17Conserving the Slender-billed Conure


I HAD KEPT SLENDER-BILLED CONURES (Enicognathus leptorhynchus) for 16 years before I made my first trip to Chile at the end of 2003. This small species of parakeet originates in southern Chile where it lives in thickly wooded rolling country studded with lakes between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes. It is unfortunately rapidly disappearing from aviculture although it is a delightful engaging and playful species of parrot. There appeared to be little information on its status in the wild other than a report publishedin 1967 (A.W. Johnson) that it had been much reduced by an outbreak of Newcastle's disease as well as "excessive shooting" and loss of habitat because oflogging activities.

Called "choroy" locally, the Slender-billed Conure is 40 cm-43 cm (16"-17") long. It is dull green with the tips darker giving it a scaly look, dark red forehead band and the characteristic long slender upper mandible. It lives year-round in large noisy gregarious flocks-which incidentally allows colony keeping and breeding in aviculture-and according to Johnson fed mainly on the tiny seeds of wild and cultivated plants, including weeds (yuyo).

It is partial to the seeds contained in the cones of the Araucaria pines, which it can open without difficulty with its long curved bill. However these pines have suffered fungal disease at low altitudes in recent years and no longer grow in much of the distribution area of the Slender-billed Conure. The loss of this food source may have resulted in increased damage to cultivated crops. While the flock feeds sentinels take up position in nearby trees and give the alarm as soon danger is perceived.

There are incidentally four native species of parrot in Chile and one introduced species. The three other native species are a sub-species (formerly byroni, but now re-named bloxami) of the Patagonian Conure or Burrowing Parrot ( Cyanoliseus patagonus) locally called "tricahue," which lives in a small area some 125 km (75 miles) south of Santiago; the Mountain Parakeet (Psilopsiagon, formerly Bolborhynchus aurifrons) called locally "perico cordillerano" and the Austral Conure (Enicognathus ferrugineus) called locally "cachana," The introduced species through escapees is the Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) or "cotorra" which lives in and around the capital Santiago.

The Austral Conure has a much larger distribution area in southern Chile than the Slender-billed Conure, but where they occur in the same area they associate. It is smaller than the Slender-billed Conure and lacks the characteristic bill of the latter, but I found them difficult to tell apart when in flight or perched at the top of a tree. In flight the Slenderbilled Conure tucks in its bill against its neck, presumably for aerodynamic reasons.





Arndt, T. Lexicon of Parrots, published by Arndt Verlag Bretten Diaz S and Kitzberger. T

"High Nothofagus flower consumption and pollen emptying in the southern South America austral parakeet (Enicognathus ferrugineus)." Published in Austral Ecology (2006) 31, 759- 766

Forshaw, J. Parrots of the World, published in the UK by David & Charles Publishers Ltd. (1978)

Jaramillo A Birds of Chile including the Antarctic Peninsula, the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.(Helm Field Guides) published by Christopher Helm, London (2003).

Johnson A.W. Birds of Chile and Adjacent Regions of Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. Published in Buenos Aires by Platt Establecimentos Graficos S.S (1967)

Information with bird list on Santa Maria Lodge at available at www.hualamo.com