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 feared to be 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 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 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 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
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 and emerging after sunset to forage for food.
The Night Parrot Recovery Team's website has information on looking and listening for Night Parrots including recorded Night Parrot calls.
Night Parrot call
To get a sense of what it's like listening for the bird in the wild, PhD researcher Nick Leseberg from University of Queensland 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 will hear as well.
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.