Parrots ‘teach’ tool use to others


This video says about itself:

Cockatoos learn to make and use a tool

2 September 2014

After a lone Goffin cockatoo figured out how to make and use a simple tool, others have learned the same trick by watching him.

From New Scientist about this:

Zoologger: Cockatoos learn to make and use a tool

03 September 2014 by Michael Marshall

Species: Cacatua goffiniana
Habitat: forests and farmland of a few small islands in Indonesia, problem solving like pros

“Drat, I’ve dropped my nut. It’s fallen out of my cage and I can’t reach it through the bars. What to do, what to do…

“Ooh, what’s Figaro up to? He’s got the same problem… He’s got a piece of wood and he’s breaking off a strip from it, oh and now he’s using it to pull the nut back into reach. I’ve got to try that… Right, got the strip, now to rake that nut in. Yes… Yes… Got it!”

This is a train of thought that most humans could pull off fairly easily, but the majority of animals couldn’t even attempt it. Not so the Goffin cockatoo, a popular pet bird that is proving to be surprisingly quick-thinking. After a lone Goffin cockatoo figured out how to make and use a simple tool, others have learned the same trick by watching him.

Give me my nut!

Goffin cockatoos are very intelligent. Last year it emerged that they can do sequential problem-solving: that is, complete a challenge in which a number of tasks have to be carried out in the right order.

The cockatoos were able to unpick a lock that had three elements. Only once the first element had been opened could the second one be opened, and only after that could they open the third. Five birds managed this with guidance or practice, but one pulled it off unassistedMovie Camera (PLoS One, doi.org/m5q).

Then there are the tools. In 2012, Alice Auersperg at the University of Vienna in Austria and her colleagues saw a captive male Goffin cockatoo called Figaro use a stick to try and retrieve a pebble that had fallen out of his cage. He didn’t succeed, but it suggested he knew how to use the stick as a tool.

So they presented him with a nut that was just out of reach beyond the bars of his cage and a large piece of wood. Figaro bit a large splinter out of the wood and used it to rake in the nut. He did this repeatedly (Current Biology, doi.org/vfr).

Do what I do

Now other Goffin cockatoos have picked up the trick, showing that they can learn from each other. Auersperg’s team allowed six cockatoos to watch Figaro use his splinter, while another six were shown control demonstrations in which either the tool or the food were made to move in a Figaro-like way using magnets.

Of the six birds that saw Figaro at work, three could then pick up and use a splinter to retrieve a nut – and two of these even worked out to make a splinter themselves by chewing one off a larger chunk of wood. None of the control birds managed to retrieve the nut.

The successful birds didn’t imitate Figaro’s technique, however. Instead of the raking motion he used, they used a sideways flick. This suggests they understood that the tool could be used to obtain the nut, and then used trial-and-error to figure out how.

Curiously, the three birds that learned how to use the tools were all males, and those that didn’t figure it out, even after watching Figaro many times, were all female. Given the small sample size that could just be a coincidence, but Auersperg says it could reflect a real difference. “I think the males are probably better at problem-solving,” she says. “They have to supply the females at the nest,” giving them an extra incentive to wise up.

It’s not clear why the cockatoos are so innovative, says Auersperg, but it may be because they live on small islands. “They are in a special situation with unpredictable resources,” she says, and that may have forced them to get smart. So far there are no reports of cockatoos making or using tools in the wild, but Auersperg says they haven’t been studied much. “Whether they use tools or not in the wild is the big question,” she says.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0972

See also here.

Brazilian endangered parakeet new discovery


This video from Brazil, in Portuguese with English subtitles, is called Grey breasted parakeet Conservation Project – AQUASIS.

From BirdLife:

New population of Critically Endangered Parakeet Found in north-east Brazil

By Martin Fowlie, Tue, 12/08/2014 – 09:29

A team of young conservationists in Ceará state, north-east Brazil, has discovered a small population of five Grey-breasted Parakeet Pyrrhura griseipectus. Less than 200 of these parakeets are known to survive in the wild – all in Ceará state. These rare birds are listed as Critically Endangered by BirdLife on the IUCN Red List and face immediate threats such as trafficking for the pet trade and habitat destruction. The newly discovered birds represent the third remnant population of 15 populations which were previously known to exist – the other two existing in Serra do Baturité and Quixadá.

The team, employed by Brazilian NGO Aquasis, was granted a Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) Future Conservationist Awardin 2012. CLP funding allowed the team to conduct several research expeditions with the aim of finding new populations and improving knowledge about the parakeet’s range.

