Parrot that eluded ornithologists for a century
A new species of parrot has been described from the Amazon river basin. Although scientists have known about the existence of the Sulfur-breasted Parakeet, now formally named Aratinga pintoi, for around 100 years, its true identity has only just been revealed. The new species is closely related to the Sun Parakeet A. solstitialis found in Guyana and northern Brazil, and Golden-capped Parakeet A. jandaya from southern Brazil.
"The confusion has arisen because people studying museum skins of Sulfur-breasted Parakeets mistook them for juveniles of Sun Parakeet," explains Luís Fábio Silveira, lead author of the paper in The Auk (122(1):292–305, 2005) describing the new species. "This was partly because most of the museum specimens in Brazil were of Sulfur-breasted Parakeets, whilst specimens in America and Europe were mainly Sun Parakeets. People never had the opportunity to compare the two side by side."
The two parrots have very different plumages. In particular, Sulfur-breasted Parakeet differs from Sun Parakeet in its paler, greener crown, paler orange forehead and cheeks, a greener back mottled with flecks of green, and a sulfur-coloured, not orange breast.
"As is usual with new species of parrots, we can expect that breeders will soon begin to obtain birds through the illegal market. We trust that the authorities will carefully monitor any traffic of wild animals from this region." —Luís Fábio Silveira
Brazil is one of the richest countries for birds in the world, with more than 1,600 species. Over the last 20 years, more new species have been discovered here than anywhere else, including species such as Cryptic Forest-falcon Micrastur mintoni (2003), Bald Parrot Pionopsitta aurantiocephala (2002), Pernambuco Pygmy-owl Glaucidium mooreorum (2003), Pink-legged Graviteiro Acrobatornis fonsecai (1996) and Acre Antshrike Thamnophilus divisorius (2004).
Several of the newly described species are in danger of extinction, and Brazil has the dubious distinction of hosting more threatened species than anywhere else on Earth. The proposed specific status for pintoi will be assessed by BirdLife International in due course, noting any decision made by the South American Classification Committee of the American Ornithologists’ Union. If treated as a full species, its conservation status will be evaluated by BirdLife, the Red List Authority for birds on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.