Golden-plumed parakeet (Leptosittaca branickii)

Also known as: Golden-plumed conure
Spanish: Aratinga de Pinceles
GenusLeptosittaca (1)
SizeLength: 35 cm (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

The golden-plumed parakeet is the only long-tailed parakeet found within its range (4). This species is predominantly green with a vivid, narrow, orange band, shading to yellow, that runs from the dark grey bill, below a bare white patch that surrounds the orange eye, and extends behind the eye on elongated feathers (2) (5). The abdomen is washed with yellow, which is mixed with indistinct, broad, orange bars (2). The underside of the flight-feathers are yellowish (2), and the tail is washed with red (5).

The golden-plumed parakeet is found in Columbia, Peru and Ecuador (1).

Found in temperate, cloud forest and elfin forest, usually dominated by evergreen conifers (particularly Podocarpus species). Golden-plumed parakeets are typically present at altitudes of 2,400 to 3,400 metres, but have been found as low as 1,400 metres (4).

Little is known about the biology of the golden-plumed parakeet but there is evidence that breeding occurs in August in Ecuador and February in Columbia, with nest making also having being observed in May. Nests are made in wax palms (Ceroxylon species), but the birds are known to feed predominantly on conifer seeds (Podocarpus species) as well as the seeds from a few other plant species including cultivated maize and the fruit from fig trees (2).

The golden-plumed parakeet is a gregarious species, chattering continuously whilst in feeding flocks (2). When in flight or perched, calls are loud and shrill (5). Golden-plumed parakeets are highly nomadic, making daily altitudinal movements as they move upland to feed and return to lower forests to roost (5). As well as this daily movement, the birds have been known to disappear from areas where they have been found for years, reappearing much later; a behaviour that may be related to food availability (2).

The golden-plumed parakeet is predominantly threatened by habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation, with population numbers under rapid decline. It is believed that 90 to 93 percent of mountain forest has been lost in Columbia, although less in Peru, where the golden-plumed parakeet population appears more stable. Both wax palms and Podocarpus trees, which are essential for nesting and feeding respectively, are being lost through deforestation. Wax palms are also damaged by cattle browsing young trees, and logging in adjacent areas appears to increase their susceptibility to parasites and disease. Many protected areas are affected by burning and grazing, settlement, clearance for agriculture, logging, narcotics and gold mining. Additionally, the golden-plumed parakeet is trapped as an agricultural pest and for the pet trade, particularly in Columbia (4).

Fortunately, golden-plumed parakeets are known to be found in many protected areas including Los Nevados and Cueva de los Guácharos National Parks in Colombia, Podocarpus National Park in Ecuador and Río Abiseo National Park in Peru (4). In 1999, Fundación ProAves with the support of Conservation International, American Bird Conservancy and Loro Parque Fundación began an intensive conservation project, which included the creation of 25 private nature reserves (8,870 hectares) and the reforestation of 36,000 trees, including 10,000 wax palms. They have also joined forces with the Roman Catholic Church with the aim to end the use of wax palm fronds in Palm Sunday services (6). In 2007, there was a high profile campaign in Quito, Ecuador to encourage people to wave corn stalks and branches from ornamental trees instead of fronds from the wax palm, in an attempt to alert people to the plight of the golden-plumed parakeet (7). There have been national television campaigns in Colombia in order to help educate the public about the problems facing parrots and wax palms. The government, police, military, and even rebel guerrilla forces now prohibit the sale or exploitation of wax palms (6).

Future priorities for the golden-plumed parakeet outlined by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) include assessing the species status in Peru, establishing its dependence on wax palms in different regions, as well as developing further protected areas and a network of protected montane forests (4). Continued measures to raise awareness and protect habitat from further degradation and fragmentation, will help to halt the population decline of this little parrot.

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)