VU
Echo Parakeet Alexandrinus eques



Justification

Justification of Red List Category
Thanks to conservation efforts, the number of Echo Parakeets in the wild increased to over 750 known individuals in 2017 post-breeding. It is reported that the total population on Mauritius contains around 450 mature individuals. The Echo Parakeet is therefore listed as Vulnerable under Criterion D1.

Population justification
At the end of the 2016/2017 breeding season, the population was estimated at c.756 birds. The number of mature individuals in the 2018/2019 breeding season was estimated as approximately 450 individuals (S. Henshaw and V. Tatayah in litt. 2019).

Trend justification
The population is estimated to have experienced an extremely rapid increase over the last 23 years (three generations). The population has increased from 32 individuals in 1996 to an estimated 750 in 2019 (S. Henshaw and V. Tatayah in litt. 2019).

Distribution and population

Psittacula eques survives in south-west Mauritius, having become extinct historically on Réunion. Once widespread across Mauritius, numbers started to decline in the 19th century to an estimated 20 individuals in the 1980s (Jones et al. 2013, V. Tatayah and S. Henshaw in litt. 2019). The species’s decline and contracting distribution was likely caused by the severe and large-scale destruction and degradation of its forest habitat for conversion into plantations (Jones 1987, Greenwood 1996, Jones et al. 1998). 

Since then, intense conservation efforts have aided the continuous recovery of the species (Jones et al. 2013). By now, the largest part of the population is confined to restricted areas of the Black River Gorges National Park (6,800 ha) in southwestern Mauritius. Reintroductions of captive-bred birds there ceased in 2005/2006 (C. Jones in litt. 2019), following the outbreak of Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD). Currently, two additional populations are being established in other parts of Mauritius: between 2015 and 2017, wild-born individuals were translocated to the Bambous Mountains on the East Coast of the island, where breeding could be confirmed in 2018, and this population is deemed self-sustaining (V. Tatayah, S. Henshaw and C. Jones in litt. 2019). Another translocation programme started in early 2018 to establish a population in Chamarel in the south-west; however this population has not been breeding yet (V. Tatayah and S. Henshaw in litt. 2019). Translocations to both Bambous and Chamarel are planned to continue in the next few years to reinforce the population (V. Tatayah in litt. 2019). 

Ecology

This species now survives in forest and upland scrub (Marshall 1997), with lowland, intermediate and scrub forests being very important feeding areas (Jones 1987). It appears to be a strictly arboreal forager, feeding mainly on native plants and taking a wide range of parts including buds, young shoots, leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, twigs and even bark and sap (Jones 1987, Jones et al. 2013). They return to favoured food trees, some of which have been used for generations (Jones et al. 1998). Birds forage singly or in small groups in different areas at different seasons and are known to travel several kilometers to and from feeding areas in search of food, although the dwarf forest and scrublands of the south-west plateau are an important foraging area throughout the year (Jones 1987). Nesting takes place in natural cavities in native trees (Greenwood 1996). It is monogamous, but breeding units in the 1970s and 1980s often comprised a group of one female with up to three males, one of which was dominant and mated with and fed the female (Jones et al. 1998). The presence of extra males was probably the result of a formerly skewed sex ratio; pairs are usually hostile to extra males, who seem to have no positive effect on fledging success, which is probably related to the experience of the dominant male (Jones et al. 1998). Clutch size is 1-4 (but normally 2-3) eggs, which are laid from September-December (Thorsen and Jones 1998, Jones et al. 1998), and incubation, by the female, lasts 21-25 days (Jones et al. 1998). The population currently experiences high rates of egg fertility (84%), high hatchability of fertile eggs (82%) and fledging success of hatched young (76%) (Jones et al. 2013). One to two chicks are usually fledged, though up to four have been recorded (Jones et al. 1998, 2013) from the end of October to the beginning of February or later, and fledgling parakeets are reputed to stay with their parents, being fed by them for at least 2-3 months after leaving the nest (Jones 1987)

Threats

This species's earlier decline and contracting distribution corresponds to the severe destruction and degradation of its native habitat (Jones 1987, Greenwood 1996). The population crashed from a likely total of several thousand following forest destruction and the replacement of its favoured feeding habitat, upland dwarf forest, with plantations (Jones et al. 1998). In 1996, only 5% of the island was covered with native vegetation (Jones et al. 1998). The areas of upland native forest that remain continue to be highly degraded by cyclones, the influences of past forestry practices, the spread of introduced plants such as guava Psidium cattleianum, privet Ligustrum robustum and jamrosa Syzygium jambos and the effect of introduced feral mammals such as pigs Sus scrofa and rusa deer Rusa timorensis (Greenwood 1996, Thorsen and Jones 1998). The production of native fruit, on which the parakeet feeds, and regeneration of potential nest trees is thus poor (Greenwood 1996). Recent research suggests that food shortage due to deterioration of the native forest is the major cause of nest failure; although exotics can provide an abundant food source it is not available year-round or even throughout the breeding season (Thorsen and Jones 1998). Crab-eating macaques Macaca fascicularis and black rats Rattus rattus are amongst a number of introduced arboreal species which pose a threat to parakeets by raiding nests and competing for native fruits (Greenwood 1996). Bees Apis mellifera, yellow wasps Polistes hebraeus, paper wasps, termites, White-tailed Tropicbirds Phaethon lepturus, introduced Common Mynas Acridotheres tristis and Ring-necked Parakeets Psittacula krameri are all nest site competitors and can displace active breeding pairs (Thorsen and Jones 1998, C. Jones in litt. 2000, V. Tatayah in litt. 2012). The decline in the number of old native trees, which are lost to storm damage and senescence, has intensified competition for nesting cavities, with 14-19% of P. eques cavities lost to competitors each year (Jones et al. 1998). Infestations of nest fly larvae can be severe in some years and, without intervention, would kill many young (C. Jones in litt. 2000). Despite the rapid outbreak of a novel genotype of the virus that causes Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) in the 2004/2005 season (Kundu et al. 2012), the impact of the disease on the population appears to have been thus far negligible, limited to a brief reduction in hatching success (Tollington et al. 2015).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway

