Yellow-eared parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis)
|Also known as:||yellow-eared conure/parakeet|
|Spanish:||Aratinga Orejigualda, Periquito Orejiamarillo|
|Size||Size: 42 cm (2)|
|Weight||285 g (2)|
The yellow-eared parrot is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).
As its common name suggests, the colourful yellow-eared parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis) has large yellow ear-patches, which contrast against an otherwise primarily green plumage (4). There is also a yellow band across the forehead, above the heavy, black bill, and the breast and abdomen are tinged yellowish, while the underside of the tail is dusky reddish-brown (2) (4).
The yellow-eared parrot was formerly recorded from all three Andean ranges of Colombia and north-west Ecuador, but currently known only from the Central Andes of Colombia, where a small population clings to existence in a remote, unprotected area (4) (5).
Found in humid mountain forest and partially cleared terrain at between 1,200 and 3,400 metres above sea level, though chiefly between 2,000 and 3,000 metres (2). The yellow-eared parrot is heavily dependent upon the wax palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense) - Colombia’s national tree - for food and nesting, which is now restricted to just a few small pockets in the Andes of Colombia (5) (6).
This gregarious parrot travels in flocks, which wander nomadically or seasonally in search of food (2) (5). The yellow-eared parrot has been observed feeding on the fruit, bark, flowers and shoots of various trees, but particularly the wax palm. This bird also roosts in colonies, normally in three to five palms that are located close together. Here, pairs can be seen sleeping side-by-side and non-paired individuals are situated further apart and on different palm fronds (5).
The breeding season has been recorded from March to May in Colombia and from July to October in Ecuador (2), and nests are located near the roosts of the larger non-breeding flock (5). One of the most unique behaviours of the yellow-eared parrot is the assistance of a third adult bird with parental duties, known as 'brood-helpers', which have been observed helping the breeding parents to feed and care for their chicks (4) (5). Clutches of four eggs have been recorded (2).
Once numerous, the yellow-eared parrot has declined dramatically in the face of hunting for food and habitat destruction for farming and cattle ranching (4) (5). Wax palms, on which this species appears to rely so heavily, have become endangered. For centuries, Colombian Christians have used wax palm fronds for Palm Sunday processions, and peasants fell the wax palms just to strip the highly prized young emerging fronds for sale to worshippers (6). Recruitment of new trees is extremely low due to livestock browsing on young seedlings, thus preventing the natural replacement of the forest, and logging in adjacent areas is increasing the tree’s susceptibility to disease. In addition, hunting of the parrots for food was prolific in Ecuador, and trapping has had some impact in Colombia (4).
Thankfully, due to cooperative conservation efforts the yellow-eared parrot and the wax palm have been given a new lease of life and are well on their way to recovery with a population of 660 birds, a remarkable increase from an estimated 144 just a few short years ago (4) (6). A powerful alliance forged between Conservation International (CI), its partner Fundación ProAves and the Roman Catholic Church has ended the use of wax palm fronds in Palm Sunday services in much of Colombia and the U.S., hailed as one of the most successful biodiversity conservation campaigns in Latin American history. In 1999, Fundación ProAves with the support of CI, American Bird Conservancy, and Loro Parque Fundación began an intensive conservation project, which included the creation of 25 private nature reserves and the reforestation of 36,000 trees, including 10,000 wax palms (6). Breeding sites are being fenced to allow wax palm regeneration and artificial nest boxes are being provided (4). In addition, national television campaigns in Colombia have helped educate the public about the problems the parrot and its habitat face, and government, police, military, and even rebel guerrilla forces now prohibit the sale or exploitation of both wax palms and yellow-eared parrots (6). The historical roosting site in Ecuador has also recently been bought and is being reforested, and it is hoped that a public awareness campaign within the locality will stop hunting for food (4).
For more information on the yellow-eared parrot:
International Conure Association: Yellow-eared Conure Project:
Authenticated (15/12/2006) by Cheryl Burns, President of the International Conure Association (ICA).
IUCN Red List (May, 2011)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1997) Handbook of the Birds of the World – Sandgrouse To Cuckoos. Vol. 4. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
CITES (November, 2006)
BirdLife International (November, 2006)
International Conure Association: Yellow-eared Conure Project (November, 2006)
American Embassy School (June, 2008)