May 7, 2015
Saving the Devil’s Parrot
- as seen by -Caroline Catchpole
Looking at this cute little guy, it’s hard to believe its species (the Pesquet’s parrot) is known as “the devil’s parrot” or the “vulturine parrot,” due in most part to its vulture-like profile as an adult. Endemic to hill and mountain regions in Papua New Guinea, these birds are highly specialized frugivores, feeding exclusively on a few species of fig.
Captive breeding of these rare birds over the decades has been fraught with difficulty. Looking back through the annual reports of the New York Zoological Society (as the Wildlife Conservation Society was once known) it becomes clear just how hard the society worked to successfully breed the parrot.
The 1982 annual report notes that the society’s Wildlife Survival Center on St. Catherine’s Island in Georgia was working with an “increasing urgency” in response to the habitat destruction and human encroachment that were threatening many species, the Pesquet’s parrot among them. A parrot was hatched on the island and hand-reared at the Bronx Zoo by then-assistant curator Chris Sheppard and the bird staff (above).
The keepers who hand-reared the chicks also made an important discovery. It was assumed a Pesquet’s parrot with any red on its head was male. But they reared chicks with red feathers who actually turned out to be girls.
Classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), work by WCS continues today in Papua New Guinea to protect the Pesquet’s parrot. Hunted for its feathers, which are used in traditional costumes and ceremonial dress, it has undergone rapid population decline. Conservation initiatives now being undertaken include research on the use of feathers in society and ecological studies on the parrot to better understand this little-known species and hopefully address its declining numbers.
Knowing its story, this image encapsulates the very essence of success and determination.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For our current assignment, we’re celebrating birds. Send us your best for a chance to win Vanguard binoculars. In the New York area? Join us on May 9 for our annual Birdathon at the Bronx Zoo. Bring your camera and take photos for the assignment.