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Status of the White-Headed Parrot
(Pionus seniloides) in Southern Ecuador:
Preliminary Report

This report appeared in the Fall 1995 Edition
of the Pionus Breeders Association Newsletter

By Ana C. Sosa


The distribution of Pionus seniloides has been recorded from northwestern Venezuela through the Central Andes in Columbia to southern Ecuador (Forshaw, 1977). In Ecuador, P. seniloides is supposed to have a continuous distribution along both slopes of the Andes from north to south. However, the localities recorded show four main patches. One is in the northwestern, another in the northeastern slopes of the Andes, a third one is in the southwestern and the last is on the southeastern slopes of the Andes.

There are no observations of P. seniloides along the Central part of the country. There are nine published records of P. seniloides, and all of them were recorded by Chapman (1926). Since that time, there is no published information on this species in Ecuador. However, Fjdelsa and Krabbe (1990) state that P. seniloides is common in Loja without any specific information on localities, frequency of observation, or flock size.

Based on the few records of P. seniloides in Ecuador, it is known that this species inhabits mainly subtropical to temperate regions on both slopes of the Andes. On the western side, subtropical regions range from about 300 - 1800 meters above sea level, and temperate regions from about 1800 - 3000 m. On the eastern side, subtropical regions range from about 600 - 2000 m, and temperate regions from 2000 - 3200 m. The habitats where P. seniloides has been recorded in Ecaudor are moist to wet forest.

Based on this scarce information, I surveyed P. seniloides in four regions within Ecuador: northwestern, northeastern, southwestern and southeastern slopes of the Andes. This preliminary report describes the survey made in southern Ecuador and a partial survey on the northwestern side.

Study Areas

During August 1-7, 1995, we surveyed 1220 km covering some areas located in Loja, Zamora Chinchipe, and El Oro provinces. I planned the itinerary based on the known records of P. seniloides as well as on areas with undisturbed forest where I expected to find these birds. We followed six routes:

1. The road from Loja to Sabanillas and Zamora, and from Zamora 1/3 of the way to Cumbaratza.
2. The northern side of the Podocarpus National Park (the Rio Bombuscaro entrance).
3. The road from Loja to Vilacabamba and halfway to Yangana.
4. The road from Loja to Catamayo, Zambi, Pacha, and Portovelo.
5. The road from Portovelo to Zaruma, Cordoncillo, Pacha to Vega Rivera, and Pasaje.
6. The road from Uzcurrumi to Chilla.
7. The road from Uzcurrumi to Giron.

The routes traveled included the main road and several small roads perpendicular to the main one.


The methods employed are a combination of road survey and point count techniques. We drove 40-80 km/h. In some areas along the 5, 6, and 7 routes we drove 20-30 km/h because of bad road conditions. We stopped every 1-2 hours for 30 minutes to 2 hours searching for birds, calls, or other signals, or when patches of remnant forest were found. The binoculars used were Zeiss 10x40 and Leitz 10x25. We initiated road surveys between 6:00 and 6:30 and finished at 18:30 hours. We recorded data on kilometers traveled, cloud cover, elevation, bird species observed, road counts, habitat types, and rain presence. In addition, we registered the types of disturbance affecting the different areas and evaluated them. In almost all the settlements and towns we also surveyed the farmers for information on P. seniloides. We showed them pictures of P. seniloides and asked them five basic questions:
Do you know this bird? Do you know where they live? How frequently do you observe them? How big are their flocks? Do you know where and when they nest?


The analyses involve presence/absence, relative species abundance, based on the Woffinden & Murphy (1977) index, number of species and individuals per species. In addition, I analyzed the percentage of cloud cover and rain. The questionnaire was analyzed based on the accounts of affirmative vs. negative answers, and on the type of information obtained.

Preliminary Results of the Survey

We traveled 1200 km. However, we surveyed 810 km and accumulated 65 hours of observation. The other 390 km were travelled between cities that we used as connecting points due to logistics. The kilometers traveled and time accumulated on each of the routes is detailed as follows:

1. The road from Loja to Sabanillas and Zamora. We traveled on this route 160 km and accumulated 19 hours.
2. The northern side of the Podocarpus National Park (the Rio Bombuscaro entrance). We traveled on this route 87 km and accumulated 13 hours.
3. The road from Loja to Vilacabamba and halfway to Yangana. We traveled on this route 113 km and accumulated 6 hours.
4. The road from Loja to Catamayo, Zambi, Pacha, and Portovelo. We traveled on this route 111 km and accumulated 9 hours.
5. The road from Portovelo to Zaruma, Cordoncillo, Pacha to Vega Rivera, and Pasaje. We traveled on this route 180 km and accumulated 11 hours.
6. The road from Uzcurrumi to Chilla. We traveled on this route 30 km and accumulated 3 hours.
7. The road from Uzcurrumi to Giron. We traveled on this route 129 km and accumulated 4 hours.

