The Olive Throated Parakeet

It’s hard to say what you might find most exotic about island life, but a good bet is that you’d be thrilled with the flocks of parakeets that fly over at all hours of the day. They are Olive-throated parakeets (Aratinga nana), once known as Aztec Parakeets. These birds announce themselves with their noisy, shrieking chatter as they fly in tight, fast-moving little flocks, dive-bombing into trees that are a bit higher than the rest. Just as suddenly, their screeching will stop and they sit still like little statues, looking around, until slowly they begin moving. Before long they make a circus of twig-climbing and, more than anything, preening and interact with one another.

The Olive throated parakeet is great at camouflaging itself amongst the greenery.
Olive-throated parakeets are found from Jamaica to the southern tip of Central America. They can live in elevations as high as 700 meters and are primarily found in Jamaica but can also be found in St. Thomas, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Mexico and Central America. They are common residents on the mainland of Belize and lucky for us they are regular winter visitors to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. These parakeets are very colorful birds. They are green on their head, back, and tail and their throat and upper breast area are olive, hence the name olivethroated parakeets. Their green coloration serves as camouflage and allows them to move through the rainforest without being noticed. Their eyes are orange and the bare skin around the eye is a cream color. Lower on the body they are more olive, and their feet are grey. The younger birds tend to have dark irises. They are readily distinguished from other Jamaican parrots by their smaller size, pointed tail, slender body, and rapid flight. Olive-throated parakeets have bills which are large, hard, and curved downward. On average, they are usually 30 centimeters long and they have a wingspan of 60 centimeters.

There is no information given on the mating behavior of the Olive-throated parakeet but based upon research of similar parrot families, the birds do have a mating call that is sung by the male to make the female aware that he is ready to mate. Unlike most birds where male/ female bonds occur only during the breeding season, and function only in coordinating parental care, Olive-throated parakeets are monogamous. Perennial monogamy, or year-round pair bonding, occurs in at least a dozen avian families, including cockatoos and other parrots. They breed one time during the spring between April and May. At this time they look for nesting sites in termite holes and lay three to five eggs which hatch in 26- 27 days. After hatching, it takes about 50 days until the fledglings are ready for their independence.

Peek-a-boo Parakeet!
Although there is no specific data on the communication behavior of these noisy parakeets, one can infer that they use sound as a primary tool in communicating with one another. Males use the contact call for mating and each bird produces its own unique signature contact call. Parrots also have flight calls which make it possible to exchange information on location of resources like food and shelter.

Olive-throated parakeets feed mostly on fruits and vegetables. They eat buds and fruits of many trees and cultivated crops. Because of their strong bill and muscular tongue they are able to seek out fruits and break seeds that would otherwise be difficult for other animals to crack. They associate in flocks to share information about food; like flight calls and frequent chatter between flying birds and those in fruit trees exchanging information. When feeding, parrots are methodical and slow-moving, using their bills as extra “hands” when searching for ripe fruit.

Many of the plants that the parakeet feeds on have built up chemical and mechanical defenses to ward off any possible herbivores. Parrots, though, have become practically immune to these plant’s defenses. To avoid mechanical barriers, parrots’ bills have evolved the ability to crush the largest seeds and destroy most of the seeds they ingest. To fight the chemical defenses of these plants, they digest clay from riverbanks to detoxify the toxic chemicals in the seed or fruit. Alternatively, they avoid poisoning themselves by eating small amounts of toxic seeds and combining that with a larger amount of harmless seeds, therefore substantially decreasing the potential harm.

Sometimes Olive-throated parakeets will damage cultivated crops and become a pest. They are the most persistent immature- seed predators in the rainforest and make it hard for farmers to harvest crops thoroughly. They also are predators to plants and fruit trees by interrupting and disrupting a tree’s dispersal strategy and hindering germination. Parrots, though, make it possible for other organisms in their ecological community to eat. When lurking through the rainforest canopy, avoiding predators, parrots often drop some of the fruits and seeds that they have been collecting. This allows smaller organisms that are not in the canopy like termites to eat. They also disperse the seeds of many plants. People often have parrots as pets. They are the most important group in the wildlife trade economically, and represented a F.O.B. (free on board) value of about $827,757.US in 1997. This value decreased to about $450,004. in 2000 because of smaller numbers being exported. Olive-throated parakeets are also important in attracting tourists in Caribbean and tropical areas.

Olive-throated parakeets do not have any special status on the Endangered Species Act list and the United States Migratory Act but are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). One reason given for the listing is the downward trend seen in their population since 1997. This trend is primarily based on loss of habitat and deforestation. So the next time your hear a noisy flock of birds that fly in a tight group stop and take a look. Once they settle in the trees they are usually so well camouflaged that chances are they will have been watching you for a long time before you noticed one looking at you!

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