Australian king parrot meets Dutch woodpecker


This 7 December 2017 video shows an Australian king parrot in the backyard of Hans Verheij, who made the video, in the Netherlands. Probably, the parrot is an escapee. Here, it meets a male great spotted woodpecker.

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Goffin’s cockatoos’ tool use


This video says about itself:

16 November 2016

Researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna and the University of Oxford report that Goffin’s cockatoos can make and use elongated tools of appropriate shape and length out of amorphous materials, suggesting that the birds can anticipate how the tools will be used.

From the University of Vienna in Austria:

Cockatoo select the right key to insert into a ‘keyhole’

November 8, 2017

The Goffin’s cockatoo is not a specialised tool user in the wild but has shown the capacity to invent and use different types of tools in captivity. Now cognitive biologists from the University of Vienna and the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna tested these parrots in a tool use task, requiring the birds to move objects in relation to a surface. The animals had to choose the correct “key” to insert into a “keyhole” in a box, aligning its shape to the shape of a surface cutout inside the box during insertion. The parrots were not only able to select the correct key but also required fewer placement attempts to align simple shapes than primates in a similar study.

Fitting an object into a matching outline such as inserting a key into a keyhole or inserting the appropriate screwdriver bit into a screw is a recurrent part of many human technical procedures and starts to develop in the first years of our life. In posting games involving coins or letters, two-year-old children also start rotating objects into the proper position before bringing it into contact with a slot. This is largely because, when moving objects in space, they start using other objects in their environment rather than only their own body as reference points: This is called an allocentric frame of reference. It is therefore not surprising that this is an important precondition for the onset of tool use in young infants, such as using a spoon or a rake.

Another important aspect of fitting tasks is geometry and symmetry. For example, inserting a circle into a matching cutout requires no particular orientation while a non-symmetrical object has only one possible correct orientation for insertion. Humans can insert a ball at already one year of age, but require another year before they can insert a cube. Older children (3-4) start rotating and comparing the objects to the cutout while holding them above before they try to insert them. Interestingly, such visual alignment seems to be missing in higher primates such as capuchin monkeys and apes. Despite their considerable dexterity they can only fit simple shapes into corresponding frames and require many placement attempts.

Goffin’s cockatoos are highly playful and inventive parrots, renowned for their intelligence and their ability to develop sophisticated forms of tool use in captivity. Cornelia Habl and Alice Auersperg from the University of Vienna and the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna now tested their shape matching abilities in a setup that required the use of an object as a tool to obtain a food reward.

The study

“We used a box with an exchangeable, transparent front featuring a shaped hole at its centre. When an object was successfully inserted through the hole, a collapsible platform inside the box released a tasty nut at the lower end” says Cornelia Habl who conducted the study at the Goffin Lab in Vienna. “The birds selected the correctly shaped objects from a selection of up to five different shapes almost immediately without requiring any training.” She continues: “Furthermore, they required fewer placement attempts to align simple shapes (circle, square, triangle) than non-human primates. Another interesting finding was that they turned complex object shapes in a way that would minimise their effort during insertion. For example, a cross shaped object would be turned at 90°, so only two protrusions would have to be inserted instead of four, or an L-shaped object with one protrusion facing forward and backward.”

“This indicates that the animals do indeed possess an allocentric frame of reference when moving objects in space similar to two-year-old toddlers” says Alice Auersperg, head of the Goffin Lab in Vienna: “Our findings suggest that the ability to align objects to a corresponding substrate groove is not limited to animals with hand-like appendices. Birds rely more on visual cues than primates.” Follow up research on this study will focus on fine details of object alignment and beak-tongue actions on the object before and during insertion, to evaluate the role of vision in their object placement.

Budgerigars’ colours, new study


This video is called BBC documentary 2014: The Wild Bush Budgie, Nature Documentary.

From ScienceDaily:

How yellow and blue make green in parrots

October 5, 2017

When it comes to spectacular displays of color, birds are obvious standouts in the natural world. Many brightly colored birds get their pigments from the foods that they eat, but that’s not true of parrots. Now, researchers reporting a study of familiar pet store parakeets — also known as budgies — have new evidence to explain how the birds produce their characteristic yellow, blue, and green feathers.

The findings reported in the journal Cell on October 5th promise to add an important dimension to evolutionary studies of parrots, the researchers say.

“Budgerigars are a great system for studying parrot colors because artificial selection over the last 150 years has resulted in a large number of simple Mendelian genetic traits that affect color,” says first author Thomas Cooke, a graduate student at Stanford University. “We identified an uncharacterized gene in budgerigars that is highly expressed in growing feathers and is capable of synthesizing the budgie’s yellow pigments.”