Habitat Description

The route description includes coordinates, climate, elevation, type of forest and current habitat description.

1. The road from Loja to Sabanillas and Zamora. We surveyed this route two times, with 2 days in between. This road is located between 4°00'-4°05' S, 79°12'-78°55' W. It is a hot sub-humid to humid montane to submontane area at 2100-970 m elevation. This road goes along the northern border of Podocarpus National Park. The northern side of the road has several disturbed patches covered mainly by pastures, whereas the southern side of the road is all undisturbed forest that changes from montane cloud forest to submontane wet forest.
2. The northern side of the Podocarpus National Park (the Rio Bombuscaro entrance), located around 4°07' S, 78°55' W. It is a hot humid area at 960 m. This area is undisturbed submontane wet forest. Even though it is protected by the National Park Services of Ecuador, there are some small areas that were used by settlers before the Park was created and now are old regrowths or secondary forest.
3. The road from Loja to Vilacabamba and halfway to Yangana, located between 4°00'-4°17' S, 79°12' W. It is a hot sub-humid montane area at 2100-1600 m. This area is highly disturbed with pastures, sugarcane and fruit plantations, and human settlements.
4. The road from Loja to Catamayo, Zambi, Pacha, and Portovelo is located between 4°00'-3°43' S, 79°12'-79°37' W. It is a hot sub-humid area between 2100-610 m. The area between Loja and Catamayo and the bifurcation to Zambi is sub-humid montane, highly disturbed with pastures, scattered trees, fruit and coffee plantations. Fron Pacha to Portovelo, the area greatly varies from undisturbed submontane cloud forest to highly disturbed sub-humid montane areas with pastures, fruit, coffee, and other plantations.
5. The road from Portovelo to Zaruma, Cordoncillo, Pacha to Vega Rivera, and Pasaje is located between 3°42'-3°19' S, 79°37'-79°48' W. It is a sub-humid to humid area at 610 to 4 m. The area between Portovelo and Zaruma is sub-humid montane, highly disturbed with pastures, plantations, intense mining activity, and many human settlements. The area between Zaruma and Pacha is submonatane cloud forest, there are some disturbed patches with pasture, agriculture, and cattle. The area from Pacha to to Pasaje is composed of humid lowlands, highly disturbed with agriculture (mainly banana plantations), and cattle.
6. The road from Uzcurrumi to Chilla (3°19'-3°26' S, 79°35'-79°35' W) is a sub-humid area at 180-1390 m. This area encompasses the lowlands to submontane sub-humid areas, highly disturbed with pastures and cattle.
7. The road from Uzcurrumi to Giron (3°19'-3°10' S, 79°35'-79°10' W) is a sub-humid to dry montane area at 180-22000 m. This is highly disturbed with pastures. There is an intense erosion problem in most of the area.

Climactic Conditions

The climactic conditions during the survey varied from one place to another. Overall, cloud cover was 80% 2/4 covered, 15% 3/4 covered, and 5% 4/4 covered. It rained one day during 4 hours on route #5, from Cerro Azul to Vega Rivera. A very dense fog was also present on this route, making any type of observation difficult. This type of weather is very common in montane cloud forest areas throughout the year.

Species Registered

We did not find Pionus seniloides in any of the roads and localities surveyed. However, we counted 8 species of Psittacidae:

Aratinga erythogenys (red-masked conure*)
Aratinga wagleri (red-fronted or Wagler's conure*)
Aratinga mitrata (mitred conure*)
Pyrrhura albipectus (white-necked conure*)
Forpus coelestis (celestial or Pacific parrotlet*)
Brotogeris pyrrhopterus (grey-cheeked parakeet*)
Pionus sordidus (coral-billed pionus*)
Amazona farinosa (mealy amazon*)

Aratinga erythogenys: There is one observation of 3 individuals. This species was observed around Guayquichuma on the road from Zambi to Portovelo (route #4). One flock of 3 individuals was observed at 16:00 hours flying above pastures with scattered trees.

Aratinga wagleri: There is one observation of 2 individuals. This species was observed at La Bendita on the road from Catamayo to the bifurcation to Zambi (route #4). One pair was observed at 8:30 hours flying above the forest.

