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Finsch's Pygmy Parrot (1 Viewer)

Solwara

Active member
Hello -
Finsch's Pygmy Parrot (Micropsitta finschii; one of six species in the genus Micropsitta) is particularly interesting as pygmy parrots go due to its unique biogeography - confined to New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands, fairly widespread, yet lacking a foothold on mainland New Guinea. The genus on a whole is very poorly understood (there's never been focused research/a doctorate done on them), and they are very bizarre. Unique among parrots, they each lichens and mosses, and make their nests in arboreal termite mounds. Barely larger than thumb sized, they have a distinctive, ringing tzzt tzzt call that nonetheless can be confused with that of another small green parrot, the Red-flanked Lorikeet.

Anyway, I had a chance to spend a few weeks making observations on the little guys, and arranged them into a bit of a loose paper. As the data are very incomplete, I don't really have anything to do with it, so I thought I'd share in the case that anyone was interested/ it would be useful.

NOTES ON FINSCH’S PYGMY PARROT

Ethan Linck, 1513 Texas Hill Road, Hinesburg, VT 05461

Abstract: Finsch’s Pygmy Parrot (Micropsitta finschii) is a little-known parrot species from Northern Melanesia in the South-west Pacific. Through observations of live specimens, habitat, and habitations in the field, the study identified an insect species in a symbiotic relationship with broadleaf tree Pometia tomentosa as an essential part of M. finschii’s diet. It recorded marked variation in nest-site height on several species of trees, identified several fluctuations in group size, and took note of periodic feeding behaviors at a single site. The study was unable to locate a nesting pair.

Introduction: Finsch’s Pygmy Parrot is one of six species in the genus Micropsitta, which represents the smallest members of the parrot family Psittacidae, and more broadly, the entire order Psittaciformes (Coates). M. finschii widely inhabits lowland tropical forest and disturbed habitat alike, from gardens to coconut plantations (Gregory). M. finschii is an interesting study in biogeography, as while widespread in the Solomon Islands, it inhabits only New Ireland and its satellites in the Bismarck Archipelago, and does not extend further west across a narrow strait to New Britain or mainland New Guinea (Diamond). Finsch’s Pygmy Parrot, typically of its genus, has been relatively ignored in terms of species specific ornithology, and questions remain about its feeding ecology, its breeding and nesting (especially in regards to parent-offspring nourishment), its behavior, and its plumage variations (Beehler, Tarburton). The aim of the study was to investigate M. finschii’s diet and feeding habits, and to investigate the bird’s nesting behaviors.

Methods: My observations took place over four non-consecutive mornings in the month of July from 9am to 12pm in the village of Kaplamon on the east coast of New Ireland, some 15km down the Boluminski highway from the provincial capital of Kavieng. Additionally, two trips into adjacent secondary forest, secondary growth, copra plantations, and communal gardens were conducted on alternate days in the same span of time, as well as ad lib observations and personal interviews with local naturalists.

Results
Feeding Ecology
Diet. Micropsitta finschii was observed on four separate mornings between 9am and 12pm foraging on three seperate Pometia tomentosa broadleaf trees (Keenan) (Fig. 1; known as Taun in the local Tigak language) in Kaplamon Village, New Ireland, where the birds stripped small pieces of bark from the tree with their beaks. It was unclear as to whether in this process either the bark or associated unidentified lichens were ingested. The primary purpose of this behavior was the consumption of the larvae of an unidentified insect species (Fig. 2). of either Lepidoptera or Coleoptera orders (Miller), living underneath the outer layer of bark of the tree in a symbiotic relationship, the specific classification of which will require further study. Photographs and descriptions of this insect did not provide diagnostic characteristics for a more in-depth identification. This behavior was first described by inhabitants of Kaplamon Village and later independently confirmed through individual observations. Of four Pometia tomentosa trees in the village center, three showed the characteristic pock-marks of extensive bark stripping by M. finschii.
Habits. Micropsitta finschii was observed stripping bark from Pometia trees while “creeping” both upright and upside down the tree’s trunk and limbs akin to North American Sitta sp. Nuthatches. The parrot fed at a variety of levels throughout the tree, ranging from < 1m above the ground to the canopy. During feeding, M. finschii emitted typical Micropsitta genus vocalizations (Coates), although such calls were restricted to individuals in the canopy and upper midstage levels. Individuals lower on the trunk of the tree were silent, presumably to avoid detection from potential predators.