“Last year, as part of our CLP-funded project we found clues suggesting the presence of this species in an isolated mountain, and it was only in March that we were able to confirm and document the finding”, said Fabio Nunes, project leader. “This discovery could be a new hope to add to the existing conservation efforts led by Aquasis and its partners.

Usually, the Grey-breasted Parakeet lives in tropical forests, nesting inside tree hollows. Yet on this occasion, the five individuals were found in a nest located in a small cavity on top of a rocky mountain, above dry vegetation known locally as Caatinga.

The discovery of new populations is excellent news, but the Grey-breasted Parakeet faces an uphill struggle. Having been left in isolation for so long, the genetic make-up of the new  population may be different enough to suggest that uniting populations may be problematic and risky.

The team is now writing a scientific paper to emphasise the importance of this discovery for the survival of the Grey-breasted Parakeet. Future conservation efforts will focus on environmental education, and direct species and habitat conservation activities led by Aquasis and supported by CLP, BirdLife International and other donors.

Aquasis are also the BirdLife Species Guardian for Araripe Manakin and have been supported by Species Champion Sir David Attenborough through the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

The Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) is a partnership between BirdLife InternationalFauna & Flora InternationalConservation International, the Wildlife Conservation Society and BP

All is well, until the last word of this press release: BP. BP, the oil corporation notorious for killing birds and other wildlife by its pollution, uses this laudable program for greenwashing.

Ring-necked parakeets flying and calling


This video is called Rose-ringed [or: ring-necked] parakeets eating mahogany seeds.

Today, a flock of six ring-necked parakeets flying a few metres behind my window, calling.

Photograph a rose-ringed parakeet, get right to name it


Ring-necked parakeet A28 in Leiden with number

Translated from Sleutelstad radio in Leiden, the Netherlands:

Leiden parakeets get names and numbers

Leiden – Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 12:02

Chris de Waard

Already 85 wild parakeets in Leiden have recently received medals around their necks. Researcher Roland Jonker of the Center for Environmental Sciences of Leiden University wants the ‘Parakeets by numbers‘ project to map how the Leiden parakeet population evolves: “We would really like to know where the birds go, we are also curious about the size of the population and how long the Leiden parakeets live.”

The parakeets’ medals have unique letters and numbers, so the parakeets are easily recognizable. It is estimated that in and around Leiden approximately 850 ring-necked parakeets live. So by now about ten percent have clearly visible badges. Jonker hopes that from now on Leiden people will report back massively parakeets with medals by making pictures of them and posting these to the research project’s Facebook page. As a reward, people who rediscover a parakeet may name that bird.

The medals do not hinder the ring-necked parakeets, according to Jonker. Last year a few parakeets got ‘collars’ and when they were caught again later, it turned out they had not been harmed by them.

“Parakeets by numbers” is a joint project of the Center for Environmental Sciences (CML) of Leiden University and City Parrots in collaboration with the Bird Migration Station and Waarneming.nl.

This research project chose medals, not leg bands, for parakeets; as with the numbers, the birds do not have to be caught again to read letters and numbers, causing less stress for the birds.

Ring-necked parakeets conquer Haarlem city


This video is about ring-necked parakeets in Greece.

Dutch SOVON ornithologists estimate there are now about 10,000 ring-necked parakeets in the Netherlands. Mainly in the big cities The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

However, they are spreading to other cities like Haarlem.

The birds showed up for the first time in Haarlem in 2005. Last winter, 500 parakeets were counted at Haarlem sleeping roosts. In June 2014, 937 individuals were counted.

Save macaws in Peru


This video says about itself:

18 June 2014

THE MACAW PROJECT – Help saving the enigmatic macaws of Peru with the power of media

http://igg.me/at/macawmovie

A scientific research project is being implemented in the Tambopata-Candamo region of the southeastern Peruvian Amazon. Thanks to the voluntary work of researchers, we already have a repository of suitable full-HD footage that would require professional editing to produce the desired documentary. Such editing, or post-production, of the footage would include all activities carried out after filming such as editing, sound mixing, recording voiceovers and creating subtitles.

To make this project we have 2 main collaborators:

- Rainforest Expeditions (www.perunature.com) is a Peruvian eco-tourism company that operates 3 award-winning lodges in our research area.
– Filmjungle.eu Society (www.filmjungle.eu) is an NGO funded in 1996 by independent filmmakers. By now the Budapest-based Filmjungle.eu had become the most productive production unit for wildlife films and conservation documentaries in Hungary. Its award winning list of films include titles as Wolfwatching, Invisible Wildlife Photographer, Sharks in my Viewfinder and Budapest Wild.

