In northeastern Brazil’s Baturité Mountains, strategically placed nest boxes are helping to restore populations of one of the world’s most endangered wild parrots. The Gray-breasted Parakeet, once considered a subspecies of the White-eared Parakeet, is making a comeback thanks to a program managed by Brazilian group Aquasis, an American Bird Conservancy partner. In the last five years, the effort has added hundreds of birds to the Gray-breasted Parakeet population. In 2018 alone, 234 chicks fledged from 62 nest boxes.
Gray-breasted Parakeets occur in humid mountain forests in the otherwise semi-arid landscape of northeast Brazil. These wet “sky islands,” known locally as “brejos,” are restricted to upland granite or sandstone areas, which receive up to four times the annual rainfall of lower altitudes. Although the species was known historically from 15 locations, the parakeets can now be found only in a few areas, all within Brazil’s Ceará state. Barely 13 percent of the parakeet’s original mountaintop forest habitat remains.
This parakeet is a social species that lives in family groups of four to 15 individuals. Females normally lay an average of six eggs in a tree cavity, but because most trees large enough to accommodate the breeding parakeets have been harvested, the species faces a housing shortage. Fortunately, the birds have taken well to the artificial boxes. The wooden structures provided by Aquasis are large enough to accommodate the breeding pair and their young, as well as extended family — other members of the family group that assist with feeding the young.
ABC and Aquasis are working to double the size of this successful program over the next two to three years. In addition, the partners plan to relocate 20 to 35 Gray-breasted Parakeets to an area 20 miles away to establish a second population within a protected habitat.
The Gray-breasted Parakeet joins ranks with other promising nest-box ventures that have helped to bring rare parrots back from the edge of extinction, including the Blue-throated Macaw in Bolivia. ABC partner Asociación Armonía has led efforts to increase the macaw’s population from 50 to more than 400, thanks in part to its successful nest-box program.
A version of this article was first published in the May/June 2019 issue of BirdWatching.