Skip to content

Front line conservationists on the fight to protect Pullen Pullen

Published 22 Mar 2022 by Will Sacre

Deep in the arid desert of western Queensland where spinifex grasslands, towering mesa plateaus and red dunes stretch uninterrupted for hundreds of kilometres, lies our 56,000 hectare reserve called Pullen Pullen. Here, on sacred Maiawali Country, lives the world’s most elusive bird. Nestled on the ground in old growth spinifex, the Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) forages by night and is extremely difficult to see or hear, let alone study.

Following the bird’s discovery in 2013, many uniquely positioned conservationists have been working to protect Pullen Pullen - by deepening our understanding of the bird itself and by protecting the birds' habitat and its country.

Maiawali Traditional Custodian, Judith Harrison is one of them. Working alongside Bush Heritage in managing the reserve, she is surviving the values and lessons of her culture.

“The Night Parrot is crucial to the Maiawali People to carry on our Story Lines for the up and coming new and emerging generations,” says Judith.

Judith helped to develop strategies for feral cat and fire management.

“One cat alone can eat at least 25 mammals each day, and invasive weeds are choking out native vegetation that in turn causes habitat loss for the breeding of native animals.”

Judith champions the critical juncture between cultural knowledge and technology, working to arm the new generation with a rounded understanding of conservation practices.

“We need to adapt the way that we teach our future generations and modernise the way that we record our customs and data so that it can be preserved…this symbiotic relationship is integral in preserving Pullen Pullen for generations to come,” she says.

Now with Special Wildlife Reserve status and a newly built arid conservation base, more can be done to protect the landscape.

“We have always had a dream of protecting Pullen Pullen for our future generations to come and never in our wildest dreams did we foresee that we would have it listed a Special Wildlife Reserve”, Says Judith.

This level of protection paves the way for future research as well as management. PhD researcher Nick Leseberg is the closest to a Night Parrot expert there is, known by his peers as the ‘Night Parrot Man’. He’s seen the bird a handful of times, as well as monitored its feeding, nesting and breeding patterns for six years.

“How we respond to the rediscovery of the Night Parrot will be a symbol of the place biodiversity conservation has in Australian society,” says Nick

If you're new to this story, here is the background. For almost a century, the Night Parrot was lost. No specimens were collected between 1875 and 1990, and ornithologists feared the worst. It wasn’t until a living population was discovered in 2013, that ongoing protection for the species became possible.

After an initial research program between 2013 and 2016 had been led by Dr Steve Murphy, Nick began researching the species in late 2016. The research Nick was able to on Pullen Pullen has contributed to the detection of new populations in Western Australia, offering the species a much-needed reprieve from the verge of extinction.

“Those detections have almost all been through using that knowledge we’ve built out of Pullen Pullen around how to use acoustic recorders to search for them, how to search the data you collected with an acoustic recorder and how to space them, where to put them in the landscape to try and find night parrots.”

Rob Murphy, Head of Conservation Operations, insists that it is not just the Night Parrots that needs protecting, it is some of the last remaining habitat for species such as the Kowari (Dasyuroides byrnei) and Dusky Hopping-mouse (Notomys fuscus) and critically endangered Plains-Wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus).

“Pullen Pullen is an extremely special reserve, and is a critical part of a much larger interconnected conservation landscape. It also has remarkable cultural sites that the Maiawali People work with Bush Heritage to protect,” says Rob.

It’s this cultural value that Judith Harrison understands as critical to its protection. When she travels to country her connection is unmistakeable. 

“The minute that I come home, I feel recharged and revitalised. Returning to country to help preserve the sites and artefacts gives me such a sense of purpose and leaves me smiling,” she says.

“Our ancestors lived on this land for thousands of years… the Night Parrot has been integral in our cultural life for many generations. The feathers were used in headdresses during important ceremonies.”

With temperatures rising each year in an already unforgiving landscape, how Pullen Pullen’s biggest threats are managed in the coming years will determine its suitability as a habitat. Ongoing research, monitoring and the implementation of right-way science will all contribute to these outcomes, paving the way for a brighter future for species like the Night Parrot.

While hopeful, Nick Leseberg begs the question, how much value do we place in the conservation of our most fragile species?

"We know what the threats are to the Night Parrot, we know how to manage them, and we know where to do it. But if we don’t, it will continue its spiral into extinction…we can demand that species like the Night Parrot be recovered, or we can watch their steady decline continue until they’re gone."

Judith Harrison & Rob Murphy Judith Harrison & Rob Murphy
Photo by Anette Ruzicka
One of the few photos taken of the Night Parrot One of the few photos taken of the Night Parrot
Photo by Nick Leseberg
Rob Murphy with Monitoring Camera Rob Murphy with Monitoring Camera
Photo by Anette Ruzicka
Nick Leseberg calibrating a camera on Pullen Pullen Nick Leseberg calibrating a camera on Pullen Pullen
Photo by Lachlan Gardiner

Pullen Pullen stories

Night Parrot.

14/02/2024 14/02/2024

Pullen Pullen’s Night Parrot

While the population seemed to be doing well, October 2019 brought bad news; a dead juvenile Night Parrot was found caught in the Mount Windsor boundary fence.

Read More
Maiawali Custodians, other Indigenous rangers and groups walking through Night Parrot habitat. By Lachlan Gardiner

BUSHTRACKS 27/10/2023

The next chapter for the Night Parrot

The sharing of Night Parrot knowledge at Pullen Pullen Reserve, Maiawali Country, bolsters the species’ protection.