Scientists have studied colors in budgies for more than a century. They knew that parrots produce psittacofulvins, a type of red to yellow pigment that’s not found in any other type of vertebrate. They also knew that an inability to produce yellow pigments in some parakeets turns the birds from yellow and green to blue. But it wasn’t clear which genes and biochemical pathways were involved.

To find out in the new study, the team led by Stanford’s Carlos Bustamante first used genome-wide association mapping to identify a region containing the blue color mutation. That region contained several genes, so it wasn’t yet clear which of them was responsible.

To narrow it down further, the researchers sequenced the DNA of 234 budgies, 105 of which were blue. They also sequenced 15 museum specimens from Australia. Those studies pointed to a single mutated gene (MuPKS) encoding a little-known polyketide synthase enzyme in the blue birds.

In another key experiment, the researchers compared gene expression from feathers of green and yellow versus blue budgies. Those studies showed that MuPKS was highly expressed in birds of both color varieties, but that there was a single amino acid substitution at a conserved residue in the blue budgies.

The researchers next cloned the MuPKS gene and inserted it into yeast to find out if the yeast would begin producing yellow pigments. And they did.

The researchers say it was a surprise to find that a mutation in MuPKS causes such a noticeable color change. That’s because similar genes are found in nearly all birds. The difference is that birds outside the parrot family such as chickens and crows don’t express the enzyme in their feathers. As a result, they aren’t yellow. This discovery suggests the key evolutionary change that led to parrot’s brilliant colors was the pattern of gene expression.

“Presumably the gene has some function in non-parrots besides pigmentation, but we don’t know what that might be,” Cooke said.

Another surprise to the researchers was that the enzyme was most highly expressed in a portion of the feather that dies once the feather is fully formed. It suggests those cells must produce the color and deposit it in neighboring cells before they die.

Color plays an important role in how birds interact with each other, including how they choose mates. The researchers say that as they learn more about how these enzymes are controlled, the findings could be applied to many parrots around the world, from Australia’s crimson rosellas to the burrowing parrots of Argentina.

“It would be interesting to see what sorts of changes at the DNA level underlie coloration differences within and between different species of parrots“, Cooke said.

The researchers were supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Dog helps saving New Zealand parrots


This video says about itself:

This Amazing Dog Helps to Save Endangered Parrots | National Geographic Short Film Showcase

2 October 2017

Ajax is a highly trained border collie who helps locate New Zealand’s endangered kea. This elusive alpine parrot lives in some of the most remote regions of the country’s South Island.

Bringing back pink pigeons, parakeets in Mauritius


This 2009 video from Iowa in the USA is called Mauritius Pink Pigeon at the Blank Park Zoo.

From BirdLife:

5 Sep 2017

Reintroducing the pink pigeon and echo parakeet in Mauritius

By Jean Hugues Gardenne and Obaka Torto

Re-introducing birds to suitable habitats where species have gone extinct is often a very important and sometimes a last resort to sustain the survival of some threatened Mauritian bird species. The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF), a BirdLife International Partner in Mauritius, has a long and successful track record of exploiting bird translocation opportunities at any given time.

In recent years, MWF has worked with other partners in the country like the National Parks and Conservation Service of the Ministry of Agro Industry, the CIEL Group, the United Nation’s Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme, HSBC, and Chester Zoo (UK), to translocate several Mauritian birds, including the Pink Pigeon, Echo Parakeet, Cuckoo Shrike and Paradise Flycatcher from the Black River Gorges National Park in the south west to the east of the island, in Ferney Valley (Bambous Mountains). This strategy has helped to create new subpopulations and increased the total population of some bird species, as it contributes to their distribution, saves them from extinction and loss of genetic diversity.

In the last couple of years, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation has worked tirelessly to increase the population of two rare species of birds found in the island nation and prevented them from extinction. The two species are the Echo Parakeet (Psittacula eques) and the Pink Pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) that were already disappearing. Pink Pigeons are a distinctive species of birds with pale pink body, brown wings and a broad rusty-brown tail. They are known to form long-term pairs and are capable of breeding at any time of the year. These beautiful birds that feed on flowers, leaves and fruits of native and exotic trees are endemic to Mauritius. Recently, Mauritius was ranked by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as having the third most endangered flora in the world – and this poses a major threat to the already declining birds that largely depend on plants for survival. Just like the pink pigeon, the echo parakeet is a parrot endemic to Mauritius. It is the only surviving parrot of the Mascarene Islands as all others have become extinct.

