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New parrot species identified in Mexico, study says

Birds of a feather flock together, but it can be hard to tell them apart — unless, of course, you’re an expert ornithologist.

Such is the case for a species of parrot that was recently identified and is now known as Amazona gomezgarzai — the blue-winged Amazon — according to a new study.

An international team of researchers described the distinctive wing patterns and call of A. gomezgarzai in a study published in the journal PeerJ on Tuesday.

While on an expedition through the thick jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula in 2014, veterinarian Miguel A. Gomez Garza saw a beautiful bird different from any other he had ever seen. The parrot was adorned in red highlights on its green crown, rose-like feathers on the forehead, large yellow-ringed eyes, and as the name suggests, wings of blue.

At first glance, A. gomezgarzai appeared to be one of the two species of the Amazona genus already known to inhabit that area, Garza said.

“However, what made me pay more attention was a very different sound made by a small group (of parrots) that arrived to eat to a native tree,” he said. “This group had an intense red-colored front. Watching them fly, I realized the beautiful and brilliant blue color in their wings.”

The parrot’s distinct, sometimes hawk-like call also convinced him that this fiery-headed bird was something different.

To determine whether the bird is a new species, Garza and a research team performed morphological and structural examinations comparing the parrot with other Mexican Amazonas that have red feathers in the head. An analysis of DNA from feather samples of the new Amazona suggests that the bird’s origin dates to 119,000 years ago, a relatively recent divergence.

However, not all scientists are convinced that this could be an entirely new species.

“What I believe in this paper is that this population of parrots they found is different from all other parrots; I’m convinced by that. What I’m not convinced of yet is that is it another species,” said Erich Jarvis, professor of neurobiology at Duke University. “One might call it a subspecies.”

Jarvis said the parrot’s vocalization is unique, but that doesn’t mean it’s a different species.

Although this bird has just been identified, a population assessment suggests that it’s already endangered. Garza, who rehabilitates wildlife for rerelease at his private clinic in Nuevo León, emphasized the importance of species conservation.

“At the present, with what we know, it is possible that the whole population is not more than 100 individuals,” Garza said. “This makes their conservation a priority.”

Globally, parrots face habitat destruction, Garza said, and illegal trade remains a problem in some areas.

“Fortunately, the Mexican government has shown interest in protecting their habitat, given the importance this new species means to the country, and world biodiversity,” Garza said.

“Awareness will be the turning point in saving wild parrots around the world.”