Archived 2014 discussion: Red-fronted Parakeet (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae), Norfolk Island Parakeet (C. cookii) and New Caledonian Parakeet (C. saisseti) are being lumped as C. novaezelandiae: list as Near Threatened?

The initial deadline for comments on this topic is 10 March 2014, and therefore later than for most other topics currently under discussion.

This is part of a consultation on the Red List implications of extensive changes to BirdLife’s taxonomy for non-passerines

Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International will soon publish the HBW-BirdLife Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, building off the Handbook of the Birds of the World series, and BirdLife’s annually updated taxonomic checklist.

The new Checklist will be based on the application of criteria for recognising species limits described by Tobias et al. (2010). Full details of the specific scores and the basis of these for each new taxonomic revision will be provided in the Checklist.

Following publication, an open and transparent mechanism will be established to allow people to comment on the taxonomic revisions or suggest new ones, and provide new information of relevance in order to inform regular updates. We are also actively seeking input via a discussion topic here regarding some potential taxonomic revisions that currently lack sufficient information.

The new Checklist will form the taxonomic basis of BirdLife’s assessments of the status of the world’s birds for the IUCN Red List. The taxonomic changes that will appear in volume 1 of the checklist (for non-passerines) will begin to be incorporated into the 2014 Red List update, with the remainder, and those for passerines (which will appear in volume 2 of the checklist), to be incorporated into subsequent Red List updates.

Preliminary Red List assessments have been carried out for the newly split or lumped taxa. We are now requesting comments and feedback on these preliminary assessments.

Red-fronted Parakeet Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae, Norfolk Island Parakeet C. cookii and New Caledonian Parakeet C. saisseti are being lumped as C. novaezelandiae, following the application of criteria set out by Tobias et al. (2010).

Prior to the taxonomic change, C. novaezelandiae (BirdLife species factsheet) was listed as Vulnerable under criterion B1ab(i,ii,v), on the basis that it was estimated to have a small range, within which it was known from fewer than 11 locations, with continuing declines taking place in its range, habitats and population; C. cookii (BirdLife species factsheet) was listed as Critically Endangered under criteria B1ab(iii,v)+2ab(iii,v);C2a(ii), on the basis that it was estimated to have an extremely small range and was considered to occur at one location, with continuing declines in its habitat taking place and continuing declines in its extremely small population inferred as a result; C. saisseti (BirdLife species factsheet) was listed as Vulnerable under criterion C2a(ii), on the basis that it was estimated to have a small population, forming a single subpopulation, which was inferred to be in continuing decline.

C. novaezelandiae (as defined following the taxonomic change) is found on several offshore islands in New Zealand (it is now considered effectively extinct on the mainland), on New Caledonia and on Norfolk Island. It occurs in a variety of habitats across its range, with each of the lumped taxa differing in their habitat preferences, but overall these range from dense forest, to modified wooded habitats, cultivation and open areas. There is some indication that overall the species prefers native habitat with large trees for nesting. It is estimated to have a population of c.16,500-35,300 mature individuals (based on estimates collated by BirdLife for each of the formerly recognised species being lumped), which occupies a total range estimated at c.19,900 km2, and is thought to be in continuing decline.

The newly defined species may qualify as Near Threatened under criterion B1ab(ii,iii,v), if suitable habitat is considered to be at least very fragmented (approaching 50% in patches too small to support viable populations), as it occupies a total range of less than 20,000 km2, and the area and quality of its habitats are in continuing and projected decline owing to the impacts of introduced species across its range (Gula et al. 2010, Garnett et al. 2011), forest management practices and expected nickel mining on New Caledonia. On-going declines are inferred to be taking place in the population as a result of habitat loss, introduced predators (e.g. on New Caledonia and Stewart Island [G. Harper in litt. 2005, 2012; Harper 2009]), and potentially owing to Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (Ortiz-Catedral et al. 2009).

Further information is requested on the likely rate of decline in the overall population of the newly-defined species. If the species is estimated, projected or suspected to experience a decline approaching 30% over 14 years (estimated period of three generations) the species may qualify as Near Threatened under criterion A. If the rate of decline is thought to be 30-49% over this time period the species may qualify as Vulnerable under the same criterion.

Comments are invited and further information would be welcomed.


Garnett, S. T., Szabo, J. K. and Dutson, G. (2011) The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010. Collingwood, Australia: CSIRO Publishing.