In order to prevent the bird species from disappearing, MWF decided to translocate them. The translocation of the echo parakeet started in February 2015 and the pink pigeon in December 2016. By July 2017, 73 echo parakeets and 30 pink pigeons have been released. The birds are supported by close monitoring since all individuals are identifiable from colour and ID rings, supplementary feeding, predator control, disease control and habitat restoration.

MWF was confident that the birds would breed in future. However, it was amazing when a young un-ringed echo parakeet turned up at the release aviaries in the Ferney Valley in March 2017. Two months later in June 2017, an un-ringed young pink pigeon was sighted with his parents on the same valley. This is the first time that the two birds have bred in the Bambous Mountains in over a century. The confirmed breeding of birds is a yardstick of success and shows that the area is suitable for these birds and is favourably managed. With these young birds of the two species being seen in Ferney Valley, it is obvious that the translocations are a success and hopes are high that many more shall be sighted in the near future.

Bolivian endangered parrots helped by nestboxes


This video from Bolivia says about itself:

Nestboxes Save Macaws!

12 May 2017

In 2017 nine Critically Endangered Blue-throated Macaw chicks have successfully hatched from Armonia’s nest box program. The news is especially encouraging as this is the first time we recorded a chick whose both parents had also fledged from nest boxes. . This clearly shows Blue-throated Macaws are learning to identify nest boxes as a safe place to breed. (Footage: Aidan Maccormick, Editor: Márton Hardy, Soundtrack: Montuno – Latin music no copyright music).

From Birdlife:

21 Aug 2017

Critically Endangered macaws are learning to trust artifical nest boxes

This year, nine Blue-throated Macaw chicks have successfully hatched from nest boxes erected by Armonía (BirdLife in Bolivia) – including the first-ever second-generation nest box fledging.

Found only in the Llanos de Moxos – a tropical savanna in northern Bolivia – the striking Blue-throated Macaw Ara glaucogularis was nearly trapped to extinction as a result of demand for the cage bird trade, until 1984, when live export of the species from Bolivia was banned.

But while that threat has been reduced (if not entirely eliminated), the remaining Blue-throated Macaw population, estimated to be in the low hundreds, faces a significant hurdle in its attempts to rebound. The entirety of its known breeding range is situated on what is now private cattle ranches, and the resultant tree-felling and burning has left the Blue-throated Macaws – picky nesters by necessity – short on viable options.

Blue-throated Macaws prefer trees with spacious cavities to nest in, but 150 years of cattle-ranching has resulted in the clearing of most of the larger trees in the region. The beleaguered species has been recorded to suffer a high rate of nesting failures in recent years, with predation from species such as Southern Caracara Caracara plancus and Toco Toucan Ramphastos toco cited as one of the main factors.

However, since 2006, Asociacion Armonía (BirdLife in Bolivia), the Blue-throated Macaw Species Champion, have been working to boost the species’ nesting options. With support from the Loro Parque Fundación, Bird Endowement – Nido Adopito – El Beni-Factors ™ and the Mohammed bin Zayed Conservation Fund, Armonía has erected numerous next boxes across the southern part of the Blue-throated Macaw’s breeding range, to great effect. In the eleven years since the programme has been running, 71 chicks have successfully hatched – a significant number for a species with such a tiny (50-249) estimated adult population.

This year, nine Blue-throated Macaw chicks fledged from Armonia’s nest boxes – one of which represented a significant milestone in our attempts to save this Critically Endangered species – our first-ever second-generation nest box fledging. Both of its parents were themselves hatched in a nest box seven years ago, and the pair have now returned to raise their own offspring in the same boxes.

Macaws are intelligent birds and much of their behavior is learned from their parents. We are confident that once a macaw pair breeds in a nest box, their offspring will learn this behaviour. – Bennett Hennessy, Development Director, Armonía.

Armonía are now working to improve and expand upon this programme. In 2014, Armonía installed 67 nest boxes in a potentially successful site in the Barba Azul Nature Reserve, where currently Blue-throated Macaws forage and roost, but do not yet breed. It is hoped that in time, these intelligent birds will adjust to the presence of these artificial cavities and begin breeding within this protected area.

Also, Armonía are also constantly revising their nest box designs to better suit the needs of the species as new insights become available. The discovery of a new breeding site this past February has given Armonía furtherinformation on the Blue-throated Macaw’s preferred nesting conditions; as a result, future designs will be taller and more isolated to reflect their preferences.