Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Is the Burrowing Parrot Endangered?

9 October, 2002 - 00:00 -- World Land Trust

The Burrowing Parrot of South America, is a widespread and often very abundant species. So abundant that it is often considered a pest, and shot. But could it be endangered?

The Carolina Parakeet of North America was once very abundant, and farmers shot them in their thousands because of the damage they did to agriculture - but suddenly it was realised they were becoming rare. Even though they had been bred in captivity, by 1914 they were totally extinct. Similarly the Passenger Pigeon, once so numerous that its flocks darkened the sky, and migrating flocks were numbered in millions, also died out in 1914.

It has been suggested that some species need a critical mass in order to survive: once the numbers drop below a certain level, then the population will spiral to extinction. German scientists studying the world's largest known colony in Viedma in Northern Patagonia with over 6000 nests, have noted a decline in recent years, and they have given a warning that the species may become endangered. Burrowing Parrots once nested in huge colonies, all over Patagonia, but these large colonies are very vulnerable to persecution, and are increasingly rare. It is possible that the smaller colonies are actually kept going by the overspill of the huge colonies and without the latter, then the species will suddenly spiral towards extinction.
While not everyone will agree with this theory, there is little doubt that the burrowing parrot has already disappeared from many parts of its range.

It is a very colourful species, and one which the World Land Trust's Patagonian partners - the Fundación Patagonia Natural - are hoping will breed on the Estancia la Esperanza. This 15,000 acre reserve close to the Valdes Peninsula, was recently acquired with funds raised by the WLT, and is already proving a haven for a wide range of bird species. Peregrine Falcons, Eagle Owls, Lesser Rheas, and Crested Tinamous are just a few of the species thriving. Unlike much of the coastal steppe habitat, on the Estancia la Esperanza there are numerous gullies and canyons, which provide ideal habitat for Burrowing Parrots to build their nests.

Conservation is not just about saving species teetering on the brink of extinction - it is also about wildlife in its natural abundance. Anyone who has seen the Gannet colonies on Bass Rock, Monarch Butterflies in California, penguin colonies of the Antarctic, or the herds of antelope in the Serengeti, will appreciate that seeing a few survivors in a zoo, is no substitute. For this reason it is imperative that significant areas of natural habitats are conserved in a way that allows wildlife to live alongside people. The World Land Trust has been pioneering this approach for over 10 years: visit and help save some Patagonian steppe, for the burrowing parrots, and dozens of other species.

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