Elusive night parrot a chance discovery
The known distribution of a rare Australian parrot continues to grow with its rediscovery in the Great Sandy Desert.
Sightings of the night parrot have been rare in the past 100 years and it was only after 2013, with significant evidence of the birds’ existence in Western Queensland, researchers began to learn more about the habitat and life of the elusive species.
There were sightings near Lake Eyre and by Kimberley bird watchers in the East Murchison in WA earlier this year.
Now the Paruku rangers, based out of the remote community of Mulan some 600km south of Kununurra and near Lake Gregory, have revealed photo and audio recordings of what seems to be night parrots. In July the rangers were working with WWF Australia Kimberley program manager Alexander Watson and Neil Hamaguchi from Environs Kimberley doing bilby surveys when they made the discovery.
After reviewing the 40 to 50 photos off one of their colour photo camera traps, the group spotted an animal which didn’t resemble the dingoes and camels they usually got images of.
Dr Watson said they couldn’t believe what they saw. “The feeling was great,” he said. “Lucky we bought cameras that were in colour, it was a night parrot, you could see the yellow belly.
“While the image may be a little blurry, the colours, shape, habitat and time the bird was photographed makes us extremely confident the rangers have photographed a night parrot.”
The rangers went back into the field a few weeks ago to verify the sighting. Taking some sound equipment they were able to record the whistle of the parrot.
Traditional owner Hanson Pye said his grandfather used to tell stories about the bird.
“I remember my grandfather telling me that one day I’ll see it, but this bird is very clever and only comes out at night,” he said.
“It wobbles around when walking and comes out to eat the seed from the plants at night time.”
There are traditional songs and stories about the bird; however, they aren’t known by many and are said to be sacred.
Paruku ranger co-ordinator Jamie Brown also heard about the bird from elders and his grandmother, as well as through ecological conferences.
“(My grandmother) knows this bird and remembers hearing them and seeing them as a child, so we know that the night parrot has existed in this area,” he said.
“Now that we have the evidence that the parrot is in the area, we need support for more rangers to manage fire in the region and the threat of feral predators like cats to keep this habitat safe.”
Dr Watson said there would now be a focus on how best to conduct fire management to protect the birds.
The team of Erin Flynn, Hanson Pye, Jamie Brown, Lachlan Johns, Neil Hamaguchi and Alexander Watson who have been recording audio of night parrots.
A camera trap image of a night parrot.