Read More

BLOG 02/06/2023

Learning more about the Night Parrot

In May 2023, six indigenous ranger groups travelled to Pullen Pullen Reserve, Maiawali Country, in Western Queensland. It's here that the Night Parrot was rediscovered in 2013, after it was thought to have gone extinct. Bush Heritage purchased the property in 2016 and have been working tirelessly to protect the mysterious bird. 

Read More
The Night Parrot.

17/05/2022

Bush Broadcast: Protecting the Night Parrot at Pullen Pullen

Join our staff as they chat about the work undertaken to protect this rare and mysterious bird.

Read More
Nick Leseberg looking out over Pullen Pullen. Photo Lachlan Gardiner.

BUSHTRACKS 25/03/2022

Called to the night

Nick Leseberg took an unconventional path to one of the nation’s most high-profile ecological rescue projects: conservation of the elusive Night Parrot.

Read More

BLOG 22/03/2022

Front line conservationists on the fight to protect Pullen Pullen

Following the Night Parrot's discovery in 2013, many uniquely positioned conservationists have been working to protect Pullen Pullen - by deepening our understanding of the bird itself and by protecting the birds' habitat and its country.

Read More

BLOG 27/04/2021

Ramping up the fight for Australia's rarest bird

New funding for Pullen Pullen will allow us to continue and expand vital-on ground conservation work for the critically endangered Night Parrot.

Read More
A feral cat in the scrub. Photo Annette Ruzicka.

BUSHTRACKS 15/04/2021

The problem with cats

Feral cats kill an estimated 2 billion animals in Australia every year, but nuanced solutions on Bush Heritage reserves and partnership properties across Australia are helping to turn the tide.

Read More

BLOG 23/09/2020

Pullen Pullen protections strengthened

Pullen Pullen Reserve on Maiawali country in western Queensland has become Australia's first ever Special Wildlife Reserve.

Read More

BLOG 07/09/2020

An arid zone conservation base

The Arid Zone Conservation Base project on our remote Pullen Pullen Reserve in Western Queensland is forging ahead and we look forward to completion as spring gives way to summer heat and rains.

Read More

BLOG 08/04/2020

Buffel grass surveys

In 2018 and again in 2020 Dave and Sue Akers travelled to Pullen Pullen Reserve - our Night Parrot sanctuary - as volunteers to undertake buffel grass surveys.

Read More

BLOG 13/03/2019

Nick Leseberg on Night Parrot research

Media reports around a Night Parrot controversy involving scientific fraud involve a different conservation organisation. Nick Leseberg from University of Queensland has a field update from our work at Pullen Pullen.

Read More

BLOG 21/05/2018

Night Parrots & watching grass grow

Al Healy's research at Pullen Pullen is helping us understand the benefits of fencing cattle out of key Night Parrot feeding areas - the McFloodplains.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 27/03/2018

Opportunistic breeders

In December last year, a researcher captured photos of a young Night Parrot on our Pullen Pullen Reserve in western Queensland. PhD student Nick Leseberg estimated the parrot was two-to three-months-old at the time, meaning it likely hatched in early September.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 27/03/2018

Creatures of the night

A feral cat detection dog has recently been out to Pullen Pullen Reserve in western Queensland, where feral cats are thought to pose a dangerous threat to the resident population of endangered Night Parrots, as well as many other native animals.

Read More

BLOG 21/09/2017

Removing internal fences

Like much of the Australian outback, Pullen Pullen was once used for cattle grazing which relies upon a system of internal fences to partition specific areas of land to be grazed or rested when required. Naturally, this subdivision is not a requirement for our conservation purposes. So while boundary fences are needed to keep the cattle out of the reserve to protect the night parrots food resources the internal fences are unnecessary and a potential risk.

Read More

BLOG 30/06/2017

Fencing in the food

Do we really need a fence on our Night Parrot reserve? Fences are a requirement in pastoral rangelands and are vital infrastructure to keep large feral herbivores off reserve, eliminating their impacts on vegetation and critical habitats.

Read More

BLOG 26/06/2017

Meet Night Parrot Nick

Our ecologist Alex Kutt interviews PhD student Nick Leseberg to find out a little more about his latest field trip and data he's collecting about Night Parrots at Pullen Pullen Reserve in western Queensland.

Read More

BLOG 26/06/2017

Secrets & parrots

A recent essay by Professor David Lindenmayer, one of Australia's most renowned conservation scientists, reinforced the reasons why the location and call of the Night Parrot were initially kept under wraps.

Read More

BLOG 14/02/2017

The fine art of fencing Night Parrots

Fences are vital infrastructure that keep feral herbivores out, and help manage their impacts on vegetation and critical habitats. At Pullen Pullen Reserve this poses a conundrum. We want to keep any stray herbivores out to protect the floodplains, which are significant feeding locations for the Night Parrot, without creating an unexpected obstacle for the birds.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 06/12/2016

Night Parrots spreading their wings

For the last 80 to 100 years, people have been writing and talking about Night Parrots as if they were extinct. Now, we’ve got recordings of their calls, we’ve got information about nesting, and we’ve tagged two with tracking devices. I struggle to find the words to describe how exciting that is. - Steve Murphy, lead Night Parrot researcher.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 11/04/2016

Maggie nose best

Meet Maggie, a four-legged friend working hard to protect the world’s only known population of Night Parrots on our newest reserve, secured recently with the help of Bush Heritage supporters.

Read More
Loading...
{{itemsInCart}} Items - {{formatCurrency(grandTotal)}}