Emu Emu Society
Journal of BirdLife Australia

Population size, provisioning frequency, flock size and foraging range at the largest known colony of Psittaciformes: the Burrowing Parrots of the north-eastern Patagonian coastal cliffs

Juan F. Masello A B C G , María Luján Pagnossin D , Christina Sommer E and Petra Quillfeldt F
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Institut für Ökologie, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Germany.

B Ecology of Vision Group, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, UK.

C Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Vogelwarte Radolfzell, Schlossallee 2, D-78315 Radolfzell, Germany.

D Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y Museo, Universidad Nacional de La Plata, La Plata, Argentina.

E Institut für Biologie/Verhaltensbiologie, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany.

F School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, UK.

G Corresponding author. Email: masello@orn.mpg.de

Emu 106(1) 69-79 https://doi.org/10.1071/MU04047
Submitted: 1 November 2004  Accepted: 10 January 2006   Published: 10 March 2006


We here describe the largest colony of Burrowing Parrots (Cyanoliseus patagonus), located in Patagonia, Argentina. Counts during the 2001–02 breeding season showed that the colony extended along 9 km of a sandstone cliff facing the Altantic Ocean, in the province of Río Negro, Patagonia, Argentina, and contained 51 412 burrows, an estimated 37 527 of which were active. To our knowledge, this is largest known colony of Psittaciformes. Additionally, 6500 Parrots not attending nestlings were found to be associated with the colony during the 2003–04 breeding season. We monitored activities at nests and movements between nesting and feeding areas. Nestlings were fed 3–6 times daily. Adults travelled in flocks of up to 263 Parrots to the feeding grounds in early mornings; later in the day, they flew in smaller flocks, making 1–4 trips to the feeding grounds. Overall, the most frequent flock size was two, indicating that the pair is the basic social unit during the breeding season. The average flight-speed was 36.9 km h–1. Terrestrial and aerial surveys during the 2003–04 and 2004–05 breeding seasons suggest that Burrowing Parrots performed long daily movements in order to feed in the remaining patches of natural vegetation, travelling 58 and 66 km over the two main routes to the feeding areas. The colony is seriously threatened by human activity, and surrounding habitat is being rapidly transformed to agricultural land. Based on the data presented, we recommend monitoring the colony using detailed counts of numbers of nests, the documentation of the extent of the entire colony, together with data on breeding success, nestling growth and feeding rates. The number of non-breeders associated with the colony should be monitored, and as an additional index of abundance, counts from stationary locations should be continued.


We thank Ramón Conde, Adrián Pagnossin, Roberto Ure, Mara Marchesan, Pablo Manzano Baena, Raquel Percáz, Gert Dahms, María Rita Pérez, Nora Lisnizer and Mauricio Failla, for their help in the fieldwork. This project was partly supported by: the City Council of Viedma, Río Negro, Argentina; a grant of the state of Thuringia (Landesgraduiertenstipendium), Germany; a co-operation grant between the International Bureau of the BMBF of Germany (ARG 99/020) and the Argentinean SECyT (AL/A99-EXIII/003); a grant of the World Parrot Trust (WPT); and a grant of the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation (LCAOF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). We especially wish to thank James Gilardi and Rosemary Low from the WPT, and Bill Conway and Graham Harris from WCS for their crucial support to our work. Fundación Patagonia Natural provided us with a vehicle and paid for the costs of the search of feeding areas; we especially thank Graham Harris, Miguel Alcalde and José María Musmeci. The Dirección de Fauna Silvestre de la Provincia de Río Negro, Argentina, paid for the costs of the aerial survey; we especially thank Mauricio Failla. Alejandro Pezzola from the Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria of Hilario Ascassubbi (Argentina) and Elvio Mendioroz from Fundación Uñopatún provided information on vegetation clearance. The Servicio Meteorológico Nacional (Argentina) provided the temperature data. The present study was carried out with permission of the Dirección de Fauna de la Provincia de Río Negro, Argentina (Exp. no. 143089-DF-98).


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