Nowadays most scientific research [is] only available for a very narrow academic audience by publishing in scientific journals. Often the reality of the field-based research, which underpins these journal articles, is most interesting part and is worth to be communicated to a much broader audience by this kind of documentary. Public awareness is an important goal of any conservation research, and documentary films are great tools to accomplish this — not only by conveying our conservation message to many people around the world, but more crucially revealing truths based on scientific evidence.

You can find more detailed information about the research project at this site.

Read more here.

Ecuador amazon parrots, new study


This video is called Parrot Clay Lick at Yasuni National Park, Amazon, Ecuador.

From the BBC:

23 May 2014 Last updated at 16:44 GMT

Study offers snapshot of rare Ecuador Amazon parrot

By Mark Kinver Environment reporter, BBC News

UK researchers that headed to South America to learn more about one of the world’s rarest parrots have returned with “more questions than answers”.

A team from Chester Zoo spent three weeks studying Ecuador Amazon parrots.

The parrot was only reclassified as a species in its own right in December, before which it was deemed to be a subspecies of a common group of birds.

Only 600 individuals are estimated to remain in the wild, prompting the new species to be listed as Endangered.

“The truth is that we came back with far more questions than answers,” explained expedition leader Mark Pilgrim, director general of Chester Zoo.

“Suddenly, there are a whole number of things that we didn’t expect and we now have questions about.”

One example was how the birds chose their roosting sites amid the mangroves of Cerro Blanco, located along the coast of western Ecuador.

“We knew from literature from our previous visit that the parrots roosted in the mangroves and flew to the dry forests to feed,” Dr Pilgrim told BBC News.

“The assumption was that they did that to protect themselves from predators that were not found on the mangrove islands, but they fly very far out into the mangroves.

“Shrimp farms use bird scaring devices, which are designed to frighten the herons and shore birds and stop them eating the farms’ stock.

“So is this affecting [the parrots'] behaviour? We don’t know.”

Lovesick parrots?

The study also raised questions about the birds’ breeding behaviour.

Based on data from earlier surveys and literature, the researchers assumed that they would be monitoring the parrots during the breeding season.

“However, we did not find any proof that they were breeding at that time,” explained Dr Pilgrim.

The team monitored the daily flights made by the parrots from the mangroves to the dry forests, and the return journey at the end of each day.

“One of the methods used to assess how many of the birds are breeding was to count how many single birds were making the flight.

Although the birds fly in large groups, Dr Pilgrim said it was relatively easy to spot pairs within the group. During the breeding season, it had been assumed that females did not leave their nests in the dry forests because they were incubating eggs or feeding chicks.

“So during the breeding season, you get a higher proportion of single birds travelling back to the mangroves than you do during the non-breeding season,” he suggested.

However, the team only recorded 11% of the birds in flight as “singles”.

“That could suggest that as few as 11% of the population were reproducing, which seems very low,” he observed.

However, Dr Pilgrim said that there was not 100% certainty that when the female is on the eggs in nests within the forest that the male still travels back to the mangroves.

“Maybe not all of them do travel back; maybe some of them stay in the forests in close proximity or share the nest with the female,” he said.

“So while there is some concern, there is still a lot to do before we can make clear and bold statements about what is happening there.”

Double-edged sword

But he added that there were some clearly positive aspects, as far as the remaining habitat was concerned.

“The dry forest area of Cerro Blanco appears to be extremely well protected; there is certainly a lot of ranger activity,” he said.

“All the time we were in the forest, we did not come across a lot of people who could be potentially poaching or tree felling.

“In that sense, it is very reassuring that the area appears to be well protected.”

Although a vast majority of the nation’s mangrove habitat was destroyed in the past to clear the way for shrimp farms, Dr Pilgrim said that the remaining sites were very well protected.

However, he added: “The estimated total population for this species is about 600. But the sub-populations are less than 250 birds. So, based on our findings, the IUCN is now classifying the birds as an endangered species.”

He acknowledged that the classification could be considered as a double-edged sword.

Although its continuing existence on the planet was uncertain, it did mean the species would be considered as a conservation priority, attracting resources.

Before the Ecuador Amazon parrot (Amazona lilacina) was recognised as an individual species, it was considered to be a subspecies of the four-strong Amazona autumnalis group that had a combined population of about five million, meaning it was not deemed to be a conservation priority.

Dr Pilgrim said that plans were in place to repeat the Cerro Blanco survey every third year in order to build up a long-term dataset that would allow researchers to monitor the parrots’ population dynamics.

He observed: “The forest is protected, the mangrove is protected, there does not appear to be a huge amount of nest predation from people, so – in that sense – there is nothing drastic going on that is threatening them right now.”

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