Thursday, July 9, 2015

Featured Bird: Bald Parrots

Baldness in parrots is commonly associated with feather plucking, self-mutilating behavior, or diseases such as mites or PBFD (Psittacine beak and feather disease) but while most parrots are certainly mostly fully feathered upon entering adulthood, many parrot species do in fact exhibit baldness to varying degrees. "Baldness" in many of these parrots, however, is commonly limited to around the facial area; as is the case with many species of macaws, or perhaps as a featherless ring around the eyes; as is the case with many species of conures. There are, however, few unique species of parrots that are truly "bald" meaning that they exhibit a more extensive degree of featherlessness around the face, head, and neck; much like a vulture, and like a vulture it is commonly believed that baldness evolved in these few species of parrots as a similar method of ensuring sanitization. Seemingly in support of this theory is the fact that many of said parrot species commonly include a large portion of soft-wet fruits in their diet, or the nectar of flowering plants. Why some parrots have evolved baldness and not others when there are many of them share the same diet is, however, still a subject of much debate. As of the present there are three recognized species of "bald parrots and as quirky and strange as it may seem, they are not without their charm. Today I have decided to feature some of my favorite avian cue balls from the parrot family.

Pesquet's Parrot

The Pesquet's Parrot (psittrichas fulgidus) is a strange looking bird indeed. At a glance, his unusually small head, long, hooked bill, bare black-skinned face and raptor like profile is perhaps reminiscent more of a bird of prey than a parrot and is perhaps what is responsible for the Pesquet's alternative common name, the vulturine parrot. The Pesquet's Parrot is endemic to the hill and montane forests of New Guinea and is a highly specialized frugivore that sustains itself almost exclusively on a few species of figs, though wild birds have also been observed feeding on flowers and nectar when figs are scarce. Because of its diet, the birds are seasonal nomads, travelling back and forth between habitats in response to the availability of fruiting fig trees. Little is known about the habits of Pesquets' in the wild due to their highly elusive nature and their restricted range to specific habitats. The feathers of Pesquet's parrots are highly prized my locals and by collectors and because of its rarity, trapped birds commonly sell for exorbitant prices on the exotic animal black market resulting in over-hunting and trapping of these birds. Uncurbed deforestation in New Guinea has also accounted for a significant portion of habitat loss and the loss of fig trees which are the primary food source for wild Pesquets'.

Vulturine Parrot

Not to be confused with the Pesquet's Parrot (that is sometimes also referred to by this name), the Vulturine Parrot (Pyrilia vulturina) is a neotropical species of parrot that is endemic to the rainforests of the eastern Amazon of Brazil. Vulturine parrots do not, in fact, start their life bald but actually grow light green feathers on their head which are only shed upon reaching sexual maturity. Little is known about the habits of vulturine parrots in the wild and confusion between the common names of Pyrilia vulturina and Psittrichas fulgidus has often resulted in misunderstanding, mislabeling, and misinformation in bird exhibits and zoos.

Bald Parrot

In another case of commonly mistaken identity, the Bald parrot (Pyrilia aurantiocephala) had been mistaken as the juvenile/offspring of the Vulturine Parrot until recently in 2002 when it was finally recognized as its own species. The Bald parrot is a member of the true parrot family and is an astonishingly colorful bird with a predominantly green body, and olive green neck, blue or teal breast, orange and yellow shoulders and a brilliant red under wing that remains hidden when the bird is perching but become largely conspicuous in flight.  Unlike Pesquet's parrot and the Vulturine parrot, the Bald parrot lacks even the feathers on the back of its head making it quite truly "bald". The skin of the parrot's head is a brilliant orange. The Bald parrot is endemic also to the rainforests of the eastern Amazon of Brazil and shares much of its range with the Vulturine parrot (another fact that may have accounted for its mistaken identity in the past). Because of its small population and limited range the bird is categorized as being near threatened by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

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