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Ardeola 60(2), 2013, 377-383

DOI: 10.13157/arla.60.2.2013.377


SUMMARY.—The ecology and natural history of Todd’s parakeet Pyrrhura picta caeruleiceps is scarcely known. We describe some aspects of its habitat use, diet and flight behaviour at two localities in north-eastern Colombia. Our observations indicate that, at least locally, these birds tolerate and frequently use transformed areas. However, their flight patterns (usually near forest canopy) support the idea that long-distance flights would be affected where forest fragmentation occurs at a landscape level, as happens in other congeners. Observations also suggest a second breeding peak for Todd’s parakeet starting from July/August, as seems to occur in other Andean species of Pyrrhura. RESUMEN.—La ecología del periquito de Todd Pyrrhura picta caeruleiceps es poco conocida. Describimos algunos aspectos del uso de hábitat, dieta y patrones de vuelo en dos localidades al noreste de Colombia. Los datos indican que, localmente, las aves toleran y usan con frecuencia zonas transformadas. Sin embargo, su patrón de vuelo (cercano al dosel) sugiere que como otros congéneres, sus vuelos a larga distancia se verían afectados cuando la fragmentación es alta a escala del paisaje. Nuestros datos también sugieren un segundo pico reproductivo que comenzaría entre julio-agosto, similar a lo que ocurre en otras especies andinas de Pyrrhura.

The taxonomic status of some of the subspecies of the painted parakeet Pyrrhura picta remains controversial (see Remsen et al., 2013) and there is evidence for the recognition of three geographic races at the species level (i.e. Todd’s parakeet P. p. caeruleiceps,

sinú parakeet P. p. subandina and azuero parakeet P. p. einsenmanni; Joseph and Stockwell, 2002; Forshaw, 2010). Furthermore, two of these subspecies have been determined as independent conservation units, whose status and conservation deserves


Selva: Investigación para la conservación en el Neotrópico, Calle 41 26B-58, Bogotá, Colombia.


Corresponding author:



immediate attention (Botero-Delgadillo and Páez, 2011a, 2011b; Botero-Delgadillo et al., 2012a). Recent efforts have shed some light on the ecology of one of these subspecies, Todd’s parakeet (Tovar-Martínez, 2010); a bird whose biology and ecology is scarcely known. Moreover, two new locali-

ties for this taxon were described recently, including a preliminary assessment of population size and rates of habitat loss (BoteroDelgadillo et al., 2012b). Given the extensive loss of the original vegetation cover throughout the distribution of Todd’s parakeet (Botero-Delgadillo

FIG. 1.—Location of the two study sites for Todd’s parakeet Pyrrhura picta caeruleiceps in northeastern Colombia (black stars on the map). [Localización de los dos sitios de estudio del periquito de Todd Pyrrhura picta caeruleiceps en el noreste de Colombia (estrellas negras en el mapa).] Ardeola 60(2), 2013, 377-383


et al., 2012a), it is essential to understand its habitat needs and use of space in order to design and implement appropriate management actions (Botero-Delgadillo and Páez, 2011b). Although certain aspects of this parakeet’s ecology have been described elsewhere (Rodríguez-Mahecha and Hernández-Camacho, 2002; Tovar-Martínez, 2010; Botero-Delgadillo and Páez, 2011b), most available information is based on anecdotal records or isolated observations made over a few days. In this study we document various elements of the natural history of the Todd’s parakeet including habitat use and a description of occupied habitats, as well as new information on diet, flying and flocking patterns and social behaviour. Our observations from north-eastern Colombia where obtained during 40 days of survey effort in two new localities for the taxon within Los Motilones mountains in the Eastern Cordillera of the Colombian Andes, located south of the Perijá mountains (fig. 1). Surveys were carried out during 20 days in July 2011 within the Chiriguaná municipality, and for a further 20 days in August 2011 within the Becerril municipality. Field surveys were carried out between 06:30-12:30 hrs and 14:30-17:30 hrs covering an area of c. 4.7 and 8.1 km2 at Chiriguaná and Becerril respectively, and at altitudes between 400 m and 2,200 m. Whenever birds were detected, we carried out observations ad libitum (Altmann, 1973) to gather all data: if birds were flying, we recorded the flock size and flight altitude (m over the canopy); when birds were perched, we recorded the habitat type, group size and activity; in cases where birds were foraging, we recorded the plant species and the item consumed. A total of 393 and 543 minutes of cumulative observation were obtained at Chiriguaná and Becerril respectively. Habitat types were defined according to the vegetation found and following the classifications adopted by the CORINE Land Cover Methodology for


