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A new population of the globally Endangered Red-fronted Macaw Ara rubrogenys unusually breeding in palms

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Abstract

The Red-fronted Macaw Ara rubrogenys is endemic to Bolivia, where it is listed as “Critically Endangered” due to its reduced population size and persisting threats. This species is known to breed exclusively on steep cliffs in arid inter-Andean valleys. However, during a survey of the whole distribution, we noted a previously overlooked population breeding in stands of the also endemic and globally endangered palm Parajubaea torallyi. We observed five adult pairs and confirmed at least three active nests. Nests were in holes 14–20 m above the ground in dead palms, at 2,580–2,700 m asl. The scarcity of breeding habitat and current nest poaching were identified as the major threats for this population. This discovery broadens our understanding of the breeding ecology and widens the scope of action for the monitoring and conservation of the species.
Bird Conservation International, page 1of 4. © BirdLife International, 2012
doi:10.1017/S095927091200038X
Short communication
A new population of the globally Endangered
Red-fronted Macaw Ara rubrogenys unusually
breeding in palms
ABRAHAM ROJAS, ELEUTERIO YUCRA, IVÁN VERA, ANDRÉS REQUEJO
and JOSÉ L. TELLA
Summary
The Red-fronted Macaw Ara rubrogenys is endemic to Bolivia, where it is listed as Critically
Endangereddue to its reduced population size and persisting threats. This species is known to
breed exclusively on steep cliffs in arid inter-Andean valleys. However, during a survey of the
whole distribution, we noted a previously overlooked population breeding in stands of the also
endemic and globally endangered palm Parajubaea torallyi.Weobservedve adult pairs and
conrmed at least three active nests. Nests were in holes 1420 m above the ground in dead palms,
at 2,5802,700 m asl. The scarcity of breeding habitat and current nest poaching were identied as
the major threats for this population. This discovery broadens our understanding of the breeding
ecology and widens the scope of action for the monitoring and conservation of the species.
Introduction
The Red-fronted Macaw Ara rubrogenys is among the most threatened parrots of the world, listed as
Endangeredon the IUCN Red List (BirdLife International 2008) and further listed as Critically
Endangeredin Bolivia (Rojas et al. 2009). This medium-sized macaw is endemic to a small area
(c.5,000 km
2
) on the east Andean slope of south-central Bolivia, between the departments of Santa
Cruz, Cochabamba, Chuquisaca and Potosí. It inhabits subtropical, xerophytic thorny scrub with
abundant cacti and scattered trees at 1,000-2,700 m elevation within the valley systems of the rivers
Grande, Mizque and Pilcomayo. Although accurate censuses were not available for the whole
population, partial censuses and estimates suggested a decline from c.5,000 individuals in the
1980sto2,0004,000 in 19911992 and as few as 700800 in 20062008 (Rojas et al. 2009). The
Red-fronted Macaw is known to breed exclusively on steep cliffs, mostly sited close to small,
secondary rivers (BirdLife International 2008,Rojaset al. 2009). Here we report a previously over-
looked breeding population at the upper level of the speciess altitudinal range, which surprisingly
uses palms instead of cliffs for breeding.
Field survey and results
A survey of the global distribution and population size of the Red-fronted Macaw was initiated in
early January 2011. We were aimed to cover all the known breeding sites (Rojas et al. 2009)as
well as previously unsurveyed areas which could hold the species, combining eld work and
interviews with local people. On 2021 January, we visited the Área Natural de Manejo Integrado
El Palmar (Chuquisaca), a protected area created in 1997 for the conservation of the endemic and
globally Endangeredpalma de Pasopaya Parajubaea torallyi (Moraes 1998). This was considered
an unfavourable area for the reproduction of the Red-fronted Macaw since previous surveys showed
the absence of cliffs for breeding (A. Rojas unpubl. data). However, on 21 January we observed two
adult pairs ying over the palm forest, and the species is considered by local people as one of the
symbols of the protected area, together with the Andean bear Tremarctus ornatos. We interviewed
indigenous people about macaws, meeting EY (co-author of this paper) who lived in EL Palmar since
he was born 25 years ago and worked there as wildlife ranger for the last two years. He reported that
he had known of Red-fronted Macaws breeding in palms since he was young. Although EY proved
able to clearly differentiate this species from other parrots inhabiting the area, we were originally
rather sceptical about this information since neither the literature (del Hoyo et al. 1997, Juniper and
Parr 2010) nor our previous 5-year experience of surveying Red-fronted Macaws (A. Rojas unpubl.
