|Historical (light red) and recent sightings with year (red dots)|
The Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) is a small parrot endemic to the continent of Australia. The species was originally placed within its own genus (Geopsittacus), but most authors now prefer to place it within the genus Pezoporus together with the two ground parrots.
It is well known as being one of the most elusive and mysterious birds in the world, with no known sightings of the bird between 1912 and 1979, leading to speculation that it was extinct. Sightings since 1979 have been extremely rare and the bird's population size is unknown, though based on the paucity of records it's thought to number 50–249 mature individuals. The first photographic and video evidence of a live individual was publicly confirmed on July 3, 2013. Wildlife photographer John Young says that after 17,000 hours in the field and 15 years of searching, he has captured several photos and a 17-second video of the bird in western Queensland.
A relatively small parrot, the species' colour is predominantly a yellowish green, mottled with dark brown, blacks and yellows. It is distinguished from the two superficially similar ground parrot species by its shorter tail and different range and habitat. Predominantly terrestrial, taking to the air only when panicked or in search of water, the Night Parrot has furtive, nocturnal habits and—even when it was abundant—was apparently a highly secretive species. Its natural habitat appears to be the spinifex grass which still dominates much of the dry, dusty Australian interior; other early reports also indicate that it never strayed far from water.
The population size of this species is not known. Estimates range from extinct to not threatened at all. As of 2012, it is listed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered, having previously been listed as Critically Endangered.
There have been only a few reliable records of the bird since the 1880s, with the last authenticated report dating from 2006, when rangers found a dead specimen which had flown into a barbed wire fence in the Diamantina National Park in south western Queensland. Prior to this, the last reliable sighting was of three individuals in 2005 near Minga Well, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Reliable sightings were made in 1990 when a roadkill specimen was discovered by scientists returning from an expedition in a remote part of Queensland and 1979 when ornithologist Shane Parker from the South Australian Museum spotted an apparent flock of the birds in the far north of South Australia.
Ornithologists continue to patrol the outback for signs that the species still thrives, even checking the old nests of other birds, such as the Zebra Finch, for fragments of Night Parrot feathers. The Night Parrot remains one of the most elusive and mysterious birds in the world of ornithology.
Sightings at Minga Well
The approval of the A$2 billion Cloud Break mine project through the then-Minister for the Environment, Ian Campbell, was criticised because of a number of endangered species in the area of the future mine, among them the Night Parrot. In order to gain EPA approval, the mine had to implement a management plan to ensure that mining activities would not have a negative effect on the species survival in the area. The occurrence of the Night Parrot in the future mining area, at Minga Well on 12 April 2005, was discovered during a 2005 survey commissioned by FMG, which was carried out by two contract biologists who sighted a small group of the birds. Unconfirmed sightings of the bird had been made previously in a nearby area in 2004.
The sighting, at dusk, was by biologists Dr Robert Davis and Mr Brendan Metcalf, who were not able to obtain a photograph of the three birds they saw, but are confident that they spotted three Night Parrots. The detailed descriptions of their sighting were accepted by the Birds Australia Rarities Committee (BARC) making it the only accepted Night Parrot sighting in modern times. Based on this acceptance by scientific peers, a paper describing the sighting was published in the Australian ornithological journal, Emu in 2008. The two biologists carried out further searches at Minga Well and Moojari Well the following five nights after the sighting, but were unable to see the birds again. A follow up survey of the Fortescue Marsh area in May 2005 was unsuccessful in finding any conclusive evidence of the species.
First photographs of a living specimen
In May 2013 wildlife cinematographer John Young who made headlines in 2006 with an allegedly fake photo series of the Blue-fronted Fig Parrot had the opportunity to make the first ever photographs and video footage of a living specimen. He revealed his results during a press conference on 3 July 2013 but kept the exact range in Queensland where he had observed this individual secret to protect this species from poaching. Experts confirmed that there is no doubt that the bird on Young's photographs is indeed a Night Parrot.
List of recent sightings
- April 2005, Pilbara region of Western Australia and near the Fortescue Marshes
- September 2006, dead female, Diamantina National Park.
- May 2013, first photograph and video footage of a living specimen. Subsequent DNA testing of feathers found confirms the find.
Important Bird Areas
Sites identified by BirdLife International as being important for Night Parrot conservation are the Diamantina and Astrebla Grasslands of western Queensland, and the Fortescue Marshes of the Pilbara.
- BirdLife International (2013). "Pezoporus occidentalis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Forshaw, Joseph M. & Cooper, William T. (1981). Parrots of the World (3rd ed). Press, Willoughby, Australia.
- Gould J. Handbook to the Birds of Australia. London. 1865. Reprinted 1972, Lansdowne Press.
- Leeton, Peter R. J., Christidis, Leslie, Westerman, Michael & Boles, Walter E. (1994). "Molecular phylogenetic relationships of the Night Parrot (Geopsittacus occidentalis) and the Ground Parrot (Pezoporus wallicus)". Auk 111 (4): 833–843. doi:10.2307/4088815.
- "Recently recategorised species". Birdlife International (2012). Retrieved 15 June 2012.
- "Twitchers cry foul in case of the deceased parrot". Brisbane Times. 2007-06-23. Retrieved 9 April 2008.
- Ex-parrot sighting in Qld sparks interest, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 19 February 2007. Retrieved 19 February 2007
- Roberts, Greg: Bad news for one night parrot, good for species, The Australian, 16 February 2007. Retrieved 16 February 2007
- Davis, Robert A.; Brenden M. Metcalf (2008). "The Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) in northern Western Australia: a recent sighting from the Pilbara region". Emu 108 (3): 233–236. doi:10.1071/MU07058.
- Boles, Walter E.; Longmore, N. W. & Thompson, M. C. (1994). "A Recent Specimen of the Night Parrot Geopsittacus occidentalis". Emu 94 (1): 37–40. doi:10.1071/MU9940037.
- John Blyth: Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) Interim Recovery Plan for Western Australia. 1996 to 1998. dec.wa.gov.au
- Campbell stands by Cloud Break mine approval ABC News, published: 24 July 2006, accessed: 9 November 2010
- Management Plan EPA website, published: April 2005, accessed: 9 November 2010
- Pezoporus occidentalis — Night Parrot Department for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities website, accessed: 9 November 2010
- FORTESCUE WETLANDS AREA, PRESENCE OF ENDANGERED SPECIES Parliamentary Question, Parliament of Western Australia, published: 8 November 2005, accessed: 9 November 2010
- Pickrell, John (3 July 2013). "Night parrot: tantalising clues revealed". Australian Geographic. Retrieved 4 July 2013.
- Andrew McDougall, Gary Porter, Maree Mostert, Robert Cupitt, Sue Cupitt, Leo Joseph, Stephen Murphy, Heather Janetzki, Adrian Gallagher, Allan Burbidge (2009). "Another piece in an Australian ornithological puzzle – a second Night Parrot is found dead in Queensland". Emu 109 (3): 198–203. doi:10.1071/MU08018.
- Tony, Koch (29 June 2013). "Is this a sighting of Australia's most elusive bird, the night parrot?". The Australian.
- Queensland bird enthusiast presents museum with photos of elusive night parrot
- DNA test confirms rare night parrot find
- "Night Parrot". Important Bird Areas. BirdLife International. 2012. Retrieved 2012-10-31.
- Weidensaul, S. (2002). The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking, and the Search for Lost Species, North Point Press (New York), ISBN 0-86547-668-3, pp. 75–81.
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