The species has been the subject of a conservation programme since 1973 (Jones et al. 1998). The dramatic increase in the species's population in recent years is undoubtedly due to an intensive programme to manage the wild population combined with a highly successful captive breeding programme since the 1993/1994 breeding season (Jones et al. 1998) - a collaborative effort of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, the World Parrot Trust, the Mauritian Government and the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust Society (Greenwood 1996). Between 1997 and 2004, when reintroductions were completed, a total of 139 captive reared birds were released (Jones 2010). Clutch and brood manipulations of wild nests were carried out between 1994 and 2005 to increase productivity and obtain individuals for captive breeding (Jones et al. 2013). The intensity of conservation management was reduced in 2005 to reduce the risk of the spread of Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) (Jones et al. 2013). Current conservation management measures are more hands-off and directed towards maximising wild survival and recruitment (Jones et al. 2013). Nest cavity improvement is carried out to address a shortage in the availability of quality natural breeding sites. This involves modifications to protect against weather, competitors, and predators (Jones et al. 2013). Nest parasites (nest flies and mites) are controlled via the addition of pesticide-treated substrate. Artificial nest boxes were first used for breeding in 2000, with uptake steadily increasing since. The majority of breeding pairs nested in artificial nest boxes in the 2010/2011 breeding season, and productivity was higher at these sites compared with natural cavities (Jones et al. 2013). Supplementary feeding in the form of commercially produced parrot pellets was provided consistently since 1997, and as of the 2010/2011 season was consumed by over 50% of the population. Consumption of supplementary food is associated with the production of larger clutches, more eggs hatched per clutch, and more individuals fledged per brood (Jones et al. 2013). Habitat management has been directed at increasing the productivity of native forest and has included the foundation in 1993 of the Black River National Park in 6,574 ha of native forest (Jones and Hartley 1995, Greenwood 1996), including most of the species's remaining habitat (Jones et al. 1998). There are 14 Conservation Management Areas (CMAs), ranging from 0.2 to 24 ha, in which native forest is manually cleared of weeds (Jones et al. 1998). Some of these CMAs are heavily utilised by the species as their trees produce bumper crops (C. Jones in litt. 2000). Research has occurred on present and historic genetic variation of the species so that the effects of the population bottleneck can be quantified and current populations managed to preserve maximum genetic diversity (Tollington et al. 2013). Research into the impact of PBFD is likely to be ongoing for several years (Malham 2007), and has involved intensive screening of birds since 2005 (Richards 2010, V. Tatayah in litt. 2012). Despite the rapid outbreak of a novel genotype of the causative virus in the 2004/2005 season (Kundu et al. 2012), the impact of the disease on the population appears to have been thus far negligible, limited to a brief reduction in hatching success (Tollington et al. 2015). Strict biosecurity protocols are deployed by conservation managers to restrict transmission of disease. An experiment testing the effectiveness of these protocols  has suggested that while they reduced the probability of nestling infection, they were in fact associated with a slight reduction in fledging success (Fogell et al. 2019). Recently, wild-born individuals were translocated to the Bambous Mountains on the east coast of Mauritius to establish a new population. Breeding was confirmed there in the 2018/2019 season (S. Henshaw in litt. 2019). Another translocation programme was started in early 2018 to establish a population in Chamarel in the south-west; no breeding has yet been recorded there (V. Tatayah and S. Henshaw in litt. 2019).

Conservation Actions Proposed

Translocations to both Bambous and Chamarel are planned to continue in the next few years to reinforce the population (V. Tatayah in litt. 2019). Establishment of a population on Réunion, where the species formerly occurred and suitable habitat exists, has been suggested (Jones et al. 2013). Current management practices such as of the provision of artificial nest boxes and supplementary food are likely to be long-term requirements of the population while remaining native forest is rehabilitated (Jones et al. 2013, Jones in litt 2019). Research into the effectiveness and consequences of these management practices, as well as the impacts of PBFD, will continue (Jones in litt. 2019). 

Identification

36 cm. Long-tailed, green parakeet. Male has bright red bill. Female has dark bill and is generally darker overall. Similar spp. Easily confused with smaller, paler Rose-ringed Parakeet P. krameri and best distinguished by vocalisations. Voice Loud kaaark kaaark in flight and sharp, short kik kik, unlike the high-pitched shrieks and shrills of P. krameri.

Acknowledgements

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Pilgrim, J., Shutes, S., Smith, D., Westrip, J., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Hermes, C., Ekstrom, J., Warren, B., McClellan, R.

Contributors
Jones, C., Tatayah, V. & Henshaw, S.


Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Alexandrinus eques. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 17/08/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 17/08/2022.