The Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) is one of the most elusive and mysterious birds in the world. This nocturnal and mostly ground-dwelling parrot is endemic to Australia but for around 100 years it was presumed extinct. Incredibly, we now have a second chance to save it!
Night Parrot sightings
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. A trickle of fleeting but unconfirmed reports from across its former range and two dead specimens found in Queensland in 1990 and 2006 only added to the bird’s mystique.
In 2013 naturalist and wildlife photographer John Young captured several photos and a few seconds of video footage of a live bird in western Queensland.
After a search spanning many years, John was finally rewarded by an incredibly close-up encounter with a Night Parrot – often considered the 'holy grail' for birdwatchers and naturalists.
Global interest in the discovery was so intense that the exact location of this only known population remains a closely guarded secret to protect the birds from disturbance.
Dr Steve Murphy
Dr Steve Murphy, the world’s foremost expert on the Night Parrot, who played a key role in verifying the discovery of this population, has since been researching the species and how best to protect them.
“‘I’ve been fascinated with Night Parrots ever since I was a small kid,” said Dr Murphy. “It’s their story that grabbed me, and what it represented about what’s happened to Australia since the arrival of Europeans.
"We’ve lost more native animals than anywhere else on Earth, and for a lot of years we thought we’d lost this one as well.”
The Night Parrot conservation reserve
Second chances like this don’t come along very often. Bush Heritage has stepped in and taken a leading role in ensuring we don’t lose this elusive bird again.
We were approached to help because of our expertise in conservation land management. We’ve now established a 56,000 ha Pullen Pullen Reserve that covers the secret location of the only known population of the endangered Night Parrot. The population size is estimated at between 30 and 100 individuals.
Habitat is the key to protecting the bird. The fact they’ve persisted in the area suggests that it’s suitable, yet we know feral animals are present and wildfire is a very real risk.
As a ground dwelling, nocturnal bird they’re ideal prey for feral cats. Implementing measures to control feral predators will be one of our first actions.
We also need to develop a fire management plan before summer, as the bird’s preferred spinifex habitat is particularly susceptible to unmanaged wildfire. Without action to intervene and reduce these risks the future of this small population is precarious.
Leading the recovery
A Recovery Team has already been established, comprising our own ecologists and some of Australia’s leading scientists, including Dr Steve Murphy.
The team’s goal will be to plan and implement a recovery program to save the bird from extinction, including:
- The mapping of its habitat
- Securing the site to ensure there’s minimal human disturbance
- Establishing a plan for mitigating wildfire risk
- Implementing feral predator controls, and
- Ongoing ecological monitoring.
Night Parrot behaviour
One of the best things about the rediscovery of this species is that for the first time we’ll have a chance to study Night Parrots in their natural habitat.
Adapted to life in the outback, they seem to need little water, hiding in clumps of spinifex by day, emerging after sunset to forage for food.
This most mysterious of birds has only been described a handful of times in recorded history so there’s still much that we don’t know.
With green and gold feathers that blend with its surroundings, the Night Parrot is quintessentially Australian and the chance to save them can be seen as emblematic of something much bigger.
Australia has lost so many native plants and animals since European settlement. With the Night Parrot we have the rarest of circumstances – a second chance to save what we thought was lost forever.
We rely on the generous donations of everyday Australians. Your support can help us establish the Night Parrot sanctuary and learn more about these rare, enigmatic creatures.