Parrots are one of the most diverse groups of birds and can be found across the tropics. Aside from their colorful beauty, parrots are also popular due to their intelligence and ability to mimic different sounds, including human language.
But it is this popularity with humans that threaten wild parrot species. This is the case with the Puerto Rican parrot, a critically endangered species whose fate depends mainly on the efforts of captive breeding programs and reintroductions.
The Puerto Rican parrot has been a focus for conservationists since the 1970s when a captive breeding program began. Since then, several captive parrots have been reintroduced to the wild. During the early stages of the program, due to the small number of adult Puerto Rican parrots, conservationists used Hispaniolan parrots to help raise the chicks.
Now decades later, scientists have shown that this likely led to a new dialect of parrot calls in the captive breeding population. This turned out to be a pesky problem. Since the captive birds communicate differently than the wild ones, the process of reintroduction might be harder.
Although geographic differences in vocalizations and dialects across populations are common in the wild, this is the first time that researchers found the development of a new dialect linked to conservation practices. Now, conservationists are exposing the captive-bred population to the vocalizations of wild birds with the goal of familiarizing the captively-bred parrots with the dialects of wild populations.