Aratinga mitrata: This species has not been recorded in Ecuador. It is registered from northern Peru to northern Bolivia. The description of A. mitrata in Fjdelsa and Krabbe (1990) matches with the color pattern of the birds observed. Three observations were recorded. One flock of 7 indivduals was recorded at Podocarpus National Park, on the trail to the Bombuscaro river entrance (route #2). This flock was perching on an emergent tree in undisturbed forest between 17:00 and 18:30 hours. It is possible that the same flock moved around a group of emergent trees at the edge of creek in front of our observation point. The second flock of 15 individuals was observed on the same trail around 6:30 hours. They were flying above the forest. A third flock of 12 individuals was observed at the same location around 8:00 hours. These three observations were obtained over two consecutive days.

Pyrrhura albipectus: There are two observations of two flocks recorded on the trail ot the Rombuscaro river (route #2) One flock of 6 individuals was perching in a medium size tree at the edge of the trail between 15:30 and 15:45 hours. The second flock of 7 individuals was feeding in a tree (Euphorbia family) at the edge of the trail between 17:00 and 17:15 hours on the same day.

Forpus coelestus: There are 4 observations of 4 flocks recorded around the La Bendita town (route #4). All of them were observed during the same morning. One flock of 13 individuals was perching on lime (Citrus sp.) trees at 8:00 hours. The second flock of 3 individuals was perching in a Inga sp. tree between 8:00 and 8:45 hours. The third and fourth flocks of 7 and 12 individuals respectively were seen flying above houses and gardens of La Bendita town.

Brotogeris pyrrhopterus: Two observations were obtained along the road from Uzcurrumi to Chilla (route #6). However, both of them were individuals kept as semicaptive pets. We were told that thes birds inhabit the hills close to their homes in the nearby area.

Pionus sordidus: This was the most common species observed in wild and semicaptive conditions. Five observations were obtained along the road from Zamora to Cumbaratza (route #1). In Zamora, in Sabanillas (route #1), in Malvas (route #5) and in Pacha (route #4). In 3 out of the five observations, there were 4 individuals in semicaptive to captive conditions. We were told by the owners that these birds are found in the mountains close to their towns. They also told us that p. sordidus is common throughout the year. On two occaisions, we observed two flocks, one of 3 individuals flying above the forest on the road from Malvas to Arcapamba at 16:15 hours (route #5), and one pair flying above the forest on the road from El Trapiche to Portovelo at 12:40 hours (route #4). It was not possible to differentiate the subspecies of the semicaptive individuals. However, based on their distribution and the locations where they were captured (information obtained from owners), it is possible that the western individuals could be mindoensis and the eastern ones corallinus. Any of these poosibilities were not confirmed.

Amazona farinosa: There were two parrots in semicaptive conditions. We were told by the owners that this species inhabits the southwestern mountains close tho the border with Peru, which suggests that is is probably the subspecies inornata.

Relative Abundance

The relative abundance index was calculated as follows:

index = (total number of wild individuals per species observed ÷ total number of km traveled) x 1000.

Relatve abundance indices for each species observed are as follows:
Table 1: Observations of Psittacidae During Survey,
August 1-7, 1995
SpeciesWild Sightings-
Number of Individuals
Abundance Index
Aratinga erythogenys33.70
Aratinga wagleri22.47
Aratinga mitrata3441.98
Pyrrhura albipectus1316.05
Forpus coelestis3543.21
Pionus sordidus56.17

In conclusion, a total of 810 km were surveryed. In all, 92 Psittacidae individuals were observed in the wild. This is one bird for every 8.8 km travelled.

Farmer's and Settler's Information

Twenty three out of twenty five persons had never seen P. seniloides. These persons were farmers, hunters, and settlers that live along the surveyed roads. Only two men, a farmer and a hunter, have ever observed this species. Both men considered this species very difficult to find, even well into the mountains. However, after looking at several pictures of the Pionus species, the farmer was confused about the species, and the characteristics of P. seniloides. The hunter, on the other hand, confirmed several times that P. seniloides inhabit the mountains behind his land, but he could not guide us to that place at that time. His house was close to Sabanillas on the road between Loja and Zamora (route #1). The elevation at that place was around 2000 m.

Additional Observations

An additional survey was made during one day on September 9, 1995 in the northwestern region of Ecuador, along the road from Calacali to La Union, located between 0°00'-0°02'N, 78°31'-79°23'W, a hot sub-humid montane to humid lowland area about 2600-100 m elevation. This area is highly disturbed with pastures, agriculture, ranching, and human settlements. We traveled 326 km, and 10 hour of observation were accumulated in a round trip survery. We obtained only one observation of a Psittacidae species. One flock of 15 individuals of Pionus chalcopterus (Bronze-winged Pionus*) was observed. The flock was flying and landed in a small tree in a pasture area with scattered small to medium trees. The flock was observed around 17:00 hours at Andoas, a small settlement located between Puerto Quito and Los Banchos at about 900 m elevation.

