A safe haven for Night Parrots – thought extinct but given a second chance!
The Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) is one of the most elusive and mysterious birds in the world. It’s a nocturnal and mostly ground-dwelling parrot, endemic to Australia, but for around 100 years it was presumed extinct.
First recorded in 1845, the last living specimen was collected in Western Australia in 1912. It then disappeared, with no confirmed records of the bird between 1912 and 1979.
In 1989 Australian Geographic’s founder, Dick Smith, even joined in on the hunt, offering a reward of $25,000 for the discovery of a night parrot, dead or alive.
It was assumed to be extinct until July 2013 when ornithologist John Young announced that a decade of scouring the spinifex clumps, gibber plains, caves, gullies and salt lakes of the outback had paid off! The location was shrouded in secrecy to prevent birders flocking to it. The find was so surprising it made the front page of The Australian.
Bush Heritage announced a fundraising campaign to help them secure donations needed to buy a 56,000ha block of pastoral land surrounding the population of night parrots, estimated at 10–30 individuals.
Now, a secretive 56,000-hectare conservation reserve has been established in Queensland in an effort to protect a tiny population of endangered night parrots. South Australian Museum collection manager Dr Philippa Horton called the find: “One of the holy grails, one of the world’s rarest species probably”.
One of only five ground-dwelling parrots, the night parrot was described in 1861. The Night Parrot is a medium-sized parrot measuring 22 to 25 cm in length, with a wingspan of 44 to 46 cm. It is a medium-sized green parrot with a dumpy body and short tail. Its plumage is generally green, with yellow-and-black streaks, spots and barring. In flight it shows a pale-yellow wing bar.
Interest in the bird is so high that poachers are also a concern. A live bird or eggs could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on the black market.
Research scientist Steve Murphy (The Australian, August 29, 15) believes the parrots have hung on at this site, an arid hillside at a secret location in southwest Queensland, because of the terrain, habitat and paucity of introduced predators. His research has established that the birds favour large, old-growth clumps of spinifex. Each bird has its own roost, buried deep within a spinifex clump. The birds leave the roosts soon after sunset, travelling up to 7km during the night to feed. Most of the parrots are within a 10km radius of John Young’s discovery.
Murphy believes the presence of dingos in the area is an important factor in controlling cat numbers. As part of a management strategy being implemented, the owners of the one million hectare property where the parrots occur have agreed not to cull dingoes.
Bush Heritage negotiating to purchase a 56,000 ha section of a pastoral property in western Queensland where the bird was found. The population size is estimated at between 30 and 100 individuals. It’s not a large number, but enough to be excited about.