Canadian Parrot Symposium

Canadian Parrot Symposium



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Volunteer Work in Field Conservation of Parrots in Guatemala

by Josee Bermingham

In conjunction with my work at the Hagen Avicultural Research Institute as an Animal Health Technician, I was fortunate to participate in the Psittacine Research Project in Guatemala. I volunteered for the project during the months of February and March of 1994. My role in this study was mainly to assist Dr. Kim Joyner and the climbing team gather observational records, measurements and sampling from the Yellow nape Amazon chicks.

For most aviculturalists the monitoring of nests and chicks is routinely performed by the inspection of nest boxes designed to facilitate and monitor egg production, candling, hatching success, proper parenting of chicks, removal of chicks...

I invite you to share with me some of the complications encountered striving to record comparable data. Many of these became ritual subjects of discussion and laughter at the nightly gatherings following a typical field day.

One can only start to monitor a nesting site once it's been found. The Observation team composed mainly of local Guatemalans set out early in the season to identify possible nest sites. Daily monitoring of these potential nests allows for behaviour observations of the parents. All these observations are carried out with minimal human disturbance, arriving before dawn at the sites and staking out within the necessary camouflage. Once a potential nest site has been identified and behavioral observations of the pair suggests the possibility of the hen brooding a clutch of eggs, the "Climb Team " will schedule a climb to confirm its presence.

Before any attempt to climb, the team must evaluate the potential hazards (presence of africanized bees, reliability of tree to support the climber's weight, location and height of nests), the accessibility for the team to reach the tree and nest, and the techniques of climbing to be used (bow and arrow or sling shot attached to fishing rope reel to set up ropes, and the use of ascenders or spikes to climb the ropes.). Strategic stake-out location, timing, transportation of equipment, and the potential susceptibility of the nest to be poached (thus requiring a guarding schedule) are considered.

The climber must investigate the nest and surroundings for the presence of eggs, chicks, signs of predators, and poachers. The chicks are safely removed from the nest and lowered to the veterinarian team for a health exam, weight measurements, blood sample, and choanal and cloacal cultures. Meanwhile the climber gathers a nest material sample, and records nest dimensions, orientation and other specific characteristics. Chicks are then replaced into their nest. One observer will remain to ensure the return of the parents, while the team leaves the site. Most samples gathered are analyzed at Marian Aviaries laboratory by Dr. Joyner and her team. Radio transmitting collars are placed on selected chicks before the fledging age. Dr. Ann Brice coordinates a team for the tracking of these parrots. Everyone in the project participates in the guarding and observation of the nests. Following conservation education talks in schools and communities, involvement of the Project in local activities, alternative solutions for the local poachers (offering financial aid to guard nests to discourage poaching), and inviting the local school children to actively participate in the weekly health exam of a chick nesting in their schoolground, the people of Guatemala have proven indispensable to the survival of this project.

It was an unforgettable experience to study parrots in the wild, enriched with the opportunity to work with an exceptional team. The destruction of the tropical forests has deprived the parrots and the people of their natural heritage, and yet they continue to have faith in conservational efforts, in us, the people that can make a difference. I am anxious to return to Guatemala this winter, and perhaps return the gift of hope.

I wish to thank Dr. Kim Joyner for the opportunity to share my experience with you, and Mark Hagen for his continuing support.

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