General Considerations

Loja and El Oro are two of the most deforested provinces in Ecuador. Loja has been extensively disturbed during the last 20 years and many areas show a high degree of erosion. In the Loja province, it is possible to find a very small range of undisturbed areas mainly along creeks and some areas near the eastern border with Zamora and Chinchipe. El Oro has a high rate of deforestation, however, the characteristics of the soils in El Oro are rich soils that were converted for agriculture and cattle ranching.

In contrast, Zamora Chinchipe is probably the most undeveloped province in Ecuador. Roads and other facilities are scarce. The topography is rough, which makes the construction of roads and other access ways difficult. Even though there are few, small human settlements, many areas have been converted into agricultural and ranching lands. However, this province maintains large undisturbed areas from tropical forest to submontane and montane cloud forest.

The human population density varies among these three provinces. Loja has between 25-50 habitants/square km, El Oro has between 50-75 habitants/square km, and Zamora Chinchipe has less than 25 habitants/square km (Gomez 1992). The human settlements are clumped in a few areas, however, large areas were converted to agriculture and ranching.

Ecuador has two seasons, dry and rainy. The occurrence of these seasons varies greatly among regions. The dry season is from the end of June to September for most of Ecuador (all along the Andes, in the northwest, southwest, and southeast). The rainy season is from the end of September to May-June. The 1995 year was an extremely dry year for most of the country. July and August were the peak months of dryness this year, and this was clearly reflected in the surveyed areas. The rainy season usually has heavy reains, a high proportion of cloud cover and fog, and difficult access to secondary roads. Therefore, it is preferable to maximize the observation days and conditions during clear and dry days.

The results obtained in this survey show very few observations of Psittacidae (none of them P. seniloides). The results on Table 1 show a low frequency of observation as well as low relative abundance in relation to the distance surveyed. The possible reasons for these results could be related to three possible factors. First, the intense dry season of 1995. Second, the high rate of deforestation. Third, some poaching activity may have reduced numbers of species such as Amazona sp., B. pyrrhopterus, F. coelestis, and Aratinga sp.

P. sordidus has not been recorded as a potential species for poaching, but it is sought after as a pet at a local level. Species such as P. albipectus and A. mitrata show representative populations. In relation to other surveys of other species of Psittacidae in Ecuador (Sosa, unpublished results), these two species are within the common range of frequency of observation and flock size expected for each genus or species.

The 1995 drought could affect fruits and other resource availabliltiy for most frugivorous birds, which in turn may affect bird presence, including parrots. This pattern is common in other areas of Ecuador where I do my research. Therefore, it is possible that this is a reason for the low number of observations and birds recorded.

As stated above, due to the intensity of the dry season in 1995, a second survey of P. seniloides in some of the undisturbed areas along Podocarpus National Park, and in the mountains around the Cordillera del Chillas should be done. I plan to visit two additional regions in Ecuador. The northwestern area between the provinces of Pichincha and Imbabura and the northeastern area between the provinces of Pichincha, Sucumbios and Napo. These two areas together with a probable second and shorter survey in southern Ecuador will be carried out between December 1995 and march 1996. These months coincide with the rainy season in these regions. Results of these surveys and the formal report of the current status of P. seniloides in Ecuador will be presented before May 1996.


This survey was totally supported by the Pionus Breeders Association. I am grateful to my husband Eduardo Asanza, without whose assistance this work could not be carried out. I thank Bill Arbon for his concern for and support of the conservation and research on Pionus in Ecuador.


Forshaw, J.M. 1977. Parrots of the World. TFH Publications, Inc.
Fjdelsa, J. and Krabbe, N. 1990. Birds of the High Andes. Svendbog Zool. Museum of Copenhagen and Apollo Books.
Gomez, N.E. 1992. Atlas del Ecuador: Geographia y Economia. Colecciones Imagenes de la Tierra.
Sosa, A.C. (Unpublished) Distribution, habitat, and status of the Psittacidae in Ecuador and some conservation issues.
Woffinden, N.D., and Murphy, J.R. 1977 A roadside raptor census in the Eastern Great Basin 1973-1974. Raptor Research. [11]: 62-66.

* Common names, according to Forshaw, of the Psittacidae species observed were added for presentation of this report to the public; to avoid confusion, species are more usually reported by their scientific names.
This report appears courtesy of the PBA. Copyright and all other rights are retained by the author, Ana C. Sosa.

The report on the PBA-funded survey of Pionus seniloides in Northern Ecuador is now also available online.



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