El Oro Parakeet—One Of World's Rarest Parrots—To Benefit From Conservation Land Purchase In Ecuador

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The outlook for at least 15 globally endangered bird species—including the rare El Oro Parakeet—has just gotten brighter, thanks to a land deal engineered by Ecuador’s Fundación Jocotoco, Rainforest Trust, and American Bird Conservancy. The deal expands Ecuador’s renowned Buenaventura Reserve by 600 acres, to a total of 4,600 acres.

The rare birds expected to benefit include many of the world’s last 800 El Oro Parakeets and all of the remaining Ecuadorian (El Oro) Tapaculo, which numbers as few as several dozen individuals.

“The protected forests in this reserve are surrounded by cattle pastures and fragmented woodlands,” said Benjamin Skolnik, who leads ABC projects in Ecuador. “That makes preserving and expanding it vital to the birds it protects.”

“We are encouraged that this reserve is now protecting a substantial portion of the global population of the El Oro Parakeet,” said Rocio Merino, executive director of Fundación Jocotoco. “We must now ensure the protection of surrounding landscapes that are frequently used by bird species from a unique combination of Chocó, Tumbes, and western Andean regions within the reserve. Working with surrounding communities of El Placer and Moromoro, including private landowners and municipalities, will be key to our long-term success.”

“Expanding the Buenaventura Reserve is an urgent conservation priority as the future of the El Oro Parakeet and the Ecuadorian Tapaculo depend tremendously upon the existence of the reserve and the forests it protects,” said Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust. “This significant expansion of the reserve is a great conservation victory that’s going to result in a stronger, more effective sanctuary for wildlife in Ecuador.”

Buenaventura Reserve was established in 1999 to protect the El Oro Parakeet and other endangered wildlife. It is located on the west slope of the Andes in southern Ecuador and represents the sole protected area providing habitat for the parakeet, which was only discovered in 1980.

Shortly after the reserve was established, Jocotoco began efforts to expand it by purchasing adjacent properties as they became available. The latest expansion will protect 400 acres of pristine subtropical rain forest, which is critical for the endemic parakeet and tapaculo.

Mr. Skolnik said that the newly-purchased property is about 2,600 feet above sea level, which is “perfect” for the parakeet. He added that the remaining 200 acres of scattered pasturelands will be restored through natural regeneration and tree planting. With support from World Land Trust, Jocotoco has already successfully planted 200,000 trees in the reserve.

The reserve protects the largest remnant patch of a unique ecosystem that combines elements of tropical wet and dry forests. As little as five percent of this forest, which once spanned northern Peru and parts of the Ecuadorian coast, may now remain. What is left is threatened by ongoing habitat destruction for agriculture and cattle pasture, making the reserve vital for the conservation of the region’s rare, endemic birds.

Another threat to this area is the reduction in cloud cover due to deforestation, which is resulting in lower precipitation at low elevation levels. As a result, many wildlife species have migrated to wetter areas at higher elevations, where the purchased property lies.

More than 330 species of birds have been recorded at Buenaventura, with 34 species described as local endemics. A partial list of birds of conservation concern who depend on the reserve include: Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl (Vulnerable - VU), Grey-backed Hawk (Endangered - EN), Ochraceous Attila (VU), Rufous-headed Chachalaca (VU), Ochre-bellied Dove (VU), Saffron Siskin (VU), Grey-headed Antbird (VU), Grey-breasted Flycatcher (VU), and Long-wattled Umbrellabird (VU). Additional notable, migratory birds occurring at the reserve include: Swainson’s Hawk, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Acadian Flycatcher, Black-and-white Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, and Summer Tanager.

These tropical cloud forests depend on moisture (locally called “garua”) that drifts in from the Pacific Ocean and cools as it starts to ascend the mountains. The relative lack of sun greatly reduces evapotranspiration and keeps the forest relatively damp even if, as during the dry season, it doesn’t actually rain very much. The lowest section of the reserve, which is much sunnier and drier, is where small populations of the globally endangered Gray-cheeked Parakeet and Pacific Royal Flycatcher occur. An accessible lek of the threatened Long-wattled Umbrellabird, one of the world’s more bizarre birds, is located a few minutes’ walk from the Buenaventura Reserve’s lodge.  At least half a dozen pairs of the near-endemic Grey-backed Hawk are resident at the reserve, likely the largest population of this threatened species in any protected area.

Many of the 31 hummingbird species that have been recorded at Buenaventura can be seen at the lodge’s feeders/webcam and at a second public facility along the main road. Rufous-headed Chachalacas (another threatened and endemic species) and Choco Toucans can often be seen in the trees around the lodge, as can a wide variety of other birds—especially as the forest nearby continues to recover from its former condition as cattle pasture.

Buenaventura Reserve is one of more than 63 reserves covering almost 900,000 acres that ABC has helped local partners, governments and communities create or expand. Most of those reserves are part of the "Conservation Birding" initiative started in 2010 by ABC and its partners. This initiative aims to prevent the extinction of bird species by helping to finance and develop bird reserves across the Americas. ABC-sponsored reserves include almost one million acres of critically important bird habitat, providing refuge for more than 2,000 bird species—nearly half of the total found throughout all the Americas. Some of the world’s most endangered birds are among them.

Fundación Jocotoco is an Ecuadorian nongovernmental organization established in 1998 to protect land of critical importance to the conservation of Ecuador’s endangered birds and associated biodiversity. The foundation primarily achieves this by purchasing lands and managing them as ecological reserves.

Rainforest Trust is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to purchase and protect threatened tropical forests and save endangered wildlife through community engagement and local partnerships. For 25 years, Rainforest Trust has saved over seven million acres of critical habitat across the tropics and consistently receives Charity Navigator’s top four-star rating.

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