Despite having once been abundant, a history of unsustainable trapping has made the strikingly plumaged sun parakeet one of South America’s rarest parrots. Vibrantly coloured, the sun parakeet is largely yellow, with contrasting patches of orange around the head, belly, rump and lower back. The wings are green and blue, with yellow tips, and the long, elaborate tail is green and olive, with a yellow tinge. The sharply curved beak is black, while the dark brown eye is surrounded by a bare white eye ring. The sexes are very similar, but juveniles have a green upper back, a reddish tinge on the lower back and rump, a green throat and an orange breast (2).
The sun parakeet has only recently been described as a full species, as it was formerly considered conspecific with the Jandaya parakeet (A. jandaya), and the golden-capped parakeet (A. auricapillus). However, recent genetic analysis has provided convincing evidence that the sun parakeet is a distinct species (4).
- Also known as
- Sun conure, Yellow conure.
- Average head-body length: 30 cm (2)
- 120 – 130 g (2)
Sun parakeet biology
The sun parakeet can be seen foraging around forest edges for ripe fruits, buds and flowers, using its hooked beak to climb the trees with great agility (2) (6). Whilst foraging, the sun parakeet is often inconspicuous, but during flight, it is extremely noisy, making shrill-like calls. Flocks of up to 30 birds are typical, but larger groups may be observed in areas where food is abundant (2). A rarity of sightings and the species’ small population has contributed to a lack of knowledge about the specific biology of the sun parakeet. Very little is known about its breeding behaviour, but in common with most parrots, it is probably monogamous, pairing with a single partner throughout its breeding life (6). Breeding takes place in February, and a nest is constructed in a cavity of a palm tree. Around three to four eggs are laid, and incubated by the female for a period of approximately one month. The young chicks will remain in the nest for around eight weeks before fledging (7).
Sun parakeet range
The sun parakeet is largely found in central Guyana, and Roraima state in Brazil. The species may also be found in extreme south-eastern Venezuela, near the Brazilian border, but has probably been extirpated from Suriname and French Guiana (5).
Sun parakeet habitat
The sun parakeet inhabits dry, semi-deciduous forest and wooded savanna up to 1,200 metres (2) (5). It also inhabits seasonally flooded varzea forest around the Amazon River (2).
Sun parakeet status
Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).
Sun parakeet threats
Abundant throughout its range until the 1970s, the intensive trapping of wild birds for the pet trade, caused a rapid reduction in population size. Consequently, the sun parakeet is now rare or absent in much of its former range, with an estimated 1,000 to 2,500 wild birds remaining (5). Guyana removed an annual quota of 600 birds from the wild in the 1980s, while around 2,200 birds were exported to the United States alone between 1981 and 1985 (2) (5). The trade in parrots is notoriously popular in Brazilian markets, and although the number of traded wild sun parakeets is unknown, it is likely to be very high (7). Birds are easily captured using seed bait, and whole flocks can be extirpated from an area very easily. The sun parakeet is also threatened by habitat conversion for agriculture and live stock overgrazing, but the severity of these threats have not yet been evaluated (5).
Sun parakeet conservation
The sun parakeet is currently listed on Appendix II of CITES meaning international trade must be regulated and requires export permits (3). However, it has been proposed that the species is upgraded to Appendix I due to the severe detrimental impact of trade on wild populations (5). This would result in the prohibition of international trade in the species, excluding exceptional circumstances, such as scientific research (3). Further proposed conservation measures include, working with the indigenous inhabitants of the Terra Indigena Raposa Serra do Sol and the Amerindian community in Karasabai village, to prevent the trapping of wild birds, and to protect sun parakeet habitat. Further surveys are also required to identify the full extent of the species’ range, and to evaluate the impact of habitat loss and conversion (5).
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- Belonging to the same species.
- When eggs are kept warm so that development is possible.
- Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
- Varzea forest
- Seasonally inundated forests found in the Amazon region.
IUCN Red List (January, 2010)
The World Parrot Trust (January, 2010)
CITES (January, 2010)
Ribas, C.C. and Miyaki, C.Y. (2004) Molecular systematics in Aratinga parakeets: species limits and historical biogeography in the solstitalis group, and the systematic position of Nandayus nenday. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 30: 663-675.
BirdLife International (January, 2010)
Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford..
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 4: Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.