The Seychelles black parrot - also known as the Praslin parrot or Kato Nwar - is the national bird of the Seychelles. An endemic species, it lives only on Praslin island, with an estimated population of between 520 and 900 birds.
Appearing black from a distance but more of a brown-grey colour close up, it has an easily-recognised, distinctive whistling call. Juvenile birds look similar to adults, although they are slightly duller and paler, with lighter tips to their wing feathers. They have a large head with a hooked bill, broad wings and a slightly rounded tail.
They are agile, acrobatic and graceful birds, even hanging upside-down in trees to feed on fruit. Gregarious birds, they usually live in pairs or small flocks. They can be found in woodland, scrub and gardens nesting in hollow trees or nest boxes, living on a diet of mainly fruit such as mango, bilimbi and papaya. Less often they will eat leaves, flowers, seeds and insects.
DNA evidence suggests they have an ancient lineage. In 2014, BirdLife International experts declared the black parrot to be an endemic distinct species, dispelling earlier beliefs that it may be a sub-species of the Lesser Vasa parrot. Professor Rolph Payet, Seychelles' Minister for Environment and Energy at the time, said he was "extremely pleased" that the national bird of Seychelles had finally been recognised as a full species.
The Seychelles Islands Foundation agreed this was an important finding, as the classification upgrade from a subspecies to a full species was the first step towards changing the international perspective towards the black parrot, hopefully attracting more support in terms of funding and expertise for the SIF's conservation work.
The species was assessed as being "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and was placed on its red list globally to mark it as under threat. It is now a protected species.
Following extensive research, a number of reasons have been suggested for the population decline. The majority of nests are located in the endemic coco de mer palms at the UNESCO world heritage site of Vallee de Mai. However, a study covering four breeding seasons suggested the black parrot preferred deeper cavities with more canopy cover for nesting - and during intensive breeding seasons, there may be a shortage of this type of cavity, leaving the nest vulnerable to predators. The black parrot breeds between October and April, with the peak laying season in December.
The female bird normally lays two to three eggs at a time. The gestation period is 15 days and the egg fertility rate is around 71%. They can fly at 45 days. At two years, they reach maturity and begin breeding.
The results of the study, published jointly by the Seychelles Islands Foundation and the German-based Department of Conservation Biology's Workgroup on Endangered Species, revealed that nest predators caused up to 33% of breeding attempts to fail. Once the fledglings were born, 57% survived their first year.
According to environmental organisation Nature Seychelles, the black parrot was more widespread in decades gone by but before it became a protected species, it was hunted because it ate and destroyed cultivated fruit crops.
The Seychelles Islands Foundation cites invasive alien species, such as rats and cats, as major threats - not only do they eat the eggs and chicks, they compete for food sources and spread diseases. The Indian myna bird, an aggressive species introduced to Seychelles, also poses a threat to the endemic birds, praying on chicks and stealing their nesting sites.
Other problems are forest fires and loss of habitat due to development and agriculture carried out by Praslin's 6,000 inhabitants - destroying feeding and breeding grounds.
Today, conservation efforts are continuing. The Seychelles Islands Foundation leads efforts to monitor chicks in Vallée de Mai and protect the species to ensure its survival for future generations. Come and see the beautiful landscapes and wildlife of the islands for yourself!
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