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Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Parrots return after nine decades
Parrot with wings spread   Jorge Velasquez/Fundacion ProAves-Colombia
Survivor: The indigo-winged parrot back after 91 years

One of the rarest bird species in the world, the indigo-winged parrot, has been rediscovered in Latin America.

Ornithologists spotted a flock of the parrots on 28 July on an Andean volcano in central Colombia.

The species was first recorded in the region in 1911, but since then there have been no confirmed sightings.

Conservationists hope the parrots' rediscovery may be the prelude to safeguarding their future.


Brilliant flashes of emerald greens, cobalt blues and scarlet reds flashed before us

Jorge Velasquez
The bird, Hapalopsittaca fuertesi,known also as Fuertes' parrot, is classified as critically endangered.

An unconfirmed sighting in 1989 was thought at the time to be reliable, but ornithologists are now doubtful. They know nothing about the species' feeding and breeding habits.

The leader of the team which saw the flock in July as they headed 3,000m up the volcano is Jorge Velasquez. He had been searching the Andean forests in vain for months with a colleague, Alonso Quevedo.

Jorge Velasquez described the moment when they heard the birds: "Suddenly, a parrot's sharp cry pierced the gloom of the cloudy forest, and was immediately joined by a chorus of other birds in the mist.

Flying free

"The ghostly silhouettes of fourteen parrots spiralled downwards to alight in the trees nearby.

"In those few seconds, brilliant flashes of emerald greens, cobalt blues and scarlet reds flashed before us and we thought we were witnessing a miracle from heaven, as one of the world's rarest birds descended before our very eyes."

The team won a gold award in the 2002 BP Conservation Programme, a partnership of BP, BirdLife International and Fauna and Flora International.

Head-on parrot shot   Jorge Velasquez/Fundacion ProAves-Colombia
The parrots may be re-established
The still images and video footage it brought back are the first photographs ever taken of the indigo-winged parrot, which has never been held in captivity, unlike most other parrots.

Dr Robert Prys-Jones, of the Natural History Museum in London, said the team had made a remarkable find, "one of the greatest wildlife discoveries in Colombia".

The area where the parrots were found is said to be severely threatened by forest clearance for firewood, agriculture, road construction and cattle grazing.

Managed recovery

Dr Nigel Collar of BirdLife told BBC News Online: "The indigo-winged parrot is unquestionably an incredibly rare bird, and its reappearance is extremely welcome.

"Species are being rediscovered fairly regularly as people get into more and more remote areas.

"I hope this one can be re-established - I never give up hope till the last one has gone.

"All it needs is a bit of intervention and management, and a bird like a parrot can be turned round relatively quiclly."

Images by Jorge Velasquez, copyright Fundacion ProAves-Colombia

See also:

29 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
20 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
05 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
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