About 30 species of vibrantly colored Amazon parrots soar through the skies of Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. A discovery on the Yucatán Peninsula may bring one more species to that count.
A team of researchers believes they have discovered a never-before-seen species of parrot, Ian Sample reports in the Guardian,
Ornithologist Miguel Gómez Garza, of the Autonomous University of Nuevo León, first spotted the birds in 2014. He was conducting research — it is not reported exactly where — when he heard an unusual hawk-like call coming from the trees. He observed a group of parrots that resembled the Amazon, but the noise they were making was very different from the cries of other parrots in the area.
“I could not believe it,” Garza told the Guardian. “The different noise belonged to a different parrot.”
The bird also displayed unique markings, described in the journal PeerJ. Fiery red plumage sprouts from the parrot’s forehead. Its crown is green and its wing feathers are bright blue, leading researchers to call the parrot the “Blue-winged Amazon.” More formally, the parrot has been dubbed Amazona gomezgarzai in Garza’s honor.
According to a press release, the new parrot lives in flocks of less than 12 individuals. Mated pairs tend to stay together with their offspring, and like to munch on fruit, flowers and seeds.
The hawk-like cry may be a tactic to scare away actual, predatory hawks.
Garza received permission from Mexican authorities to capture a male and female member of the species to study them up close. Joined by Tony Silva, an independent bird researcher in Florida, and Pawel Mackiewicz, a geneticist at the University of Wroclaw in Poland, says genetic tests that suggests that the new species is relatively young. It is thought to have evolved from the white-fronted Amazona albifrons about 120,000 years ago.
But not all experts are convinced. John Bates, an associate curator at the Field Museum in Chicago, tells National Geographic that the genes studied by the researchers are “very weak” for species identification.
Only 100 blue-winged Amazons exist in the wild, and authors of the study argue that implementing a conservation program for this unique parrot should be a top priority.