data) provided evidence of this species breeding in substrates other than cliffs. In fact, the species is
called kjaka loro in the local Quechua language, which translates as cliff-nesting parrot.Therefore,
we encouraged EY to look for active nests and document his ndings, providing him with binoculars
and a digital camera.
After spending 10 days prospecting two valleys covered by palms, between early and mid- March
2011, EY was able to locate three active nests (N1,N2and N3). Adult pairs of Red-fronted Macaws
were repeatedly observed and photographed entering holes in dead palms, a time when they should
be brooding young chicks (A. Rojas and J. L. Tella unpubl. data). One nest (N1) had been discovered
by the author in the previous year (2010), when at least one chick edged successfully. All the
authors (except AR) revisited the area on 2022 April 2011.On21 April, we arrived at N1at 08h20
after three hours of trekking. There were no macaws or other parrots around, so we took the
opportunity to record details of the nest site including its GPS coordinates. The nest hole was
c.20 cm in diameter, clearly enlarged by birds, and in a dead palm 8m from the ground. The palm
was c.30 cm in diameter at a height of 1.8m, sited in a densely forested steep slope oriented SW, at
2,585 m. A pair of adult Red-fronted Macaws arrived at the site at 09h30, calling loudly, a behaviour
typical of parents arriving at a nest at that time of the day to feed nestlings close to edging
age (as repeatedly observed during our surveys of cliff-nesting Red-fronted Macaws, A. Rojas and
J. L. Tella unpubl. data). We immediately left the site to avoid disturbance. Walking towards N2,we
discovered another dead palm (09h50) with a hole sharing the same nest characteristics, but no
macaws were seen or heard. About 10 minutes later, we observed two pairs of adult Red-fronted
Macaws ying in a straight direction towards this potential nest site. We arrived at N2at 10h20.No
birds were at the nest, but an adult Red-fronted Macaw was perched on the top of another dead
palm, 53 mawayfromN2. When approaching it, a second adult emerged from a nest-hole in that
palm (N4). The pair ew, calling loudly, and perched in a live palm 115 mfromthenest.We
suspected that N2and N4could be occupied by different pairs, since Red-fronted Macaws usually
breed colonially on cliffs (Juniper and Parr 2010), with active nests often separated by just a few
metres (A. Rojas and J. L. Tella unpubl. data). We thus observed the site in the hope that a second
pair would arrive at N2. That was not the case, and the pair from N4were still perched when we left
theareaat11h25. Nonetheless, we could not discard the possibility that there was a second pair,
since there is high variability in the time of feeding old nestlings, some pairs not arriving at the cliff
nests before the afternoon (A. Rojas and J. L. Tella unpubl. data). N2was 20 m above the ground and
N4at 14 m, both palms were dead and approximately 3235 cm in diameter, sited on a palm-dense
steep slope oriented WSW at 2,696 m. N3was also in a dead palm but in a stand c.5km far from N2.
Unfortunately, we were unable to visit it again because of time-schedule constraints.
Monitoring and conservation implications
We observed ve pairs of Red-fronted Macaws, although only conrmed three active nests,
through a very short and spatially limited survey. Further efforts are thus needed to establish the
actual population size breeding in palms. Such a complete survey is not easy to conduct; despite
A. Rojas et al. 2
the main distribution of P. torallyi being restricted to small valleys amounting to only 34 km
2
in
El Palmar, there are several small palm stands scattered through the surrounding mountains
between 2,400 and 3,400 m (Moraes 1998), most of them highly inaccessible.
