One of the world's rarest birds has a little bit more breathing room this week. The Giles–Fuertesi Nature Reserve in the Colombian Andes, home to the critically endangered Fuertes's parrot (Hapalopsittaca fuertesi), has doubled in size following the acquisition of an additional 144 hectares of neighboring land. The acquisition was a joint effort by Fundación ProAves, which manages the reserve, along with the American Bird Conservancy and other organizations.

Fuertes's parrots, also known as indigo-winged parrots, were thought to be extinct for 90 years after their only known habitat was logged and cut down in 1911. About a dozen individuals, however, were discovered by ProAves biologists in 2002 in the area that would later become the nature reserve. Conservation efforts since then have brought the population up to an estimated 250 birds, about a fifth of which live in the reserve, where man-made nest boxes have been used since 2004 to provide safe breeding sites. The nature reserve was formally established in 2009.

The new land acquisition will be an important step in preserving the Fuertes's parrot and 11 other endangered species that live in the area, because the region is still threatened by deforestation and pending gold mining. "One of the world's largest discoveries of gold [was] recently uncovered by AngloGold Ashanti just miles from this key population of the Fuertes's parrot," Paul Salaman, CEO of World Land Trust–U.S., said in a prepared statement. Gold-mining companies, including AngloGold, are planning to invest $2.1 billion in Colombia over the next three years. "We were able to quickly respond to the urgent request of our Colombian partner and assist them in buying and permanently protecting this critical site."

Moving the birds to another location is not feasible, because they depend on the region's epiphytic (air plant) mistletoe berries (Antidaphne spp.) for food. "There seems to be a close relationship between forests with this plant and the parrot," according to Benjamin Skolnik, International Program Officer for the American Bird Conservancy, who says the birds do not appear to migrate, so the reserve should continue to provide vital habitat for the species.

Meanwhile, Giles–Fuertesi Nature Reserve is just one component of what has been dubbed the "threatened parrot corridor," a nearly continuous string of reserves managed by ProAves that, combined, encompass more than 7,200 hectares, including approximately 70 percent of the Fuertes's parrot's known habitat and population. "There is a patch of forest between the Giles–Fuertesi Reserve and the other protected areas in the threatened parrot corridor that needs protection," Skolnik says.

The corridor also protects four additional endangered parrot species: the rufous-fronted parakeet (Bolborhynchus ferruginefrons), brown-banded antpitta (Grallaria milleri), yellow-eared parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis) and golden-plumed parakeet (Leptosittaca branickii). In addition, the expanded reserve provides protected habitat for four other endangered bird species, three endangered frogs, threatened spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatus) and endangered mountain tapirs (Tapirus pinchaque).

Photo courtesy of Fundación ProAves