Second discovery of mysterious night parrot


Night parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis)
(Image source Flickr)

One of the world’s most elusive birds is located right here in Australia. The night parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) has baffled scientists since the discovery of remains in 1845. Technology, along with a bit of luck has led to the recent discovery of a second small population of the endangered species in Western Australia.

Why so mysterious?

As the name suggests, night parrots are nocturnal which is rare in itself, with only one other nocturnal parrot known throughout the world. It has been difficult to locate populations of night parrot because they are nocturnal and live within the arid interior of Australia. The way night parrots live is still based on best guesses and rumors.

Scientists have continued to search for more than 100 years with no sight of the night parrot. Sadly, two deceased birds were discovered in 1990 and 2006 in south-western Queensland. With this discovery there was promise that the night parrot wasn’t extinct. In 2013, photographs led to the discovery of a population in Pullen Pullen Reserve, Queensland. The population appeared to have occupied the site for a number of years. This discovery has given scientists the chance to study the species.

Surprising discoveries  

Scientists peered into the night parrots’ private lives using night vision googles. It was rumored by farmers that night parrots liked to form their nests in Triodia, a type of grass which forms in mounds. On closer inspection the nests were much more elaborate than was initially thought. A tunnel is formed which opened up to a main hollow that was dug low in the live grass mounds.

Aboriginal elders had said that night parrot breeding was initiated by much higher than the normal rainfall for the area. This association was confirmed through observations by scientists. With only a few nests to inspect, it was estimated that the parrots would lay two to four eggs. One nest which had been abandoned had only a few shell fragments remaining. These were tested and DNA analysis showed a king brown snake was the culprit.

Next steps for night parrot conservation

Since the discovery of the population, the night parrot has been added to the top 20 birds that are a priority for conservation. To catch poachers, satellite cameras were placed around their nesting sites and traps have been set to catch feral cats.

A second population of night parrots has been detected in Western Australia. For the past four years, sound recorders were moved around the Pilbara Desert. The analysis of the recordings by experts at the University of Queensland have confirmed the calls at two locations. Rangers will conduct searches of the areas looking for nests. A significant threat to Night Parrot conservation is wildfire. By identifying nests, rangers can protect the population and exclude planned burning form the areas.


Further reading:

Murphy, S. A., Austin, J. J., Murphy, R. K., Silcock, J., Joseph, L., Garnett, S. T., … & Burbidge, A. H. (2017). Observations on breeding Night Parrots (Pezoporus occidentalis) in western Queensland. Emu-Austral Ornithology117(2), 107-113.


5 Responses to “Second discovery of mysterious night parrot”

  1. Aaron Heap says:

    Yes I’m not 100% sure about what happened but from what I understand there was a scientist trying to add false populations with fake recordings and pictures of fake eggs. It’s a bit counterproductive, more populations would mean the population was more secure and therefore might get less funding in the future. Perhaps it was just for another 15 min of fame rather than for conservation outcomes

  2. Aaron Heap says:

    Thanks for reading my post. Unfortunately, often when a species has not coexisted with an introduced animal like a feral cat they don’t developed life strategies to deal with predation. A ground nesting bird would be an easy meal for a cat. In New Zealand, many of the native birds are extinct on the mainland because they existed without mammals until they were introduced by humans. The birds had never learnt to nest around them, or defend themselves and ended up nearly all getting eaten.

  3. yiqiaoh says:

    Hi Aaron. As a parrot lover, really enjoy reading your post. Thanks for bringing this rare cute species into view. I also think in the current stage, the most urgent task is to start the conservation from different perspectives as soon as possible. But all these conservation methods should ensure that the external human interference will not affect parrots’ normal life. Because species with special requirements for the living environment are more sensitive and vulnerable to external environmental change. But I think too attentive and detailed protection may not be a good thing (prevent the attack from feral cats), will it cause the parrot lost the ability of self-defense and detect the potential risk?

  4. Pema Sherpa says:

    Interesting, Thanks Aaron for putting light into this little know mysterious bird. It seems like conservation deeds back up by thorough research is vital for sustainable survival.

    Since, extinction rate of endangered species in Australia is very high, do you think the efforts invested is sufficient to preserve this elusive species.

  5. Corinna Dieters says:

    The night parrot sounds fascinating Aaron. It’s hard to believe that there as still so many species in Australia that we know very little about.
    I heard recently there was some controversy about fake Night Parrot recordings. Is this true?