Gula, R., Theuerkauf, J., Rouys, S. and Legault, A. (2010) An audio/video surveillance system for wildlife. European Journal of Wildlife Research 56: 803–807.

Harper, G. A. (2009) The native forest birds of Stewart Island/Rakiura: patterns of recent declines and extinctions. Notornis 56: 63–81.

Ortiz-Catedral, L., McInnes, K., Hauber, M. E. and Brunton, D. H. (2009) First report of beak and feather disease virus (BFDV) in wild Red-fronted Parakeets (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae) in New Zealand. Emu 109: 244–247.

Tobias, J. A., Seddon, N., Spottiswoode, C. N., Pilgrim, J. D., Fishpool, L. D. C. and Collar, N. J. (2010) Quantitative criteria for species delimitation. Ibis 152: 724–746.

This entry was posted in Archive, Australia, Pacific, Parrots and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Archived 2014 discussion: Red-fronted Parakeet (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae), Norfolk Island Parakeet (C. cookii) and New Caledonian Parakeet (C. saisseti) are being lumped as C. novaezelandiae: list as Near Threatened?

  1. Lumping these three allopatric taxa seems to me to be a potentially unfortunate error, this is a case where the Tobias principles don’t help, as these basically don’t apply to similar plumage taxa which may actually be very distinct despite looking alike. I can’t accept that distinct morphology is essential to specific status, Meliphaga spp. are a classic case of course. I thought there were some distinct genetic data for these parakeets, though it seems that this is now being downplayed given so many differences in methodology making valid comparisons impossible. Nonetheless surely it must reflect some significance?
    Looking at the geological history of the tree islands it is evident that the taxa thereon have been isolated for substantial periods of time, and each island has a number of distinct endemics, which i always regard as a potential indicator or signpost of status whilst acknowledging that no doubt each species has its own evolutionary trajectory.

    My other beef with this lumping is non-scientific but sadly practical- if you do lump as Red-crowned Parakeet and list as NT, this is going to be very bad for the Norfolk Is Parakeet (note use of island here, Norfolk is a county in the UK and I always thought this was absurd to drop the island modifier…) which is likely to actually be CR status and in dire need of immediate intervention. We have a very conservative and now anti-environment government and any excuse to get out of funding conservation is likely be to seized upon, which could be a consequence of rebranding this as Red-crowned Parakeet again. There is also an important sense of local ownership with the islands very own endemic parakeet, which has raised it’s profile in very helpful fashion, it is sad to see what is basically a point of taxonomic emphasis possibly being highly detrimental. Similar concerns may also apply to the New Caledonian Parakeet. What i am saying is basically there is no need to be doctrinaire about this, it is simply a matter of opinion and I can’t see the point of relumping and potentially undoing some good outcomes. The scientific criteria are debatable and if it’s a case of “if it an’t broke don’t fix it”, best to leave the 3 as allospecies, for which good arguments can be raised.

  2. Joe Taylor says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2014 Red List would be to treat C. novaezelandiae as Near Threatened under criterion B1ab(ii,iii,v).

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 14 April for this discussion, after which recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in mid-2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  3. Glenn Ehmke says:

    The proposed change in taxonomic status of the Norfolk Island Parrot on the BirdLife International world list will bring it into line with global species classifications under the species approach used by BirdLife International. The change will have no effect on the conservation of this critically endangered endemic Australian bird.

    In Australia species and subspecies are treated equally under all state and federal laws and the Action Plan for Australian Birds and BirdLife Australia (and indeed the nation as a whole) has a long tradition of fighting for every bird population, regardless of how it’s treated taxonomically.

    The “Norfolk Island Green Parrot” (as it is known in Australia) has been listed as critically endangered in the Action Plan for Australian Birds in 1990, 2000 and 2010 – in every instance as a subspecies and the Norfolk Island Green Parrot has had a dedicated recovery plan in place as a subspecies since 2002.
    Hill, R. 2002. Recovery Plan for the Norfolk Island Green Parrot Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae cookii. Environment Australia, Canberra.
    The current (2010) National recovery plan for Norfolk Island lists the Norfolk Island Green Parrot at species level, however the same National recovery plan also lists several other threatened subspecies (such as the Western Kermadec Petrel – Pterodroma neglecta neglecta) alongside species. This is commonplace in Australian conservation and recovery efforts. 

