the size of the flock in a given cavity is not consistent.

4. Active nests have birds of multiple ages – fledglings, juveniles, eggs, chicks, and more than two adults. So, we don’t know what is going on inside of the cavity as to where the birds are in a cycle of nesting.

5. We don’t know how to age the birds. Younger birds have more green on their back and have duller yellow body feathers that almost appear brown when first fledging. In the wild we don’t know how long it takes them to develop adult plumage which is mostly yellow and orange with some green on the wings (which feathers). We don’t even know what the variation in coloring is in young birds as some may fledge with more or less green on their backs.

Photo

6. We have observed multiple adults with nests with chicks or eggs. We have also seen females mating with or being fed by more than one male, and then they all spend the night in the same cavity. We also see juvenile plumaged birds feeding younger birds, being fed by older birds, and mating with older birds. So, we don’t know who are the parents of any other given birds, and if they might breed communally (look up right term).

7. There appears to be no discernable specific breeding period – they may nest year-long.



Multiple adults and younger birds in one cavity (photo by Andrew Albert)


So far we have recognized 37 cavities (Figure below). We rate them as to how likely they are to be an active nest. If we hear or see chicks, we call it 100% active. If there is repeated breeding behavior, such as entering to feed chicks or the female being left behind for the whole day while the rest of the flock forages, we call it probable. With less evident nesting activity we call it possible. If there is absolutely no indication that any nesting activity is going on, we call it a roost site. All these categories, other than the 100% category are imprecise - that is why we need to climb trees or have some mechanism for taking pictures of videos of the interior of a cavity.





In the active cavities we found that the average number of birds spending the night was 4.9 and ranged from 2 - 11 individuals. There were a range of 1-7 adults present and a range of 0 -7 juveniles present.


Of the cavities suspected of being a nest we found that there was activity year round, although we had to estimate a 9 week breeding cycle to determine this (see below).




The level of our understanding is both exciting, and daunting. There is so much further study that needs to be done. Improving our nest monitoring by being able to climb trees and take pictures of eggs or chicks inside will help, as will the genetic work being undertaken by Robert Spitzer and the parakeet rangers.



The Parakeet Rangers showing their power and invitation to join them


If you’d like to help us understand these birds, we are soliciting proposals for scientific tourism or serious research studies to help us collect data. Please contact us if you are interested in helping out, for in trying to understand them we come to love them, which will help the whole world cherish and conserve them.

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