New parrot discovered

By MICHAEL ASTOR-- The Associated Press
Friday, May 31, 2002

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- Brazilian scientists have discovered a new parrot species in the southern Amazon -- a green plumed bird with a vulture's hooked neck and a bald orange head.

The bird, which measures about 10 inches from head to tail and weighs about 6 ounces, was discovered in Amazon state of Para near the Madeira river and a tributary of the upper Tapajos by two graduate students at Zoology department of the University of Sao Paulo.

A complete scientific description including the bird's scientific name will appear in the July edition of the peer-reviewed ornithological journal, The Auk.

Renato Gaban-Lima and Marcos Raposo captured the bird in Sept. 1999 while collecting specimens for Gaban-Lima's master's thesis in a little-studied area of the Amazon rainforest.

At first, they thought the bird was a young individual of Pionopsitta vulturina species, more commonly known as the Vulturine parrot.

Pioneering German Ornithologist Helmut Sick captured the same bird in the 1950s but he mistook it for a young Vulterine parrot. He thought the bird's orange head would turn black over time like the adult Vulturine parrot.

There was a problem with Sick's theory: The bird Gaban Lima had in hand seemed like an a fully-grown adult.

"The birds have a series of characteristics that indicate whether it is young or not and this one didn't seem young, Gaban-Lima said.

His doubts grew stronger after he asked an Indian who was serving as a guide if he ever saw any of similar birds with black heads and he said he hadn't.

If the bird was a young Vulturine parrot, why weren't their any adults around?

To solve the mystery Gaban-Lima, Raposo and Elizabeth Hofling, another co-author of the bird's scientific description, examined various collections around Brazil and came to the conclusion it was truly a separate species and not as Sick had speculated a young Vulturine parrot.

"There are indications that it's a sister species of the Vulturine parrot and from the collections we see that, except for a little overlap, the two birds inhabit distinct areas," Gaban-Lima said.

Tony Juniper, joint author of "Parrots: A guide to the Parrots of the World" called the discovery an important one.

"I think these days the discovery of any new species of vertebrate is a red letter day," Juniper said by telephone from London. "The fact that we're still finding animals like this does underline the incompleteness of our understanding of biodiversity. Many species are going extinct without ever going noticed."

Juniper said this is only the fourth new parrot species to be discovered since 1988, the others were discovered in Ecuador, Peru and Brazil's central Amazon