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"Great-Billed Parrots
(and other Tanygnathus species) in the Wild"
Stewart Metz 2003


Increasing Cause for Concern?

When the Indonesian undercover investigative team KSBK (now called ProFauna Indonesia) looked at major bird-selling markets in Jakarta, Indonesia, they found that Great-billed Parrot was the least common parrot present, and concomitantly it was the most expensive (even more so than cockatoos). How can this be true, when Juniper and Parr (in their book PARROTS) report (using data of uncertain origin) that “the world population is estimated at more than 100,000 birds” ?

In Indonesia, the Great-Billed Parrot (T. megalorhynchos) is called “Betet-kelapa Paruh-besar”  (literally: coconut parakeet with the large bill). It is found throughout the Eastern islands of Indonesia which is a huge area.  Each general location, however, seems to be represented by a separate race or subspecies. This widespread distribution may in part be explained by the fact that Great-Bills are known to fly between small islands. In fact, on Gam Island where I re-visited this year, they only roost after flying to nearby “Stone Island.”

Therefore, I would speculate that even if more than 100,000 Great-Bills exist in the wild, their density at any one location might be very low, leading (I would speculate) to problems with finding appropriate mates due to an aging population and/or an inadequate female/male ratio. The issue of density was one  on which I also focussed  when discussing the Seram-crested Cockatoo (see my article in our website ). Although T. megalorhynchos been introduced to parts of the Philippines, T.lucionensis  and T. sumatranus  are found on the Talaud Islands, as well as the Phillipines and (in the cases of Muller’s parrots) on Sulawesi. Parenthetically, the Blue-naped parrot is considered Endangered, whereas the Great-billed and Blue-backed parrots are not.

When I had the privilege (along with Barbara Bailey) to visit Seram in the Moluccas in 2001, we did see a few Great-Bills. However, when I returned to Indonesia in 2002, I did not see a single Great-Bill either in West Papua or Sumba. This may be partially explained by a severe drought of six months in both places. However, an earlier expedition by others to Sulawesi and Halmahera (in the North Moluccas) only reported seeing a single Great-Bill. Since Great-Bills they are quite noisy, it seems unlikely that they were simply overlooked.

I had the opportunity to interview several of the younger (?ex-)-trappers in West Papua and Sumba about five birds: palm cockatoos, triton cockatoos, citron-crested cockatoos, Eclectus, and Great-Billed parrots. When it came to the latter, they admitted that they knew very little and that they had become “rare”. The Great-Bills eat the fruit of the kedongdong tree (but not those of the katapong, unlike the palm cockatoo). They  also eat banana, corn,  and ( I assume,   because of their name ), coconuts.  Coates and Bishop also report that Great-Bills eat the fruits of Sonneratia alba and Canarium vulgare trees as well as casuarinas;  Thomas Arndt adds breadfruit, flowers of the Flame tree, and berries to this list The trappers observed no unexplained deaths, (unlike those tragic outbreaks reported by June Dinger and Diana Holloway , and now being studied by Dr. David Phalen,  while the birds were raised in captivity). The trappers said that the predators of these parrots were raptors and perhaps monitor lizards.

In conclusion, it is clear that little is known about Tanygnathos species in the Wild. Claims that it is not vulnerable or even endangered seem to based on speculation rather that hard data (as far as I can tell). One especially cannot exclude extinction in localized domains; this is true of C. moluccensis (Salmon-crested cockatoos) on Haruku and Saparua (two islands just southwest of Seram, their last remaining  stronghold). Indeed, as Diana Holloway and June Dinger note, Great-Billed parrots are both “glorious” and “mysterious.” I would add a third phrase—“  likely at growing risk.” Should we wait until we definitely know that they at risk of extinction? That is a rhetorical question; all parrot-lovers know the answer.

Stewart Metz January, 2003

Stewart Metz was born in NYC. After college and Medical school at Yale, he did his Internship, Residency and Fellowship (in Endocrinology and Metabolism) at the University of Washington and then became Tenured Professor of Medicine at both University of Colorado and University of  Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin. However, after 30 years in Medicine (and about 150 published research papers), he realized that his true passion was really animals, especially parrots. He became deeply concerned about the fate of all parrots in the wild and in captivity, although cockatoos are his special love. He formed, and was Chair of, the World Parrot Welfare Alliance, a “noble experiment” which failed

largely due to its unwieldiness. He is currently President and Director of Project Bird Watch /The Indonesian Parrot Project, a non-governmental, 501(c) (3) organization designed to help local villagers in remote areas of  Indonesia and thereby help to reduce the need for bird trapping. He also has written a number of articles dealing with parrots and is finishing a “children’s” book entitled    THE FLIGHT OF CORNELIUS COCKATOO”.

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