A brief digression on parrots.

by Stephen C. Lougheed

The parrots comprise a large order (Psittaciformes) of birds with a mainly pantropical distribution, although some species do inhabit temperate regions in the Southern Hemisphere as well (e.g. the burrowing parrot, Cyanoliseus patagonus, of southern South America). Number of species reported varies but generally is on the order of 340 to 370 distributed across between 78 and 86 genera (Rowley and Collar 1997). Characteristics of parrots will be familiar to most: robust, curved bill, strong legs with zygodactylous feet (two toes forward, two toes facing backward). Many are brightly-coloured although some, like the sulfur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) are mostly white, while others, like the flightless Kakapo (Strigops habroptila) of New Zealand, have muted and cryptic plumage patterns to avoid predators.

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Northern rosella taken in Litchfield National Park. Click on thumbnail for larger image.

In my still unfolding peregrinations in Australia I have already seen 10 species of parrot including this lovely northern rosella (photo by Cam Hudson – see his blog  – from some distance – but still showing some of the vibrant colours).

My list thus far includes:

  • Red tailed black-cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus banksii

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    Gallah taken just outside Nitmiluk National Park. Click on thumbnail for larger image.
  • Yellow tailed black-cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus funereus
  • Gallah, Eolophus roseicapilla
  • Little corella, Cacatua sanguinea
  • Sulfur-crested cockatoo, Cacatua galerita
  • Rainbow lorikeet, Trichoglossus haematodus
  • Red-shoulder parrot, Diopsittaca nobilis
  • Eastern rosella, Platycercus eximius (see photo)
  • Hooded parrot, Psephotus dissimilis
  • Northern rosella, Platycercus venustus

Carolina_parakeet_JJ_AudubonUnfortunately, at least 80 species of parrot are classified as vulnerable or endangered (IUCN 2013) due to a mixture of habitat loss, collection for the pet trade, and persecution because some are considered agricultural pests (Collar 2007) with some already extinct. Indeed, the only psittacid of Eastern North America went extinct in the early 20th Century. The Carolina parakeet (Cacatua galerita) once ranged from southern New York, south to the Gulf of Mexico and as far west as Nebraska (Snyder 2004). The Carolina parakeet was a lovely species, with bright yellow head, orange face, green body and pale bill (see John James Audubon’s rendering here). One can imagine that, before European settlement (and ensuing loss of the Eastern deciduous forest, persecution because it foraged on orchards, and hunting for the millinery trade – nothing like a stuffed parakeet on your hat I guess – see Saikku, 1990), very occasionally one might even have seen a northern vagrant parakeet in Canada.

References

  1. Collar, N.J. 2007. Globally threatened parrots: criteria, characteristics and cures. International Zoo Yearbook 37: 21–35.
  2. IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 22 January 2014.
  3. Rowley, I. and N.J. Collar. 1997. Order PSITTACIFORMES. In Handbook of the Birds of the World – Volume 4. Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal eds.) Lynx Edicions
  4. Saikku, M. 1990. The extinction of the Carolina parakeet. Environmental History Review 14: 1-18.
  5. Snyder, N.F.R. 2004. The Carolina Parakeet: Glimpses of a Vanished Bird Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ.
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Frog diversity at the University of Sydney Tropical Ecology Research Facility near Darwin.

By Stephen C. Lougheed

I am travelling in Australia funded, in part, by The J. Allen Keast Field Biology International Exchange Fund. Allen, born and raised in Australia, was a long-time professor in Biology at Queen’s and an enduring presence at the Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS). The Fund, as its name implies, facilitates exchanges between Australian and Canadian scientists. As Director of QUBS my hope on this sojourn is to visit a number of facilities and bring back some ideas for our own station on how to enrich the research, teaching and outreach.

I am currently at the University of Sydney Tropical Ecology Research Facility situated about an hour outside of Darwin in the Northern Territory and just outside of Fogg Dam Conservation Area – about halfway between the Tropic of Capricorn and the equator. Most of the work done here is herpetological with a major focus on understanding and countering the negative consequences of the massive cane toad invasion in Australia. Indeed my host (aside from the Facility Director Rick Shine and Manager Dr. Greg Brown who kindly made this visit possible), Cam Hudson, who is both a Queen’s University alumnus and an ex-student of mine, is doing his doctorate on cane toads here.

The surrounding woodlands here are diverse, although having spent time in similar Neotropical and Afrotropical habitats, I can say that there always seems to something familiar like the squawking of parrots (e.g. here red-tailed black-cockatoos, lorikeets or rosellas) or omnipresent cooing of doves of various kinds. The annual rainfall here is markedly seasonal (mean annual rainfall 1729.7 mm) with most rain falling between November and March. We are firmly in the grip of the rainy season as there have been daily deluges since I arrived. Mean maximum annual temperature is 32 degree C although the daily minimum temperature seldom dips below 15 degrees C.

In the mornings I have been taking time to walk along the local roads and trails bird-watching (well really anything watching), in afternoons working on manuscripts, letters and emails, and in the evenings doing some ‘herping’ especially looking for frogs that are now actively chorusing and breeding. In three nights of not particularly intensive searching we have assembled a handsome list of 15 species – a rogues gallery of which I present here (note that 9 of them are in the massive genus Litoria!):

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To put this into perspective on QUBS lands we have documented only 9 anuran species (Chorus frog, Spring peeper, Grey treefrog, American bullfrog, Green frog, Pickerel frog, Leopard frog, Wood frog, American toad), and this list expands to ten if we consider all of Eastern Ontario (to include the Mink frog). Thus in three nights we have assembled a list comprised of 50% more frog species within a single small region.

In February I will be traveling to Cairns in the northeast hoping to spend some time in Daintree National Park – again a very productive, biodiverse, and humid area of Australia.