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.
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.
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 Ornithology, 117(2), 107-113.