    BirdLife Australia is confident that conservation efforts for the Norfolk Island Green Parrot will continue regardless of how many times its taxonomic status changes. We are unequivocally committed to the conservation of every threatened bird species and subspecies in Australia as our involvement in over a dozens of species and subspecies recovery programs (and in fact dozens of local conservation programs) over many decades attests.

    Good luck to everyone striving to help save the Norfolk Island Green Parrot!

  4. The methodology described by Tobias isn’t adequate for bird lineages that evolved recently, as it is the case with Cyanoramphus parakeets. I therefore recommend not lumping these three taxa, bur rather treat them separately and acknowledge their different threats, trends and current population sizes.
    Morphological resemblance masks important underlying conservation units and this appears to be the curse for Cyanoramphus conservation. The debate about the “species” status for Malhebre’s parakeets (Cyanoramphus malherbi) extends for nearly 200 years! It is finally resolved as per the study by Boom et al (Bird Conservation International. 2000. 10: 211–239). By Malherbe’s parakeets were already (and continue to be) extremely rare.
    A similar case happens with C. cookii. The most recent counts of the species, conducted by collaborators and myself since July 2013 indicate that there are roughly 50-100 C. cookii left! a much smaller population size than previously thought and more alarmingly, a marked bias towards males. Classifying C. cookii under a more widespread and not-as-endangered taxa will not help advancing their conservation. Most agencies funding conservation worldwide, weight the merit of applications based on the actual threat of the taxa under study. Downgrading the threat status of C.cookii by “diluting it” into C. novaezelandiae will make it extremely difficult to attract much needed support from Non-Australian sources. I imagine a similar case will occur on New Caledonia. C. saisseti does not appear to be very common. Only about 14 encounters with flocks of 2-3 birds per year in an 8 year period as reported by Legault (2013).
    Besides, if the umbrella C. novaezelandiae were applied, what would happen if C. saisseti and C. cooki become extinct? in terms of numbers, this would mean the disappearance of ca. 5200 individuals from only two locations (New Caledonia and Norfolk Island). These figures are based on the lower estimate by Legault et al. 2013. Biological Conservation 167: 149-160 and the most recent counts of C. cookii on Norfolk Island (unpublished).
    In this hypothetical scenario, at its best, the threat of the umbrella C. novaezelandiae would change to Vulnerable given that “only” two populations would have disappeared. In terms of numbers of individuals lost, it would not even make a dent on C. novaezelandiae given that recent refinements to translocation techniques are allowing the range expansion and population increase of the species. For instance, they are established now on Zealandia and Matiu Somes (Wellington); Motuihe, Motutapu, Rangitoto Islands, Tawharanui and Shakespear Peninsulas and Cape Kidnappers…so following on the hypothetical scenario, C. novaezelandiae would change to “Vulnerable” The status the species (in the narrow sense) already is…yet two genetically and evolutionary distinct species would be lost.
    I consider that changing C. novaezelandiae (sensu stricto i.e. within New Zealand) to “Near Threatened” is a reasonable change given the advances in translocation practice and invasive predator management which is allowing the range expansion of the species and increase in numbers. C. cookii needs to be classified as Critically Endangered. With regards to C. saisseti, its classification as “Vulnerable” is warranted, however others might have more elements to assess this due to their work with this particular species i.e. Andrew Legault, Jorn Theuerkauf, Sophie Rouys etc.

  5. I can only applaud the arguments advanced by Luis, lumping these taxa serves no good purpose and as I originally postulated may be very counter-productive despite assurances to the contrary. Please don’t “fix” this to fit into what is looking like an increasingly inconsistent BirdlIfe taxonomic scheme, we are otherwise going to get embroiled in endless debate over other species now being proposed for splitting on very minor morphological details……

  6. Andy Symes says:

    We appreciate these comments and information regarding the validity of this taxonomic change, however the taxonomy to be followed in 2014 has been finalised and so there will be no change to the planned lump of C. novaezelandiae, C. cookii and C. saisetti this year. There will however be an ongoing opportunity to review the BirdLife/Lynx Taxonomic Checklist as and when new information becomes available, and so whilst we do not envisage a significant number of reversals of changes adopted in 2014, it should be noted that these are not necessarily set in stone.

    Recommended categorisation to be put forward to IUCN

    Following further review, there has been no change to our preliminary proposal for the 2014 Red List status of this species.

