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New Population Of Critically-Endangered Grey-Breasted Parakeets Discovered

These little conures are the most endangered parakeet species in the Americas, so the new group brings new hope to the dwindling population.

Jessica Pineda

Follow Jessica Pineda on Twitter at @parrotsandvets

This video is from the "NE Viver e Preservar" television program, and is in Portuguese with English subtitles. It provides a great look at the grey-breasted parakeet and the researchers working with the species.

  • 5 grey-breasted parakeets were discovered in a region outside of the two known areas where these birds live.
  • Researchers from the Brazilian NGO Aquasis discovered the birds in an isolated mountain above the Brazilian Caatinga.
  • The team spent a year following up on clues and reported sightings of the birds
  • This is the third known population of birds; the other two are in Serra do Baturité and Quixadá.
  • Researchers believe there are only 300 breeding pairs of this bird, making it the most critically endangered parakeet/conure in the Americas.
  • While a good sign, the new population may have different genetic makeup than the other two populations, which may prevent uniting the populations.

Researchers in the Ceará state of north-east Brazil made a discovery that provides some hope to bird conservationists around the world: 5 critically-endangered grey-breasted parakeets, Pyrrhura griseipectus (also known as the gray-breasted conure). These five birds were found in an isolated mountain above the Caatinga, and have become the third known population of these birds.

Pyrrhura griseipectus -upper body-8a
Grey-Breasted Parakeet/Wikipedia

According to BirdLife, there are only around 30 to 300 adult grey-breasted parakeets (not counting the chicks) in the wild, a population ravaged by two familiar culprits: trapping and habitat loss. The two main populations reside in Serra do Baturité and Quixadá.

A team from the Brazilian NGO Aquasis discovered the new group, after a year of searching for the birds."It was only in March that we were able to confirm and document the finding”, said project leader Fabio Nunes, to BirdLife. "This discovery could be a new hope to add to the existing conservation efforts led by Aquasis and its partners.”

The team had funding help from the Conservation Leadership (CLP) Programme Future Conservation Award, given to them in 2012. The CLP is a partnership of BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International, Conservation International, the Wildlife Conservation Society and BP.

"The discovery of new populations is excellent news,” BirdLife reports, "but the Grey-breasted Parakeet faces an uphill struggle. Having been left in isolation for so long, the genetic make-up of the new population may be different enough to suggest that uniting populations may be problematic and risky.”

The team plans to write a paper on the discovery and to discuss the conservation efforts going forward for all grey-breasted parakeets, both new and old.

Since the early 2000s, conservation groups have been working hard to help this species. 
According to the Grey-Breasted Parakeet Species Fact Sheet on BirdLife, "A large scale education and awareness campaign took place in the Serra de Baturité in 2008 … a principal objective of AQUASIS is to promote it as a flagship species, work which is being supported by local NGO AGUA and ecotourism business Parque das Trilhas. AQUASIS also aims to build capacity for bird-watching and in the process develop awareness and create alternative livelihoods.”

In general, grey-breasted parakeets live in humid forest enclaves known as "sky islands” or "brejos” to the locals, according to BirdLife. The birds look similar to the white-eared conures (Pyrrhura leucotis), but have don’t have quite the same coloration and live further north than the other species.

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