Group Dynamics
M. finschii was observed in social groups of four to nine individuals during feeding. At any time, the majority of individuals in the flock were in the canopy and upper midstage levels of Pometia tomentosa, with no more than two individuals venturing below the lowest set of branches down the trunk at any one time, possibly to avoid the effect potential predation on a larger segment of the population. On two of the four mornings of observation in Kaplamon village, no individuals ventured below the upper midstage level, and were most readily observed in larger flocks flying between trees, both of Pometia tomentosa and other species (such as the palm Cocos nucifera). Only one flock visited Kaplamon village between 9am and 12pm each day, and restricted activity to one specific tree each time. Occaisionally, M. finschii individuals would be sighted in loose conspecific flocks with another small psittacid, the lory Charmosyna placentis.

Nest Sites
Three habitations of Micropsitta finschii were discovered on the trunk of a 15m tall Cocos nucifera palm in a mix of secondary forest, abandoned coconut plantation regrowth, and shrubby garden. Two stood at the base of the tree. One consisted of loose soil and other organic material, and held two tunnels 2cm tall x 2cm wide x 16cm deep in dimension. Locals stated that these tunnels were currently being excavated in preparation for nesting, but the claim was not independently confirmed. The other two were bored in a termite nest, 3cm x 3cm x 2cm. The shallow depth indicated part of the termite nest had recently collapsed, and locals said the nests had indeed recently been abandoned. A third nest was located 11m up the trunk of the palm, with three bored tunnels in a similar conglomeration of organic material. An additional nest was encountered at the edge of a garden clearing on a Ficus sp. tree, 1m from the base of the tree, and what a local claimed was the remains of a since-destroyed habitation was discovered at the base of a Bambuseae grove. No nesting pair was located, and observations yielded no conclusion as to a definite breeding season for Micropsitta finschii.

Habitat and other observations
M. finschii was observed exclusively in the populated village center of Kaplamon and adjacent gardens. Its habitations and local lore indicated its apparent range included a patchwork of habitats: Secondary forest, coconut plantation regrowth, abandoned gardens, and shrub forest. Due to the paucity of primary lowland rainforest near Kaplamon, no signs of the species were encountered in its original habitat. The study encountered three (3) individuals with red abdominal patches of coloration, although did not offer an explanation for this pattern. Sightings unsurprisingly diminished after a contingent of Kaplamon Village youth began targeting the small birds with slingshots, and sightings were considerably more difficult to obtain during periods of noise and commotion in the village.

Discussion
Implications for Conservation
Micropsitta finschii occurred in logged and degraded forest, gardens, and plantations during the study, and showed no indication of being sensitive to the aforementioned changes as indicated by earlier studies (Buckingham et al. 1995, Schodder 1977), although more extensive population monitoring is required before definite trends and threats can be identified. The bird’s presence in Northern New Ireland (Shearman et al. 2008), with little to no undisturbed habitat remaining, is a heartening indicator as to the future survival of the species in a region whose forests will increasingly come to resemble those of Northern New Ireland. Due to an ever increasing population with increasing demands for agricultural land, and continued commercial exploitation of lowland timber stands, forest clearance will only rise in Northern Melanesia, and as M. finschii does not extend in range over 1000m in elevation (Birdlife International 2008), where forest lands will likely resist exploitation for longer, the ability to persist in degraded habitat is essential for the species’ permanent survival in the rainforests of Northern Melanesia.