    The final categorisation will be published later in 2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessment by BirdLife and IUCN.

  7. Luis Ortiz-Catedral says:

    The decision to keep C. novaezelandiae as a conglomerate of three distinctly evolutionary units in light of all the available scientific research pointing to the contrary, is at best unfortunate and at worst irresponsible. This decision follows Tobias et al.quantitative delimitations, yet ignores the amount of research conducted at a local scale. In doing so, it sets back conservation efforts on the ground. It is a change that could not come at a worst time, when C. cookii is at the very brink of extinction. C. saisetti for all we know, is also a rare species and lumping it with C. novaezelandiae does not help its conservation cause. This is only one example of the cases where Tobias’ taxonomic treatment simply does not apply. The last paragraph of Tobias et al. paper states “While we recognize that species limits are in many cases inherently
    arbitrary, we argue that our system can be applied to the global avifauna to deliver
    taxonomic decisions with a high level of objectivity, consistency and transparency.” Where is the transparency here? Where is the objectivity? For over twenty years in New Zealand it has been recognized that quantitative morphological differences or similarities are insufficient attributes to delineate conservation units within Cyanoramphus. This has led to a plethora of studies on the molecular systematics of the genus that consistently support the view that these forms should be treated separately. I sincerely hope that the final decision to treat these three species under C. novaezelandiae is reconsidered.

  8. Andy Symes says:

    As previously confirmed by Glenn Ehmke of BirdLife Australia, IUCN Red List classifications do not affect conservation designations in Australia or on Norfolk Island (and indeed cookii was considered a subspecies in the Action Plan for Australian Birds in 1990, 2000 and most recently 2010), and the taxonomic change should have no effect on conservation efforts for the species.

    These forum discussions are to enable assessment of the threat status of newly-defined taxa for the IUCN Red List and as such we have not provided full and transparent details of the basis for the taxonomic changes here. Justifications for all these changes will be published within the species accounts in the HBW-BirdLife Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World.

  9. Luis Ortiz-Catedral says:

    Thanks for your reply Andy. Unfortunately, taxonomic changes by International Organizations (like BirdLife) do affect conservation efforts for the species involved, specifically when it comes to attracting non-Australian funding for projects. For instance, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Trust, Loro Parque Foundation and The People’s Trust for Endangered Species base their assessment of conservation proposals on IUCN listings and the degree of threat of the focal taxa. Lumping C. cookii and C. saissetti will simply prevent any initiative for these species to even be reviewed. The delimitation of these taxa as separate species has been discussed by:

    Boon et al. 2001. The Norfolk Island Green Parrot and New Caledonian Red-crowned Parakeet are distinct species. Emu 101(2) 113 – 121 .

    “Molecular phylogenetic analyses of all extant taxa of Cyanoramphus, except the Kermadec Island Parakeet (C. novaezelandiae cyanurus), reveal that the Norfolk Island Green Parrot, previously C. n. cooki, and New Caledonian Red-crowned Parakeet, previously C. n. saisetti, are highly divergent from all other members of the genus. We therefore elevate them to full species status as C. cooki and C. saisetti respectively. In our DNA sequencing study, two highly distinct, statistically well supported monophyletic clades were identified for both taxa under maximum likelihood, maximum parsimony and minimum evolution analyses. Both taxa are well separated from the C. novaezelandiae clade. The New Caledonian taxon is basal and may be the most ancient of all extant Cyanoramphus species. Levels of uncorrected percentage sequence divergences among mitochondrial (mtDNA) control region DNA sequences ranged from 7.80 to 9.55% between the New Caledonian Red-crowned Parakeet and other recognised congeneric species. The corresponding sequence divergence for the Norfolk Island Green Parrot from other Cyanoramphus species was 3.18—6.44%. Interspecific comparisons of Cyanoramphus species normally range from 2.03 to 7.93% (the latter two ranges do not include comparisons with the New Caledonian Redcrowned Parakeet). The mtDNA sequence data of both Norfolk Island and New Caledonian taxa fulfil criteria for their designation as species under the Phylogenetic Species Concept.”

    Not sure how to add images to this forum but the interested reader can access the phylogenetic trees presented by the authors.

    While I acknowledge that efforts to conserve these taxa are likely to continue, treating them (at least taxonomically) as part of a widespread less threatened species (i.e. C. novaezelandiae) is undoubtedly going to limit funds available from international sources.

Comments are closed.