Action Synopsis: Bird Conservation About Actions

Release captive-bred individuals into the wild to restore or augment wild populations of parrots

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
  • Certainty
  • Harms

Study locations

Key messages

  • A before-and-after study from Venezuela found that the local population of yellow-shouldered amazons Amazona barbadensis increased significantly following the release of captive-bred birds, along with other interventions.
  • A replicated study in Costa Rica and Peru found high survival and some breeding of scarlet macaw Ara macao after release.
  • Three replicated studies in the USA, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico found low survival in released birds (4–41% in the first year after release), although the Puerto Rican study also found that released birds bred successfully.


About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A replicated study in 1986-93 in pine forests in south-eastern Arizona, USA (Snyder et al. 1994), found that captive-bred thick-billed parrots Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha released into the wild were significantly less likely to survive for two months after survival than translocated birds caught from the wild (4% survival for 23 captive-bred birds vs. 41% for 69 wild birds). This study is also discussed in ‘Translocate individuals’ and ‘Use holding pens at release sites’.


    Study and other actions tested
  2. A 1998 before-and-after study, reviewing a yellow-shouldered amazon Amazona barbadensis release programme in semi-dry tropical shrubland on Margarita Island, Venezuela (Sanz & Grajal 1998), found that the population on the island increased from 750 to approximately 1,900 individuals between 1989 and 1996. Conservation measures are also discussed in: ‘Release captive-bred individuals’, ‘Artificially incubate or hand-rear birds in captivity’, ‘Foster eggs or chicks with wild conspecifics and ‘Use education programmes and local engagement to help reduce pressures on species’. For releases, birds were kept in large outdoor aviaries at the release site and released when either 18 or 30 months old. Food was placed outside aviaries twice daily for 15 days after release and once daily for another 15 days. At least ten of 12 birds released survived for at least a year and integrated into wild groups five days to nine months after release. At least three birds scouted nest holes and one nested and fledged two chicks. The programme is estimated to have cost US$2,800 for each bird.

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A replicated study in the Dominican Republic in 1997-8 (Collazo et al. 2003) found that survival rate estimates of captive-reared Hispaniolan parrots Amazona ventralis released in a subtropical forest site were only 30-35% for 24 parrots released in 1997 (with seven birds alive 53 weeks after release, 12 definitely dead and five with unknown fates) and 29% for 25 birds released in 1998 (with ten birds definitely dead). In 1997, five birds died within five days of release, however all birds released in 1998 survived at least ten weeks. Mortality in 1998 may have been affected by Hurricane Georges hitting the release site in September 1998. Birds were held in training cages at the release site for a quarantine period of at least 40 days before release. This study is also discussed in ‘Use ‘flying training’ before release’.

    Study and other actions tested
  4. A replicated study (Brightsmith et al. 2005) at three scarlet macaw Ara macao release centres in Costa Rica and Peru found that annual post-release survival of 71 captive-bred birds and former pets was 89% (77% first-year survival and 96% after). First-year survival ranged from 60% to 90% and survival was higher for birds released in larger groups and in areas with birds already present. Pairs formed at all three sites, with at least four chicks fledged at the Peruvian site. Birds began to breed at four to seven years old. Birds were not raised in isolation from humans and did not show fear of humans after release. Five former pets released all survived for at least two years, but they appeared to socialise less with other released macaws. At the two Costa Rican sites, birds were kept in aviaries at the release sites for at least six months, there was little pre-release training at the Peruvian site.

    Study and other actions tested
  5. A replicated study of the release of 34 captive-bred Puerto Rican parrots Amazona vittata in a subtropical rainforest in northeast Puerto Rico, in 2000-2 (White et al. 2005), found that first-year survival was estimated at 41% (ten confirmed alive, 13 confirmed dead and 11 unaccounted for). Three released and one wild bird attempted to breed in 2004: one attempt (by a pair of birds released in 2002) failed, but the other (with a male released in 2001 and a wild female) successfully fledged two chicks. Seven mortalities (54%) were due to avian predation. Birds were held for four months in large aviaries close to the release site before being moved to acclimatisation cages at the release site one month before release. Birds were given flight and predator aversion training.

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Williams, D.R., Child, M.F., Dicks, L.V., Ockendon, N., Pople, R.G., Showler, D.A., Walsh, J.C., zu Ermgassen, E.K.H.J. & Sutherland, W.J. (2020) Bird Conservation. Pages 137-281 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2020. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.


Where has this evidence come from?

List of journals searched by synopsis

All the journals searched for all synopses

Bird Conservation

This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:

Bird Conservation
What Works 2021 cover

What Works in Conservation

What Works in Conservation provides expert assessments of the effectiveness of actions, based on summarised evidence, in synopses. Subjects covered so far include amphibians, birds, mammals, forests, peatland and control of freshwater invasive species. More are in progress.

More about What Works in Conservation

Download free PDF or purchase
The Conservation Evidence Journal

The Conservation Evidence Journal

An online, free to publish in, open-access journal publishing results from research and projects that test the effectiveness of conservation actions.

Read the latest volume: Volume 21

Go to the CE Journal

Discover more on our blog

Our blog contains the latest news and updates from the Conservation Evidence team, the Conservation Evidence Journal, and our global partners in evidence-based conservation.

Who uses Conservation Evidence?

Meet some of the evidence champions

Endangered Landscape ProgrammeRed List Champion - Arc Kent Wildlife Trust The Rufford Foundation Save the Frogs - Ghana Mauritian Wildlife Supporting Conservation Leaders
Sustainability Dashboard National Biodiversity Network Frog Life The international journey of Conservation - Oryx Cool Farm Alliance UNEP AWFA Bat Conservation InternationalPeople trust for endangered species Vincet Wildlife Trust