Spinifex country on Pullen Pullen Reserve. Photo Wild Vista Digital Production.
A nocturnal and mostly ground-dwelling parrot that’s endemic to Australia. For around 100 years it was thought extinct, now we have a second chance to save it!
The Night Parrot is one of the most elusive and mysterious birds in the world.
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 was kept secret to protect the birds from disturbance.
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 the 56,000 hectare Pullen Pullen Reserve , to protect the rediscovered population of endangered Night Parrots. The population size has been estimated at between 10 and 20 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 there are very real threats.
As a ground dwelling, nocturnal bird they’re ideal prey for feral cats. We also need to implement a fire management plan, 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 been established, comprising our own ecologists and some of Australia’s leading scientists. The team is guiding research and the planning and implementation of 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
Developing and implementing a plan for mitigating wildfire risk
Implementing feral predator controls, and
Ongoing ecological monitoring.
Our understanding of the parrot’s biology and ecology is rapidly expanding. A number of scientific and popular science articles have already been published. These are listed on the Night Parrot Recovery Team’s website.
To get a sense of what it’s like listening for the bird in the wild, Reserve Ecologist Nick Leseberg has provided the audio below, recorded at 5.30am out in the spinifex of Pullen Pullen Reserve. There are some calls from other birds (such as Willie Wagtail, Spotted Nightjar and Little Buttonquail) that you’ll hear as well.
Night Parrot behaviour
One of the best things about the rediscovery of this species is that we’re now able 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 and 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 will help us manage the Night Parrot sanctuary, learn more about these rare, enigmatic creatures and protect them forever. Donations over $2 are tax-deductible and we can’t thank you enough for your support.
In May 2023, five 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.
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.
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.
Have you ever stopped to think, how does the provision of resources in the landscape affect wildlife patterns in general? If you add a heap of additional unexpected food resources, what then happens to the array of carrion eaters and predators, and how does this affect other smaller animals?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bush Heritage Australia is leading the recovery effort to secure one of the world’s rarest birds, the mysterious Night Parrot. In 2013 Queensland naturalist John Young set the ornithological world atwitter after sighting and photographing a bird that has been the ‘Holy Grail’ for birdwatchers, the enigmatic Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis), a bird so rare and elusive that it's bordered on the mythological.
In ‘The Chase’, a special ABC Radio National science series, Off Track presenter Dr Ann Jones visits our Pullen Pullen Reserve and heads out with one of our Aboriginal partners, the Biriiliburu rangers, on country in Western Australia to join the search for this incredible bird.