Colombia (IDEAM, 2010). For each location within native forest where perched birds were observed (i.e., using habitat), we used a circular plot of 25 m radius to provide a preliminary description of the habitat used by the birds (Chiriguaná 10 plots, Becerril 3 plots). For each plot we estimated visually: (1) the mean vegetation height at each site, and (2) the foliage height diversity (FHD) based on the standardized Shannon-Wienner index with values ranging from 0-1 (Krebs, 1989; see Willson 1974 and Terborgh, 1977, for detailed descriptions on FHD). At Chiriguaná we obtained 43 records of flying birds and 41 records of perched birds, whereas at Becerril we had 36 and 43 records, respectively. Birds at Chiriguaná usually flew less than 10 m above the forest canopy (81.4%), only flying between 10-20 m occasionally (18.6%). We observed a similar pattern at Becerril, with most flocks flying below 10 m (83.3%) and a few doing so between 10 and 15 m (16.7%). Flocks at Chiriguaná were mostly of two individuals (21.2%) and groups of 3-10 birds (63.3%), but we also observed groups ranging from 12-35 individuals (14.1%) and one flock of 90 individuals. Flocks at Becerril showed a similar pattern, comprising 3-9 birds in most cases (88% cumulative frequency) and seldom exceeding 20 individuals (3.51%). Parakeets at both localities frequented four habitat types: (1) transient and permanent crops (including annual plants or shadegrown coffee), (2) forest-agricultural mosaics (mainly open areas with scattered trees or mosaics of crops and secondary vegetation), (3) native forests (fragmented secondary forest or riverine forest) and (4) herbaceous vegetation (early successional vegetation). Birds at Chiriguaná used native forests more frequently than expected by chance (30 of 41 records, Freeman-Halton FET test, P < 0.001, see Freeman and Halton, 1951) and were rarely observed in crops or mosaics (five records in shade-grown coffee and six Ardeola 60(2), 2013, 377-383



FIG. 2.—A. Mean canopy height (± SD) from 13 vegetation plots established in native forest patches frequented by Todd’s parakeet (CP: Chiriguaná plots; BP: Becerril plots). B. Feeding records at both localities and the frequency of consumption of different food sources; Psi gua: Psidium guajava; Inga: Inga sp.; Alcho: Alchornea sp.; Fic glab: Ficus glabrata; Cec pel: Cecropia cf. peltata. C. A group of six Todd’s parakeets perched on a dead tree emerging from a riverine forest patch at Chiriguaná. D. A pair of Todd’s parakeets at Becerril during mutual grooming. [A. Altura media de las copas de los árboles (± desviación típica) en 13 parcelas de vegetación en parches de bosque nativo frecuentadas por periquitos de Todd (CP: parcelas de Chiriguaná; BP: parcelas de Becerril). B. Registros de forrageo en ambas localidades y frecuencia de consumo de diferentes alimentos; Psi gua: Psidium guajava; Inga: Inga sp.; Alcho: Alchornea sp.; Fic glab: Ficus glabrata; Cec pel: Cecropia cf. peltata. C. Un grupo de seis periquitos de Todd posados en un árbol muerto que emerge de un parche de bosque de rivera en Chiriguaná. D. Una pareja de periquitos de Todd en Becerril durante su acicalado mutuo.] Ardeola 60(2), 2013, 377-383


at fruit trees), and never in herbaceous vegetation. Habitat use at Becerril also differed significantly between habitats (FreemanHalton FET test P < 0.001,), with most records being obtained from forest-agricultural mosaics (31 of 43 records), a few from forests and successional areas (six from each) and none from crops. Mean vegetation height for 13 plots established within native forests frequented by birds was 15.6 m above ground (SD = 11.71) but height measurements within each plot showed considerable variation at some sites (fig. 2a). Canopy height in most of the circular plots established at Chiriguaná was above 10 m, whereas canopy height tended to be lower at Becerril (fig. 2a). Vegetation cover across vertical strata was also irregular and variable, as the FHD index values revealed (0.71 ± 0.22, N = 13; 65% of values above 0.6). We obtained 17 records from birds actively feeding at Chiriguaná and seven at Becerril, corresponding to five plant species. Fruits of Psidium guajava (Myrtaceae) accounted for the majority of records during feeding bouts at both localities (fig. 2b), followed by catkins of Cecropia cf. peltata (Cecropiaceae) and inflorescences of Inga sp. (Mimosaceae). Fruits of Alchornea sp. (E uph orb i a c e a e ) a n d F i c u s g l a b ra t a (Moraceae) were also consumed. Foraging time at Chiriguaná was mostly spent at P. guajava trees (96 of 203 recording minutes), while at Becerril it was spent almost equally between P. guajava and C. cf. peltata trees (24 and 33 minutes respectively). Activities such as resting (i.e. birds perched with eyes closed or just staying still) were observed mostly between 11:0015:00 hrs, when groups formed by 5-28 birds were commonly seen perched on scattered trees in cleared areas, emergent trees within forests or dead trees along the forest edge (fig. 2c). Preening and grooming birds were mostly observed between 10:00 and 12:00 hrs,


