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.

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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.

Palm cockatoos’ percussion music, video


This Dutch 28 June 2017 video is about palm cockatoos from New Guinea and Australia.

It says about itself (translated):

The drumming cockatoo

With home-made tools like carved sticks, they hit branches. The beat they produce with this is regular and contains repeating patterns. Each bird has its own style.

See also here. And here.

Palm cockatoos beat drum like Ringo Starr: here.

New parrot species discovery in Mexico


The male of the new Amazona species. Photo credit: Tony Silva

From ScienceDaily:

Blue-winged Amazon: A new parrot species from the Yucatán Peninsula

The newly identified Blue-winged Amazon parrot has a loud, short call and evolved from the White-fronted parrot quite recently, about 120,000 years ago

June 27, 2017

In 2014, during a visit to a remote part of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, ornithologist Dr. Miguel A. Gómez Garza came across parrots with a completely different colour pattern from other known species.

A study published today in the open-access journal PeerJ names these birds as a new species based on its distinctive shape, colour pattern, call and behaviour. The paper compares and contrasts the distinguishing features of this species with many other parrots.

The new parrot (Amazona gomezgarzai), referred to as the Blue-winged Amazon because of its primarily blue covert feathers, is characterized by its unique green crown that contrast to blue in other Amazon parrots. This new parrot occupies a similar area in the Yucatán Peninsula as the Yucatán Amazon (A. xantholora) and the White-fronted Amazon (A. albifrons nana) but it does not hybridize with them.

A very distinctive feature of the new taxon is its call, which is loud, sharp, short, repetitive and monotonous; one particular vocalization is more reminiscent of an Accipiter than of any known parrot. The duration of syllables is much longer than in other Amazon parrot species. In flight, the call is a loud, short, sharp and repetitive yak-yak-yak. While perched, the call is mellow and prolonged.

This species lives in small flocks of less than 12 individuals. Pairs and their offspring have a tendency to remain together and are discernible in groups. Like all members of the genus Amazona, this parrot is a herbivore. Its diet consists of seeds, fruits, flowers and leaves obtained in the tree canopy.

The analysis of mitochondrial DNA genes indicates that the blue-winged Amazon has emerged quite recently, or about 120,000 years ago, from within the A. albifrons population. During this time, the taxon differentiated sufficiently to be clearly recognizable as a new species.

There is no conservation program currently in effect to preserve this parrot but its small range and rarity should make its conservation a priority.

Threatened Spix’s macaw, Brazilian girl interviewed


This video says about itself:

RARE bird spotted in Brazil

24 June 2016

BREAKING. Extinct in the wild? Maybe not. 16-year old Damily has filmed a Spix’s Macaw in the wild! BLU IS BACK ⚡

From BirdLife:

19 Jun 2017

The Spix Mystery: one year later

By Edson Ribeiro, SAVE Brasil

On June 19th, 2016, Damilys and her mother Lourdes Oliveira woke up before dawn to look for the Spix’s Macaw Cyanopsitta spixii in the forest near their house in Curaçá, a small town of about 30,000 in the dry Caatinga area of Bahia, Brazil.

The day before, a farmer had assured them he had spotted the rare bird – a surprising claim, since it hadn’t been seen in the wild since 2000. Much to her excitement, 16 year old Damilys not only saw it, but also managed to film it with her mobile phone. After she shared on social media, her video went viral. One year on, we caught up with her back in the forest where she sighted the Spix for the first time.

When you were told that a Spix’s Macaw had been spotted, did you believe it right away?

No, we didn’t believe it at all actually! We thought it would be impossible for the Spix’s Macaw to be back in the Caatinga. It may be its natural habitat, but after so many years without sightings it was unlikely to be true. When we actually saw it ourselves, that’s when we really believed it. In the same way, many people only believed it after seeing the video.

Had you had any false alarms of people spotting the Spix’s Macaw before?

Yes, we had two of them last year, but we didn’t know whether or not they were true. One of them happened before I took the footage. When we were in another expedition after we had spotted it, I heard it myself. But since we had our thoughts so fixed in the idea we can’t say for sure… However, since other people also heard it, we thought that maybe it could be close, and it had only been a few days since the footage.

Why do you know so much about this bird?

I started as a volunteer for SAVE Brasil‘s Spix’s Macaw Project (Ararinha Na Natureza). Since the Project began I’ve always taken advantage of all the opportunities I had to go to the field with the team. When this volunteering opportunity presented itself, I did trainings on vertical climbing and radio telemetry.  And now I’m still with the Project, going to the field, compiling data… it’s our daily routine.

Now we are starting to work with the Blue-winged Macaw Primolius maracana (Near Threatened) to observe and monitor them to help in the Spix’s Macaw reintroduction, since they’re closely related.

Do you still go out often to look for it then?

I’ve gone to all expeditions with the people of the Spix’s Macaw Project and until today I still have the hopes of seeing it again. The first expedition I went to lasted more than 15 days.

We also know that your grandfather Pinpin was an avid birder. Is it true the Macaw appeared right in the area your grandfather donated as a nature reserve?

It all started through him, he always had this will to protect nature. His dream was to donate part of his land to protect the environment and see the Spix’s Macaw fly around again, but he didn’t have enough information on how to do it.

There are many farmers’ associations here in Curaçá, and about four years ago my mom went to one of these association meetings and met the Spix’s Macaw Project staff. Then they presented some proposals and my mom saw that they matched with what my grandfather wanted. After this, he succeeded in making his land a protected area. He got us to open our minds, he has always loved nature, and he taught us that. That’s where all my passion comes from.

Do you think the rediscovery of this Spix’s Macaw has changed the way people in Curaçá see the Caatinga and nature?

The town is divided. One has to have an open mind to learn and see the value in nature. A lot of people see that it has changed, and the rediscovery has brought benefits to the town, but other people say everything is the same…However, most people did notice the change.

But are people looking forward to its comeback?

I believe so. People are very excited about the return of the Spix’s Macaw. We have worked really hard on the Project to raise awareness and people are excited because it’s a species that only existed in the Caatinga. The Spix’s Macaw is the symbol of Curaçá, after all!

The footage was certainly appreciated by the online community – it went viral on Facebook, was shared by more than 1500 people and reached more than one million users. Why do you think the video was such a hit with people all around the world?

We knew it would be a success, but not as much as it was! I think it resonated because it made people curious. I guess many people didn’t believe it and wanted to see the video to know if it was real. Even today, a lot of people still don’t believe it.

We’ve been told you want to study biology. Tell us more!

I’ve always enjoyed walking around here and getting to know new places, and before, I wasn’t aware that this type of work even had a name. Then, through the Project they explained it to me, and now I know this is want. The Project staff influenced me in this decision, and they are very supportive. I want to study biology and become an ornithologist!

Are you aware of any threats affecting Curaçá’s nature?

Yes, the most important threats are poaching, mining, and ranching. I think all species are at risk, mainly the ones that feed on fruits and survive of the Caatinga’s vegetation. Ranching is damaging the vegetation, and mining is worsening the deforestation.

So do you see yourself in the future being a biologist for the Spix’s Macaw Project?

More than a biologist. I see myself speaking the Spix’s Macaw’s language, doing all the reintroduction work I’m currently doing with the Blue-winged Macaw, monitoring the nests, picking up the chicks. I see myself doing the same with Spix’s Macaw chicks and achieving what my grandfather always wanted to see, flocks of Spix’s macaws flying around Curaçá again.