Although somewhat speculative, we do not expect high breeding densities of Red-fronted
Macaws to breed in palms, since macaws seem to select dead palms for nesting (as indicated by our
survey and the long-term experience of EY). Dead palms are scarce, according to our observations,
and full-grown palms, which are more at risk of dying, occur in low densities in El Palmar
(,1/600m
2
; Thompson et al. 2009). Moreover, human activities are limiting the regeneration
and spread of palm stands (Thompson et al. 2009) despite of the protected status of El Palmar,
linking Red-fronted Macaw conservation to the conservation of this endangered palm (Moraes
1998). In fact, we observed palms cut by people throughout the surveyed area, and even a person
carrying recently-cut palm leaves with the help of a donkey. The ephemeral nature of cavities and
loss of old palms may seriously compromise the populations of cavity-nesting birds (Cockle et al.
2011), and competition with the much more abundant parrot species we found breeding in palms
(Mitred Parakeet Aratinga mitrata, Blue-crowned Parakeet Aratinga acuticaudata, and
Turquoise-fronted Amazon Amazona aestiva) might further reduce the availability of nest holes
for Red-fronted Macaws. Nest poaching and trade as pets are considered as major problems for
the conservation of this species (BirdLife International 1998, Rojas et al. 2009). We also found
evidence of this problem in El Palmar, since during our interviews we met an indigenous family
who related us how they tried to take the chicks from a Red-fronted Macaw nest in a dead palm in
2010. However, when a person climbed the palm, the two full-grown nestlings ew away; they
nally poached two A. aestiva that were still maintained as pets when we visited the family in
April 2011.
Red-fronted Macaws breeding in palms may play an important role in conservation of the
species even if their breeding numbers are low. The closest two colonies breeding in cliffs (with
23breeding pairs in each) are c.30 km and 50 km away (authorsunpubl.data), and separated by
high mountain ranges. This, together with the particular breeding behaviour in palms, suggests
that the El Palmar population might be culturally and even genetically differentiated from the
rest. Phylogenetic analyses suggest that tree cavity nesting is the ancestral state among parrots,
that most taxa capable of using alternative nesting substrates also retain the ability to nest in tree
cavities, and that most of the New World parrots that exploit alternative nesting substrates arose
during a single radiation event 2030 million years ago (Brightsmith 2005). Cultural diversity
(Laiolo and Jovani 2007) and individual variability in behavioural traits are important in enabling
species to cope with environmental and anthropogenic challenges (e.g. Carrete and Tella 2011),
and the erosion of such diversity could further imperil the species. Future studies should elucidate
whether the palm-breeding population of Red-fronted Macaws constitutes a culturally signif-
icant unit(Ryan 2006) that would merit special conservation efforts.
Acknowledgements
We thank the support offered by staff from SERNAP and ANMI El Palmar. Fieldwork was funded
by Parque Zoológico de Barcelona, in collaboration with BIORENA, and Consejería de Innovación
y Ciencia, Junta de Andalucía (PAI RNM107 to JLT).
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ABRAHAM ROJAS
Museo de Historia Natural Noel Kempff Mercado, Universidad Autónoma Gabriel Rene
Moreno, Santa Cruz de La Sierra, Casilla 2489, Av. Irala 565, Bolivia.
Fundación para la Investigación y Conservación de Loros en Bolivia (FICLB), Avda. Mariscal
Sta. Cruz 5030, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.
ELEUTERIO YUCRA
Área Protegida Nacional El Palmar, c. Sucre s/n, Presto, Bolivia.
IVÁN VERA
BIORENA, Universidad San Francisco Xavier de Chuquisaca, Sucre, Bolivia.
ANDRÉS REQUEJO
C/ Penedès, 4,08392 Sant Andreu de Llavaneres, Spain.
JOSÉ L. TELLA*
Department of Conservation Biology, Estación Biológica de Doñana (EBD-CSIC), Avda.
Américo Vespucio s/n, 41092 Sevilla, Spain.
*Author for correspondence; email: tella@ebd.csic.es
Received 4April 2012; revision accepted 3July 2012
A. Rojas et al. 4
... Life history: The species nests and roost mainly on steep cliffs, but with a small population breeding in palms (Rojas et al., 2014). Egg-laying occurs in February and March, and pairs commonly fledge one or two, and occasionally three offspring annually. ...