in groups ranging from 3 to 28 individuals, mainly on trees scattered over open areas or dead trees within native forest. Activities or behaviours associated with breeding were recorded at both localities, albeit rarely. At Chiriguaná we recorded two birds during what appeared to be a cavity inspection inside a dead tree on a forest edge on 29 June 2011 at 10:15 hrs. One day later at 07:30 hrs we observed three individuals involved in courtship-related displays (e.g. regurgitation, mutual grooming) during 29 minutes. On 6 August 2011 at Becerril, we recorded two individuals from 10:29-10:31 hrs involved in mutual grooming (fig. 2d), chasing one another and subsequently copulating. The flight patterns documented here for Todd’s parakeet are similar to those recorded for other members of Pyrrhura in different regions within the Neotropics (see Collar, 1997, and multiple references therein). Andean species such as P. viridicata and P. calliptera tend to fly no higher than 10 m above the forest canopy (Botero-Delgadillo and Páez, 2011b) and flocks of P. melanura chapmani have been observed flying below the canopy (E. Botero-Delgadillo, pers. obs.). Amazonian populations of P. picta and P. rupicola also tend to fly 5-7 m below the forest canopy (Gilardi and Munn, 1998). This pattern has given rise to the suggestion that landscape-scale flights or seasonal migrations carried out by Pyrrhura parakeets may be limited by large discontinuities in the forest canopy (Botero-Delgadillo et al., 2012a, 2012c). This apparent sensitivity to forest fragmentation should be taken into account when designing management actions for endangered species of Pyrrhura (BoteroDelgadillo and Páez, 2011a, 2011b). The vulnerability of Todd’s parakeet and other Pyrrhura to forest discontinuity remains to be verified, for which it will be necessary to evaluate their habitat selection patterns and use of space at different spatial scales. Ardeola 60(2), 2013, 377-383



Flocking patterns in Todd’s parakeet were similar to those reported for other Pyrrhura, which tend to form groups rarely exceeding 10 individuals (Kristoch and MarcondesMachado, 2001; Toyne et al., 1992; BoteroDelgadillo et al., 2011c). Although groups of up to 90 birds have been recorded in other species, these large flocks do not occur year-round and appear to represent seasonal aggregations of family groups around spatially-concentrated flowering or fruiting trees (Olmos et al., 1997; Ragusa-Netto, 2007; Botero-Delgadillo et al., 2011c). Unlike other members of Andean Pyrrhura, it has been suggested that Todd’s parakeet is more restricted to native forests (TovarMartínez, 2010; Botero-Delgadillo and Páez, 2011b). Our observations do not support this conclusion, as a high proportion of records at Becerril occurred in agricultural habitats or forest-agricultural mosaics. This is in agreement with the common view that some members of Pyrrhura frequently use transformed areas or margins (Botero-Delgadillo and Páez, 2011b). Although this could be viewed as an indicator of tolerance to forest clearance, further study is needed to determine habitat selection patterns in these birds and whether transformed areas are indeed selected positively or negatively. Indeed, whether agricultural or transformed habitats are used in proportion to their current availability is a question that remains unanswered. Nevertheless, we have showed elsewhere that this could be the case, because crops and cleared areas covered nearly 50% of the total area at both the Chiriguaná and Becerril study sites (Botero-Delgadillo et al., 2012b). Our observations complement the current information on the diet and breeding biology of the Todd’s parakeet. Feeding on Psidium guajava, Cecropia cf. peltata, Ficus glabrata and Inga sp. has been reported elsewhere (Rodríguez-Mahecha and Hernández-Camacho, 2002; Tovar-Martínez, 2010) but the consumption of Alchornea sp. fruits has not Ardeola 60(2), 2013, 377-383

been reported previously and this should be added to the list of 25 or so species known to be consumed by this species. Data regarding its breeding period are scarce and remain equivocal, with some authors indicating that breeding occurs from March through June (Rodríguez-Mahecha and Hernández-Camacho, 2002) and others arguing that it extends from January to March (Tovar-Martínez, 2010; Botero-Delgadillo and Páez, 2011b). Although our data are not conclusive, they could suggest either a long relaxed breeding period, asynchronous breeding peaks between areas or individuals, multiple breeding attempts or a second breeding peak beginning in July-August. Taking into account that other congeners exhibit a second reproductive peak (Botero-Delgadillo and Páez, 2011b), we suggest that the final explanation may be the most plausible, but this supposition requires further confirmation. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.—We thank Fonds für bedrohte Papageien and Strunden Papageien Stiftung for funding this work, and to René Wüst for his advice and ideas for the entire project. We thank two anonymous reviewers for comments that improved this manuscript.

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Ardeola 60(2), 2013, 377-383


The ecology and natural history of Todd’s parakeet Pyrrhura picta caeruleiceps is scarcely known. We describe some aspects of its habitat us...