Yellow-eared Parrot Ognorhynchus icterotis


Justification of Red List Category
This species is classified as Vulnerable because the known population of mature individuals is very small. However, intensive conservation action has stabilised its current range and resulted in an exceptional recovery and increase in the population size. If the number of mature individuals continues to increase the species may be downlisted further in the future.

Population justification
From the initial 81 individuals that were rediscovered in 1999, the species increased to 2,600 individuals in 2019, which include at least 1,000 mature individuals (Salaman et al. 2019).

Trend justification
Once abundant across its range, habitat loss and subsequent lack of nest site availability as well as hunting led to it almost becoming extinct by the end of the 20th century (Salaman et al. 2019). The species has not been recorded in Ecuador since the 1990s, and only in 1997 a small flock was rediscovered in Colombia (Krabbe and Sornoza 1996, Salaman et al. 1999a). Since then, intense conservation efforts caused an exceptional recovery and increase in population size. From an initial 81 individuals in 1999, the species increased to 1,100 individuals in 2010, to 1,400 individuals in 2013 and to 2,600 individuals in 2019 (Fundación ProAves in litt. 2010, Salaman et al. 2019). Despite the overall positive trend, local declines are observed in the population at Cubarral, which decreased from 70 individuals counted in 2009 to less than ten individuals counted in 2020 (Fundación ProAves in litt. 2020).

Distribution and population

Ognorhynchus icterotis formerly occurred in all three Andean ranges of Colombia, from Norte de Santander and Antioquia to Nariño and in north-western Ecuador, south to Cotopaxi. It persists in the Central Andes of Colombia (Krabbe 1998, López-Lanús et al. 1998, Salaman et al. 1999a), although its whereabouts for much of the year are unknown (Krabbe and Sornoza 1996, Salaman et al. 1999a). Once common to abundant, it is now potentially extinct in Ecuador (M. Sanchez in litt. 2013, Athanas and Greenfield 2016): although there have been unconfirmed reports of flocks of c.20 individuals in the Intag valley since 2000 (O. Jahn in litt. 2007), searches in 2008 in the last confirmed strongholds in Imbabura and Carchi failed to find the species (Anon. 2010). When re-discovered in Colombia in 1999 there were estimated to be only 81 birds, but intensive conservation actions have since seen the population rapidly recover. Breeding populations are found on the slopes of the Western, Central and Eastern Cordilleras. Two core populations in Roncesvalles-Tolima and in Jardin-Antioquia serve as source populations, from where the species continues to expand its range, recolonising historical breeding sites (P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 2019). New locations have recently been reported, e.g. Apia, Tatamá and San Pedro de los Milagros (O. Cortes in litt. 2013, T. Donegan in litt. 2013, J. P. Lopez O. in litt. 2013); however, many of these observations are likely to be of recent colonisers and fly-overs by dispersing birds (T. Donegan in litt. 2013). A population at San Luis de Cubarral is thought to have been in the area for over 30 years, based on the observations of local villagers (Murcia-Nova et al. 2009, A. Murcia-Nova in litt. 2013). Although breeding success is good, the species's breeding requirements and highly fragmented habitat will continue to challenge its recovery (Fundación ProAves in litt. 2010).


It inhabits humid montane forest, elfin forest and partially cleared terrain at 1,200-3,400 m, favouring areas dominated by wax palms Ceroxylon quindiuense, in which it roosts, nests and feeds (Juniper and Parr 1998, Krabbe 1998, Salaman et al. 1999a, P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 1999). Although currently resident at one site (López-Lanús et al. 1998, Salaman et al. 1999b), other flocks wander seasonally in search of food (bark, buds and fruiting/seeding blooms of Ceroxylon, Citharexylon, Podocarpus and Sapium spp., as well as a variety of fern species) (Krabbe 1998, Salaman et al. 1999b, P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 1999). The population at San Luis de Cubarral depends on the palm Dictyocaryum lamakcianum, as well as wax palms, and remains in the area year-round (Murcia Nova et al. 2009, A. Murcia Nova in litt. 2013). Two breeding cycles in April-November were noted at one colony (Juniper and Parr 1998, Salaman et al. 1999b). Breeding pairs enlist the help of 'brood-helpers' during the chick-rearing stage (Salaman 2001). Its ecology is discussed in further detail by Salaman et al. (2006).


