New species of parrot
The parrot genus Pionopsitta is considered to comprise of seven (or eight by some authors) species which have an allopatric distribution in Central and South America. Three species occur in the Amazon basin and one of these, Vulturine Parrot P vulturina, is (in adult plumage) characterized by a black bare facial skin (covered by black bristles) extending up to the central crown. Until recently, birds with an orange and completely bare head occurring in the same area were considered immatures of Vulturine Parrot, but it appears that these birds in fact represent a separate species which has now formally been described as Pionopsitta aurantiocephala (Gaban-Lima, R, Raposo, M A & Höfling, E 2002. Description of a new species of Pionopsitta (Aves: Psittacidae) endemic to Brazil. Auk 119: 815-819).
The new species, for which the vernacular name Bald Parrot was proposed elsewhere, is characterized by the completely bare orange head. While studying series of skins and recently collected specimens, the authors discovered that the youngest immature stages of Vulturine Parrot have green-and-yellow head-feathers and that with the loss of these feathers the black bare skin appears; an immature stage with a bare head which is not black simply does not exist. Hence, the assumption that the orange-headed birds were immature Vulturine Parrot is no longer valid. Not unimportantly, it was also found that some of the recently collected orange-headed birds had well-developed gonads and therefore must have been adults.
P aurantiocephala is now known from a few localities along tributaries of the lower Madeira and upper Tapajós rivers. It occurs probably sympatric with Vulturine Parrot on both sides of the lower and middle Tapajós river. Although part of this area economically benefits from ecotourism, other parts of the Tapajós river system (as well as the entire southern border of Amazonia) are constantly threatened by destructive logging activities.
André J van Loon