The blue-throated macaw is critically endangered on the IUCN listing.
At least once a day I get a Facebook post announcing that
another parrot is on an endangered list. Or a critically endangered list. Or that
it's vulnerable. Or rare. Or running out of time. No difference, right?
Wrong. Turns out this endangered business is a lot more complicated
than a few labels. I should have remembered that nothing about parrots is
First, let's be clear about what we
mean when we talk about parrots. Scientists agree that a parrot is a
bird with a curved beak and zygodactyl feet (two toes forward, two toes back). There
are said to be three superfamilies of parrots: the Psittacoidea
("true” parrots); the Cacatuoidea (cockatoos), and the Strigopoidea (New
Then there is the issue of what
"endangered" means. For example, under the US Endangered Species Act
of 1973, there are the two main categories:
E: Endangered (Sec.3.6, Sec.4.a) —
any species that is in danger of
extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range other
than a species of the Class Insecta determined by the Secretary to constitute a
T: Threatened (Sec.3.20,
Sec.4.a) — any species which is likely
to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout
all or a significant portion of its range.
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 defines six
- Extinct — "No reasonable doubt that the
last member of the species has died;”
- "Extinct in the wild" — "Known
only to survive in cultivation" and "despite exhaustive surveys"
has not been seen in the wild;
- "Critically endangered" — "Extremely
high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future,"
- "Endangered" — "Very
high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future,"
- "Vulnerable" — "High risk of extinction in the wild in
medium-term future," and
- "Conservation dependent" — "focus of a specific conservation program" without which the species
would enter one of the above categories.
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List lists nine
specific categories, "set through criteria such as rate of decline,
population size, area of geographic distribution, and degree of population and
- Extinct (EX) – No known individuals
- Extinct in the Wild (EW) – Known only
to survive in captivity, or as a naturalized population outside its historic
- Critically Endangered (CR) – Extremely
high risk of extinction in the wild.
·Endangered (EN) – High risk of
extinction in the wild.
- Vulnerable (VU) – High risk of
endangerment in the wild.
·Near Threatened (NT) – Likely to become
endangered in the near future.
- Least Concern (LC) – Lowest risk. Does
not qualify for a more at risk category. Widespread and abundant taxa are
included in this category.
- Data Deficient (DD) – Not enough data
to make an assessment of its risk of extinction.
·Not Evaluated (NE) – Has not yet been
evaluated against the criteria.
discussing the IUCN Red List, the official term "threatened" is a
grouping of three categories: Critically Endangered, Endangered, and
Then there's CITES (Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which most
people think is some kind of legal policing agency that protects endangered
animals and plants. Actually, CITES is "an international agreement between
governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild
animals and plants does not threaten their survival." In other words,
CITES is about trade; conservation is just one of the items in its vision for
2008 to 2013. Focusing on trade is not as bad as it sounds; after all, most
species end up being endangered because of illegal trade, so licensing and
regulating trade can only help.
lists three categories: Appendices I, II and III. "Appendix I includes species
threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted
only in exceptional circumstances.Appendix II includes
species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be
controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival."Appendix III
contains "species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked
other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade."
OK. So now that we have categories,
it's just a simple matter of counting birds and putting them in the correct
Of course not. We're talking about
There are no Cape parrots in U.S. aviculture. There are brown-necked and grey-headed parrots.
Consider the Cape parrot. We used to
believe it was a subspecies of the Poicephalus robustus, along with
the brown-necked parrot and the grey-headed parrot, until DNA came
along. By 2001 the Cape was determined to be a single species (Poicephalus
robustus robustus), unrelated to the grey-headed parrot (Poicephalus
fuscicollis suahelicus) and brown-necked parrot (Poicephalus fuscicollis
fuscicollis) we see in North America.
Okay, it's all clear now. The Cape
parrot is considered to be an endangered species.
Well, not exactly. There are fewer than
1,000 Cape parrots alive today, and that's the high estimate. Their numbers are
dropping because their habitat is being destroyed and they have also been
falling victim to an outbreak of psittacine beak and feather disease
That sounds pretty endangered to most
folks; even CITES put the Cape parrot into Appendix II.However, the IUCN lists the Cape Parrot as
"least concern." They use the classification from BirdLife
International that the Cape parrot is not a separate species, and state,
"… this split is not accepted until better evidence is provided."
This means the combined numbers of the Cape parrot along with the brown-necked
parrot and grey-headed parrot are high enough not to warrant a threatened
So just how many endangered parrots are there?
There are over 350 species of parrot;
the IUCN lists 130 as near threatened (or worse) and 16 as critically
endangered. When CITES took effect in 1975, they listed 24 parrots in their
Appendix I category. Since then, 32 more parrot species have been added to that
Like parrots, there is no one easy
answer. Illegal trade and habitat destruction are probably the two biggest
Yes! There are several organizations
working to save and repopulate endangered parrot species. Most parrot people
are familiar with the World Parrot Trust, which sponsors many specific efforts
to save endangered species.
The Parrot Society UK donates funds to
various specific conservation projects.Likewise, the Parrot Society of Australia contributes funds to specific
parrot species. Many other organizations help conserve parrots along with other
animals, such as the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, the World Land Trust
(US), the Loro Parque Foundation, and dozens more. There are far too many other
organizations throughout the world that provide information and education about
endangered parrots to list in an article like this.
The most important thing you can do is
educate yourself about parrots. Our knowledge of parrots and their habitats and
requirements has exploded in the past ten years and much of that knowledge is
freely available on the Internet and in your local library.
Donate money to a specific species or
to an organization that is working to save more than one species.
Volunteer your time and skills to
conservation efforts. Join a field study
in an exotic place and work with like-minded souls to study and help protect
Talk about it. Tell your friends and
neighbors. Send more posts to Facebook and Twitter. Spread the word.
Remember: somewhere, a parrot is
running out of time.