... Habitat: A. rubrogenys inhabits subtropical, xerophytic thorny scrub habitats at 1,000-2,700 m.a.s.l. and sometimes as high as 3,000 m.a.s.l (Rojas et al., 2014). ...
... Local predator communities could determine which type of breeding substrates are safer for breeding, and parrots could be selecting breeding sites based on predation risk (Brightsmith 2005, Renton et al. 2015. For example, some species like Military Macaw (Ara militaris) or Red-fronted Macaw (Ara rubrogenys), which commonly use cavities in cliffs, occasionally use tree-cavities (Rojas et al. 2012, Bonilla Ruz et al. 2014). On the other hand, some species which usually breed in tree-cavities, as the Red-and-green Macaw (Ara chloropterus) or Amazon parrots (Amazona sp.), use cliff cavities in some regions (Eitniear et al. 1997, Pivatto et al. 2006, Williams 2009, Stahala 2016. ...
... The use of tree cavities is thus a completely new breeding substrate suggesting that the species may be more flexible in nesting than previously thought. However, the use of cavities in trees is not that unexpected, as other presumed exclusive cliff nesters, including Red-fronted Macaw and Military Macaw, have recently been found nesting in tree cavities (Rojas et al. 2012, Bonilla Ruz et al. 2014). The lack of parrot studies in this particular forest region prevents us from saying if this is a regular but under-observed phenomenon, or if just these particular individuals were exploring new nesting substrates. ...
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... In turn, we looked for unknown nesting sites throughout the study area, by surveying 92 additional cliffs where the species could breed. The discovery of a few redfronted macaws breeding in palms is detailed in Rojas et al. (2013). We gathered no evidence, our own or based on local knowledge, that the species breeds in other tree substrates. ...
... Most cliffs (91%) held 1 to 4 pairs while only 3 cliffs had P10 pairs (Fig. 4). Additionally, a small population (3–5 pairs) nested in dead palms in small patches of Pasopaya palm Parajubaea torallyi (Table A2, see Rojas et al., 2013 for details). ...
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... However, is it possible that the new suitable areas could be colonized even without appropriate cliffs thanks to behavioral flexibility? For instance, A. rubrogenys have been observed nesting in the palm Parajubaea torallyi [80] but, this tree species has an extremely small range distribution, and there are no other tree species that could offer large cavities for nesting within the range of the red-fronted macaw. Moreover, recent population genetic analyses show a low capacity for the species to colonize distant areas. ...
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This volume consist of eight main sections. Initially origins and evolutionary relationships are examined, followed by a brief section on the classification of the parrots. Next a section reviews the natural history of the parrots, briefly covering: general behaviour; distribution; habitat; movements; social behaviour; diet; breeding; and nocturnal species. Conservation status ics covered next. The main threats to parrots are then outlined and discussed: habitat loss; live bird trade; introduced species; persecution and hunting; and storms'climatic change. A brief section then looks at captive breeding. The mian body of the book is taken up with colour plates and a systematic section. The systematic section contains the following information, for each species: identification notes; voice; distribution and status (including distribution maps); ecology; description; sex/age; measurements; geographical variation; and references.
Handbook of the birds of the world Barcelona: Lynx Edicions) Parrots. A guide to the parrots of the world The emergence of animal culture conservation
  • Del Hoyo
  • J Elliot
  • A Sargatal
Del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Sargatal, J. (1997) Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 4. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. Juniper, T. and Parr, M. (2010) Parrots. A guide to the parrots of the world. London: Christopher Helm. Laiolo, P. and Jovani, R. (2007) The emergence of animal culture conservation. Trends Ecol
Ara rubrogenys IUCN Red List of threatened species. Version 2011.1. ,www.iucnredlist. org.;. Downloaded on
BirdLife International (2008) Ara rubrogenys. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of threatened species. Version 2011.1.,www.iucnredlist. org.;. Downloaded on 19 March 2012.