Blue-Fronted Amazon Breeding Ecology

With so little known about the reproductive ecology or population dynamics, the current level of chick and adult harvest could eventually devastate Argentina’s wild Blue-front population.

Those baby Blue-fronts are always on my mind and literally, I dream about them almost every night.

I will never forget the thrill of watching a full nest of chicks fledge from the reserve, the parents feeding their begging fledglings on the nest tree. Nor will I forget the sadness when one of the farmers returned from the forest with a burlap sack full of baby parrots, some of which I recognized, and handed them over to the parrot exporter.

Blue-fronted Amazons (their distribution and status):

Blue-fronted Amazons are one of the most popular pet birds in all of North America. Their flamboyant, interactive personalities, talking ability, and striking coloration are some of the qualities that can make them wonderful companions.

In the wild, Blue-fronted Amazons inhabit the tropical and sub-tropical forests, in regions of Northern Argentina, Southwestern Brazil, Western Paraguay, and Eastern Bolivia. The export of wild specimens has been banned in all countries except Argentina, where their populations are being threatened by the legal capture and exportation of thousands of chicks and adults every year.
It is important for citizens of the U.S. to understand the potential impacts of Argentina’s “Sustainable Harvest Management Plan” on both the wild parrots themselves, and the parrots and people of the United States.

In Argentina, Blue-fronted Amazons inhabit only the mid-north to northeast, many breeding in the dry, “Chaqueño” type forests, with lesser numbers breeding in the wetter, cooler regions of low altitude sub-tropical rainforest. The Blue-fronted Amazon Breeding Ecology Project is studying the Blue-fronts that breed in the Chaco. Thus, the following information is based on these sub-populations and may vary to some degree from the Blue-fronts breeding in other areas of Argentina or it’s neighboring countries.

A Short Life History of Argentina’s Blue-Fronts:

Blue-fronts arrive at their Chaco breeding grounds in late September and pairs begin to scope out natural nesting cavities in Quebrachos (a tall hardwood), often re-using their cavity from previous years. Eggs are laid between October and December, and the last chicks are usually fledged (though not weaned) by late-February. A clutch consists of an average of 4 eggs with a 69% hatch rate. The average productivity per pair at fledging was 1.1 in the 2003-04 breeding season.

Blue-fronted Amazons are highly mobile. All but a few of those breeding in Chaco leave their breeding grounds in flocks after their chicks have fledged and the season of fruits and seeds is ending. Exactly where these flocks of Chaco Blue-fronts go is unknown, though it is likely that they move northwest, where ripe fruit is still available.

Argentina’s Parrot Industry

Argentina’s parrot industry peaked during the mid-80s, with 263,000 Blue-fronted Amazons harvested from the wild during a five-year period. The dramatic population decline caused by this unregulated capture was finally addressed in 1992 when the export of Blue-fronts was temporarily banned. It began again, with far reduced quotas, in ’93.

Between ’94 and ’96 Proyecto Elé was designed by the government with the intention of harvesting parrots sustainably. In 1997 Proyecto Elé was officially implemented, as a governmentally run project. In respect to the Blue-fronts, while less than five thousand Blue-fronts were exported in each of the first two years of Proyecto Elé’s control, their numbers have risen steadily since then, due to an increase in nest searching and added areas of harvest. In 2005 the export quota for Argentina’s Blue-fronts was 6,700. Proyecto Elé also regulates the harvest of 5 other parrot species. In 2005 the quota for all six species totaled to about 50,000 wild caught parrots.

In the harvest of Blue-fronts, Proyecto Elé harvests chicks, free-flying juveniles and adults from an area of approximately 200,000 square kilometers. This is the range in which they are “abundant” in Argentina, and half of their absolute range (in Argentina). In contrast, the three small reserves, from which parrots cannot be harvested, has a total area of 467 square kilometers, only one quarter of one percent of the collection area. Proyecto Elé was created with noble goals: to harvest parrots using science-based, sustainable quotas. They used a certain percentage of the profits to create and maintain a reserve for the Blue-fronted Amazons breeding in Chaco.

The Major Pros and Cons of Proyecto Elé:

· Local landowners, with important parrot habitat, have incentive not to clear-cut their land (The timber can be sold and land used for agriculture).
· A percentage of the profit from each parrot is used to create or maintain reserves.
· It is a vast improvement from the prior, uncontrolled harvest.
· Under the control of a single organization, there is a higher in-country survival rate for harvested chicks.

· The quotas are not science-based and the future impact on the species is unknown.
· Many exporters do not have the knowledge or resources to provide proper care to parrot chicks, reducing their strength and quality as pets.
· Measures to prevent a double-harvest (of both chicks, and later adults, from the same flock) are lacking, creating a serious threat to the Blue-fronts breeding in Chaco.
· The basic population dynamics of Blue-fronts in Argentina is unknown, including an estimate of population size and it’s rate of decrease.

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