Endangered Santa Marta Parakeet Gains Protection of Important Habitat

Colombia's endangered Santa Marta Parakeet will benefit from a recent purchase of a key property by Fundación ProAves, with support from American Bird Conservancy.

The 148-acre tract, known as the La Cumbre property, is situated in Colombia's Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, an area that is ranked as the second-most important site for threatened birds and amphibians in the world. The land purchase expands the 2,250-acre El Dorado Reserve, created in 2006 by ProAves, ABC, and Conservation International.

Santa Marta Parakeets, Murray Cooper

The chief threat to Santa Marta Parakeets is habitat loss from logging, agricultural development, cattle raising, and human settlement. The La Cumbre property will provide important habitat for the endangered bird. Photo: Murray Cooper

The La Cumbre property links two forested areas. It will allow ProAves to create additional breeding and foraging habitat for the parakeet along a ridge that contains the largest known population of parakeets.

Although the new property is only partially forested, it supports an important concentration of wax palms needed by nesting Santa Marta Parakeets. With continued support from ABC, ProAves will hire a forest guard to monitor parakeets and to restore habitat by planting palms where the parakeets feed and roost.

Habitat for Migratory Birds, Too

“This property is a conservation jewel,” said George Fenwick, President of ABC. The rare parakeet isn't the only species that will benefit from the newly expanded property, he noted. The reserve also provides critical habitat for more than 40 neotropical migratory birds and boasts an exceptionally diverse array of native birds, plants, amphibians, and butterflies. Many are found only in this isolated corner of the country.

Colombia has the greatest number of bird species of any country in the world, and this particular spot is among the richest. The northern slope of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta alone has more than 635 recorded bird species. At least 19 bird species — and more than 52 subspecies — live only in this one area.

Meanwhile, the mountains also serve as a vital stopover point for declining migratory birds such as the Cerulean and Golden-winged Warblers that breed in the United States and Canada. The presence of multiple threatened species found only at this site has been recognized by the Alliance for Zero Extinction, a global initiative aimed at halting species loss.

Cerulean Warbler, Tessa Nickels

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a key stopover point for migratory birds like the Cerulean Warbler. Photo: Tessa Nickels

Population Increases Despite Challenges

Decades of colonization and agricultural expansion have taken a toll on the region. Only 15 percent of the Sierra Nevada's original vegetation remains unaltered.

And despite the fact that much of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is designated as a national park, encroachment and deforestation continue to harm the sensitive forests at the mountains' highest elevations. This is bad news for many of the birds that live only in this area and depend on habitat between 4,300 and 9,500 feet, where their range comprises fewer than 200 square miles.

Artificial nest boxes have helped to boost the parakeets' population. Photo: Murray Cooper

Artificial nest boxes have helped to boost the parakeets' population. Photo: Murray Cooper

Still, ProAves has made great strides in bolstering the parakeets' population. Artificial nest boxes have helped, and the presence of the forest guard will aid in protecting an area under pressure from developers.