Opportunistic breeders

Published 27 Mar 2018 

The Smithsonian Institution has described the Night Parrot as ‘one of the world’s most elusive birds’, but researchers are slowly beginning to piece the Night Parrot puzzle together.

A young Night Parrot photographed on Pullen Pullen Reserve in December 2017. Photo Nick Leseberg.
A young Night Parrot photographed on Pullen Pullen Reserve in December 2017. Photo Nick Leseberg.
In December last year, one of those researchers captured photographs of a young Night Parrot on Bush Heritage’s Pullen Pullen Reserve in western Queensland. University of Queensland PhD student Nick Leseberg estimated the parrot was two-to three-months-old at the time, meaning it likely hatched around early September.

“This suggests that Night Parrots were still breeding at least seven months after the last substantial rain had fallen, and following a very dry year,” says Nick. “This recent sighting is a really important discovery. It means that even when conditions don’t seem that good, the birds might be trying to breed.”

Pullen Pullen, named after the Maiawali Traditional Owners’ word for Night Parrot, is a 56,000 hectare property identified as being home to one of the only known Night Parrot populations in the world.

These nocturnal, ground-dwelling birds are famous for avoiding detection. From 1912, there were no confirmed sightings of live Night Parrots for nearly 100 years. Then, in 2013, naturalist John Young discovered the population on what is now known as Pullen Pullen Reserve. Bush Heritage immediately set about purchasing the land with support from the Pullen Pullen Founders Circle and the Queensland government.

Nick Leseberg, whose Night Parrot research is funded by Bush Heritage.
Nick Leseberg, whose Night Parrot research is funded by Bush Heritage.
Nick Leseberg, whose Night Parrot research is funded by Bush Heritage, is helping to uncover the conditions in which Night Parrots are likely to breed, and where they’re likely to be found.

“We need to ensure that whenever the birds are breeding, we are giving their young the best chance of survival. Ongoing management, particularly of potential predators like cats, is critical to achieving that,” he says.

Nick’s research builds upon that of Dr Steve Murphy, Australia’s foremost expert on the Night Parrot.

“When Steve started his research we knew almost nothing about Night Parrots; it was arguably the world’s most mysterious species. He spent three years generating a way to go about researching these birds, and I’m just trying to build on that foundation,” says Nick.

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