Future Research
Micropsitta finschii remains one of the most poorly known parrot species. In order for any necessary future conservation efforts to prove successful, it is imperative more is learned about the M. finschii’s lifestyle, especially as related to nesting, chick-rearing, and family groups, perhaps through long term observations of individual birds in the field, as has been performed with other psittacids. The mysterious plumage variations noted by Tarburton may offer a window into the development or breeding cycles of the parrot. The identification and study of the insect species in M. finschii’s diet is a priority; little is known about the feeding ecology of the genus in general, and while some authors report other Micropsitta species eat termites (Coates), the dynamics of this unique omnivorous diet deserve further investigation.

Conclusion
Micropsitta finschii has a unique diet, in part consisting of an unidentified insect species in a symbiotic relationship with the tree Pometia tomentosa. It feeds in groups from 3 to 9 individuals in size, returning to the same area at a specific time each morning, and is apparently tolerant of extensive habitat degradation. It nests at a variety of heights on a variety of tree species.

References:

Beehler, Bruce PhD. Vice President Conservation International Melanesia. Personal correspondence. 20 March 2008 - 1 April 2008.

BirdLife International (2008) Species factsheet: Micropsitta finschii. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 19/9/2008

Buckingham, D. L., Dutson, G. C. L., and Newman, J. L. (1995). Birds of Manus, Kolombangara and Makira (=San Cristobal) with notes on mammals and records from other Solomon Islands. Unpublished report of the Cambridge Solomons Rainforest Project 1990.

Coates, Brian, Peckover, William. Birds of New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago: A Photographic Guide. 2001. Dove Press.

Diamond, Jared and Ernst Mayr (2001). The Birds of Northern Melanesia: Speciation, Ecology, and Biogeography. N.Y.: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514170-9.

Gregory, Philip. Editor, Muruk, Sickleback Safaris. Personal correspondence. 6 April 2008.

Keenan, Rodney John. Forest and Ecosystem Science, University of Melbourne. Personal correspondence. 18 September 2008.

Miller, Scott E PhD. Senior Program Officer, Office of the Under Secretary for Science, Smithsonian Institution. Personal Correspondence. 11 September 2008.

Schodder, R, 1977. Survey of birds of southern Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea. Contributions to Papuasian ornithology VI. CommonwealthScientific and Industrial Research Organization, Melbourne, Australia.

Shearman, P.L., Bryan, J.E., Ash, J., Hunnam, P., Mackey, B., Lokes, B. 2008. The State of the Forests of Papua New Guinea. Mapping the extent and conditions of forest cover and measuring the drivers of forest change in the period 1972-2002. University of Papua New Guinea, 2008.

Tarburton, Michael. Dean, Pacific Adventist University. Personal correspondence. 19 May 2008.
 

steveo

King Midas in reverse
Sounds like a great trip. I enjoyed the article alot thank you. A whole different world from up here in the frozen north country of Vt. Did you get to Eden to see the Northern Hawk Owl?
 

Papuan birder

- Lost in the Pacific -
Wow!

Thats a very nice article, think I must have missed this one. This article defenitely help us understand more of this very rarely seen species, really interesting behaviour notes and may very well be the first published on this species. I grew up on New Guinea so I have had experiance with pretty much all other Pygmy parrots of this region, except this one. I have only see this one briefly on Bougainville and Guadalcanal myself, and no prolonged views just flying overhead or hearing amongst the trees.

I recently read a interesting papper on the pygmy parrot on Seram as well, good to see that someone paying attention to these small parrots.
 

lucytoo

Active member
Great notes! I found them extremely interesting. I'm surprised to read that you were regularly seeing the parrot in disturbed and secondary habitat, I have always thought of pygmy parrot spp. as being primary rainforest birds.

I agree that these species would be extremely interesting candidates for research, particularly as they are largely assumed to be cooperative breeders, which is unusual in parrot species. I would suggest that the lack of research is due to the difficulty of studying these species, rather then a lack of interest! Given your experiences observing them, how would you assess the feasibility of ecological fieldwork on micropsitta?
 

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