History of the Project

 The Yellow-Eared Conure (Ognorhynchus icterotis) is a large, macaw-sized South American conure. It is highly gregarious, nomadic and strongly dependent on wax palms (Ceroxylon quindiuense). In the early 1900's, this magnificent large brilliant green and yellow conure was abundant across the High Andes of Colombia and northern Ecuador. However, by the 1980's it was clear the species' population was catastrophically declining as large flocks started disappearing at an alarming rate. In the mid-1990's, the species had mysteriously vanished with only two flocks numbering less than 50 individuals known to survive.  

 In response to the increasing grave situation of the species, Niels Krabbe launched a conservation project for the last known flock in Ecuador in 1996. This project was successful in locating the species for short periods in northwest Ecuador and conservation activities were enacted. Unfortunately, the species nomadic movements in the region prevented any detailed information of the species' biology and ecology from being collected. The last sighting in Ecuador of the Yellow-Eared conure was of a pair in September 1998, despite continuing searches for it. The species chances of survival in Ecuador seem to be rapidly diminishing and it is most likely extinct in this area.

  Paul Salaman observed a flock of 24 Yellow-Eared Conures in Central Colombia in October 1997. Early the next year Salaman and Krabbe formed the Proyecto Ognorhynchus with the support of several organizations. The project was an emergency response to study and protect the species in Colombia. Fieldwork started in June 1998 with the goal to locate the species for study to assess threats and formulate a conservation strategy.

The team focused on the species historical geographic range in the central Andes with searches and a poster campaign. The poster campaign worked with the regional environmental government bodies to ask local people to report any sightings of the species. After eleven months of field work and more than 3,500 field hours accumulated, the search for the Yellow-Eared conure in the largest surviving wax palm remnants in the Colombian Andes proved fruitless. Despite promising reports by the local people, the species seemed to have abandoned the historical stronghold. Survival of the Yellow-Eared Conure looked increasingly bleak in Colombia.

     The search was about to end when a Colombian who had seen a campaign poster reported seeing the species. The project fieldworker investigated the claim that originated from a remote valley of central Colombia. Wandering through glades of majestic wax palms late in the afternoon of April 18, 1999, the worker heard the faint but distinctive screams of parrots. Descending from the clouds, two flocks of Yellow-Eared Conures swooped down in tightly synchronized barrel rolls into palm-studded pastures. After almost a year of unsuccessful searches, the project had discovered 61 Yellow-Eared Conures. The parrots, oblivious to the significance of the moment, alighted in the towering wax palms overhead and clambered down the fronds in chattering masses to gorge on bundles of ripening thumb-sized palm fruit.

  Within a week of rediscovering the two flocks, an additional flock was located roosting in an adjacent secluded valley. Occasionally all 81 individuals would gather to socialize before roosting for the night in the palms. Over the coming months a wealth of incredible information on the parrots ecology and natural history was gathered from round-the-clock observations. Later radio transmitters were attached to individual birds, providing extensive information of flock locations and movements over a lengthy period.

Future plans for the project include additional field study, conservation efforts and education of the local communities. The Proyecto Ognorhynchus also will benefit several other species of animals, including three other endangered birds - the Golden-Plumed Conure (Leptosittaca branickii), Rufous-Fronted Parakeet (Bolborhynchus ferruginefrons) and Rusty-Faced Parrot (Hapalopsittaca fuertesi). Observations and notes on these species will be collected during the field studies of the Yellow-EaredConure.

 

More detailed information is available at the Proyecto Ognorhynchus website.  

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