The main drivers of the species's historical decline are habitat loss as well as hunting (Salaman et al. 2019). In particular, habitat loss caused a lack of nest site availability, as dead wax palms were cut for use as durable fence posts and live palms were logged for Palm Sunday processions, decimating once abundant palm groves (P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 2019). Wax palms are very long-lived and slow-growing (mature individuals are over 500 years old) (Salaman 2001); they suffer poor recruitment because cattle browse young trees, and logging in adjacent areas increases their susceptibility to disease (Krabbe 1998, Salaman et al. 1999a, b, P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 1999). Hunting is a further threat, as the species is easily approachable and largely oblivious to humans (Salaman et al. 2019, P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 2019). In Ecuador, hunting for food was prolific (Krabbe and Sornoza 1996, Salaman et al. 1999b), and trapping has had some impact in Colombia, although the species is notoriously hard to keep in captivity (Salaman et al. 1999b, Salaman 2001). The population near Cubarral appears to be in decline, but the drivers of the decline are unknown (Fundación ProAves in litt. 2020).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I and II. The spectacular recovery of the species is the result of an intensive two-decade multifaceted conservation effort by Fundación ProAves, supported by Fundación Loro Parque (P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 2019, Fundación ProAves in litt. 2020). Results from habitat protection and restoration, provision of artificial nest sites, community outreach efforts, a national Palm Sunday campaign (“Reconcile with Nature”) to protect wax palm, community workshops, and among other activities immediately alleviated threats and a population recovery started (P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 2019). Awareness campaigns highlight the importance of the wax palm and the species. These campaigns caused people to stop hunting the parrot and felling the palms, and encouraged the government and FARC to enforce a ban on harming the parrot and the palm (P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 2019). In 2003, the head of the Catholic church in Colombia overturned a two-century old tradition of using wax palm fronds in Palm Sunday processions with an immediate and effective nationwide ban on using wax palms (P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 2019). Police, military and regional environmental agencies in Colombia conducted nationwide checkpoints to confiscate wax palm fronds (Salaman et al. 2019). Combined with on-the-ground actions such as fencing of breeding sites to allow wax palm regeneration, habitat restoration and provision of artificial nest boxes, the species's population size has increased significantly (Salaman 2001, Waugh 2004, Fundación ProAves in litt. 2010, 2012, Salaman et al. 2019). Fundación ProAves owns two reserves where conservation efforts are focused on this species, near Jardín-Antioquia (189 ha) and in Roncesvalles-Tolima (3,998 ha). In 2009, Fundación ProAves established a corridor of over 6,600 ha for Ognorhynchus and other threatened parrots across the Central Cordillera in Colombia (Salaman et al. 2019). At San Luis de Cubarral, the use of artificial nests was initiated in 2011, and it is reported that the population has increased as a result (per O. Cortes in litt. 2013). More information on conservation initiatives is provided by Salaman et al. (2006). Considered Endangered at the national level in Colombia (Renjifo et al. 2014). The traditional roost-site in Ecuador has been purchased and is being reforested (Snyder et al. 2000). Surveys took place in early 2008 in Ecuador to determine the species's status there (O. Jahn in litt. 2007).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Search for additional subpopulations, with a focus on determining status within the Intag valley, Ecuador (P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 1999, Snyder et al. 2000). Prepare habitat maps of the Volcán Ruiz-Tolima massif (Salaman et al. 1999b). Buy and protect further habitat (Salaman et al. 1999b, P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 1999, Snyder et al. 2000). Continue the current highly successful programme of conservation activities in Colombia and extend these to any sub-population identified within Ecuador in the future.


42 cm. Macaw-like, yellow-and-green parrot. Green with large yellow ear-patches and frontal band, green throat and predominantly yellow underparts. Dark, heavy bill. Similar spp. Red-fronted Parakeet Aratinga wagleri is smaller and lacks yellow on the head. Golden-plumed Parakeet Leptosittaca branickii has much less yellow on sides of head and a smaller, paler bill. Voice Disyllabic, goose-like calls.


Text account compilers
Hermes, C.

Benstead, P., Bird, J., Capper, D., Cortés, O., Donegan, T., Fundación ProAves, Isherwood, I., Jahn, O., Lopez-O., J.P., Murcia Nova, A., Salaman, P.G.W., Sanchez, M., Sharpe, C.J., Stuart, T., Symes, A. & Taylor, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Ognorhynchus icterotis. Downloaded from on 23/05/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 23/05/2022.