Bonaire’s Yearly Parrot Count

Every year on Bonaire, dozens of dedicated volunteers wake up before dawn with one simple but important mission: count as many yellow-shouldered parrots (Amazona barbadensis rothschildi), or Loras as they are locally known in Papiamentu, as possible to estimate their numbers. This year marks Bonaire’s twenty-third Lora count, which was organized by Echo Bonaire with the help of STINAPA Bonaire and Bonaire’s Department of Environment and Nature (DRO). The Lora count started in 1980 and has contributed to the protection of this endangered and endemic sub-species of parrot. 

The yearly monitoring event of Bonaire’s yellow-shouldered parrots is made possible thanks to the contribution of volunteers. By involving locals in monitoring efforts, the count helps increase local awareness of the need to protect one of Bonaire’s most iconic species. These citizen scientists receive training prior to the count to ensure that they can perform the tally to the best of their ability. This also helps guarantee that volunteers all apply the same methodology and know directions to the monitoring site they have been designated. As Loras are sometimes confused with brown-throated parakeets (Aratinga pertinax), volunteers are taught how to identify the parrots visually and vocally. Pre-roost counts begin in early January to work out how many volunteers will be needed per roost site on the day of the count. Newly identified roosts and those that have become re-active are added to the annual count.

When the last Saturday of January comes along it is time for the actual count to take place. Volunteers that have prior experience are sent to the most important roost sites. Each team has at least two counters so that data logged may be cross-checked.

The methodology used is simultaneous counting, during which all volunteers count the parrots at the same time in different places. Volunteers leave home before dusk to their designated site, wearing dark clothes to ensure minimal disturbance to the birds and are equipped with a compass, binoculars and a watch.Once the Loras wake up, shrieking loud and flying up, the volunteers begin to fill out the data collection sheet. They record the number of observed parrots, their point of departure, flight direction, destination and time at which this happened, and complete an observation map. Once all the data has been collected, the organizers of the Lora count tally up the numbers to estimate the minimum number of Loras present at the surveyed roosts. 

The yellow-shouldered parrothas a limited and distinct range with genetically isolated populations in Bonaire and Curaçao as well as northern Venezuela and the Venezuelan islands of Margarita and La Blanquilla. This parrot is endangered with a global population estimated at less than 8,000 individuals, and is classified by the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable (Birdlife International, 2018). On Bonaire, the population was once close to extinction due to poaching and habitat degradation. Therefore in 2002 DRO ringed and registered all existing pet Loras.Anyone after this campaign found in possession of an unringed parrot faces prosecution.Thanks to concerted and continued conservation efforts, legal protection and enforcement – the Lora receiveslocal protection under the Island’s Nature Ordinance - the yellow-shouldered parrot is now considered a flagship species for the island’s dry forest ecosystem. The local non-profit organization Echo isworking hard to protect the parrots on the island, find out more about their behavior and increase local awareness. 

Information gathered over the years, thanks to the annual Lora count, suggests that the number of parrots at the surveyed roosts on Bonaire is increasing steadily. While numbers of parrots counted has fluctuated each year, the overall trend seems an upward one and, even though not statistically proven, might be related to the start of conservation efforts on the island, including population monitoring (Echo, STINAPA, DRO, Salba Nos Lora), nest site management (Echo), awareness campaign (STINAPA, Echo, Salba Nos Lora), rescue and release of injured birds (Echo), enforcement of protected status (STINAPA, Echo) and tree planting (Echo and Salba Nos Lora[i]) [Graph 1]. In 2017, however, the number of Loras recorded was significantly lower than usual, with 700 Loras counted as opposed to 1,000 in previous years (Echo, 2017). It is speculated that this drop in numbers may not have been the result of fewer parrots on the island, but could be caused by a long period of drought followed by heavy rains that caused the parrots to spread out more across the island, making them harder to observe and count. Weather and food supply have been known to drastically affect the count and parrots periodically change roost locations. In the area of Sabadeco, just 11 parrots were counted compared to the previous year’s 229, while in the Washington Slagbaai National Park, just 50 birds were recorded (Echo, 2017). This unpredictable behavior of the Loras makes it challenging for the participating volunteers to count them each year (Echo, 2017). 

Recently, a study by Rivera-Milán et al.(accepted for publication) in collaboration with STINAPA, US Fish and Wildlife Service and WILDCONSCIOUSfound other results. Their systematic distance-sampling surveys in 2009-2017 show a slight decline in the population estimate for Lora’s in Bonaire over the past yearsmost probably because of the drought, although other factors cannot be discardedincluding an increase in human-induced mortality. They also conducted Bayesian state-space logistic model simulations to predict changes in abundance in 2018−2066. Rivera-Milán et al.consider Bonaire’s parrot population vulnerable to the risk of extinction. That said, the parrot population has an estimated maximum population growth rate of 0.179 and under favorable conditions (consecutive wet years with food abundance, and low human-induced mortality) can recover through high survival and successful reproduction.As different methods are used, the involved organizations are now discussing the methodologies and possibility for cooperation with the same goal: adequately monitor the Loras to assess changes in abundance and the results of conservation actions taken to safeguard these parrots on Bonaire. 


[i]Salba Nos Lora is no longer an active organization.


This news-tem was published by DCNAin BioNews 15-2018

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