Night parrot

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Night parrot
Illustration from 1890 by Elizabeth Gould
CITES Appendix I (CITES)[2]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Psittaciformes
Family: Psittaculidae
Genus: Pezoporus
P. occidentalis
Binomial name
Pezoporus occidentalis
(Gould, 1861)
Historical (light red) and recent sightings with year (red dots)

Geopsittacus occidentalis

The night parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) is a small parrot endemic to the continent of Australia. It has also been known as porcupine parrot, nocturnal ground parakeet, midnight cockatoo, solitaire, spinifex parrot and night parakeet. It is one of the most elusive and mysterious birds in the world, with no confirmed 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 is thought to number between 50 and 249 mature individuals, and it is classified by the IUCN as a critically endangered species.

A few sightings or recordings of its presence, with varying degrees of certainty, have occurred in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, south-western Queensland, the Lake Eyre basin in South Australia and the Northern Territory. However, some of the evidence produced by wildlife photographer John Young has been called into question, and in March 2019 the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) retracted some of the records created by Young and published by the AWC.


Ornithologist John Gould described the night parrot in 1861,[3] from a specimen—the holotype—that was collected 13 km southeast of Mt Farmer, west of Lake Austin in Western Australia. Its specific epithet is Latin occidentalis "western". The species was originally placed within its own genus (Geopsittacus) by Gould,[4][5] though consensus soon swung in favour of placing it in Pezoporus; James Murie dissected a specimen, observing that it was very similar in anatomy and plumage to the ground parrot.[6] Gould had posited a relationship to the kākāpō based on similarity of the plumage,[3] however Murie concluded they were markedly different anatomically.[6] Despite its close relationship with the ground parrot, its placement in the genus Pezoporus was uncertain, with some authorities leaving it in its own genus, as data on the night parrot was so limited. A 1994 molecular study using the cytochrome b of several parrot species confirmed the close relationship of the taxa and consensus for its placement in Pezoporus. It also revealed that the kākāpō was not closely related to Pezoporus.[7] Analysis of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences in a 2011 study showed that the night parrot most likely diverged from the ancestor of the eastern and western ground parrots around 3.3 million years ago.[8]

Alternative common names include porcupine parrot, nocturnal ground parakeet, midnight cockatoo, solitaire,[9] spinifex parrot and night parakeet.[10]


A relatively small and short-tailed parrot, the species' colour is predominantly a yellowish green, mottled with dark brown, blacks and yellows. Both sexes have this coloration. 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. It may also inhabit chenopod shrublands, eucalyptus woodlands, and mallee shrublands. One of the vocalisations of the night parrot has been described as a croak and identified as a contact call.[11] Other calls, mostly short "ding-ding" whistles, and a more drawn out whistle, have been recorded from Queensland and Western Australia.[12]


Triodia Grass

Historic sources indicate that the night parrot eats seeds of grasses (especially Triodia) and herbs.

Conservation status[edit]

The population size of this species is not known, but assumed to be continuing to decline. As of July 2022, it is listed on the IUCN Red List as Critically endangered. According to the IUCN Red List the night parrot has a population of 40–500, or possibly larger.[1] It is listed as Endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 by the Australian government.[13]

Important Bird Areas[edit]

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.[14]


The night parrot remains one of the world's most elusive and mysterious birds. Reliable records of the bird have been few and far between, with efforts to locate the species proving fruitless after an authenticated report from 1912.[7]

In 1979, ornithologist Shane Parker from the South Australian Museum spotted an apparent flock of the birds in the far north of South Australia.[15] A roadkill specimen was discovered in 1990 by scientists returning from an expedition in a remote part of Queensland.[16][17]

21st-century sightings[edit]

April 2005: Minga Well sighting[edit]

Three individuals seen near Minga Well, Pilbara region of Western Australia and near the Fortescue Marshes.[16][18]

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.[19] 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, Robert Davis and Brendan Metcalf, who sighted a small group of the birds. Unconfirmed sightings of the bird had been made previously in a nearby area in 2004.[20][21]

The sighting was at dusk, and Davis and Metcalf 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 first 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.[20] A follow-up survey of the Fortescue Marsh area in May 2005 was unsuccessful in finding any conclusive evidence of the species.[22]

September 2006: Dead individual[edit]

Dead female, flown into a barbed wire fence in Diamantina National Park in south western Queensland.[23][16][24][25]

April 2015: Live individual capture[edit]

Live night parrot held by ornithologist Steve Murphy

On 4 April 2015, ornithologist Steve Murphy and partner Rachel Barr captured and radio tagged a live individual, whom they nicknamed "Pedro", in southwestern Queensland. Photographs of the bird in Murphy's hand were released to Australian media on 10 August 2015, while keeping the precise location secret.[26][27] A conservation reserve covering some 56,000 hectares has been created in the area to protect the species.[28]

Sean Dooley of Birdlife: The Magazine described the find as, "The bird watching equivalent of finding Elvis flipping burgers in an outback roadhouse".[29] South Australian Museum collection manager Philippa Horton called the find, "One of the holy grails, one of the world's rarest species probably".[28]

2016 – 2021[edit]

2013, 2016, 2017: Retracted records[edit]

  • In May 2013 naturalist and wildlife cinematographer John Young, who made headlines in 2006 with an allegedly fake photo series of the blue-browed fig parrot, claimed to have made the first ever photographs and video footage of a living specimen.[29][39][40] Young said that he had captured the images and 17-second video after seventeen thousand hours in the field over 15 years of searching.[41] He revealed his results during an invitation-only press conference on 3 July 2013,[42][43] but kept the exact range in Queensland where he had observed this individual secret to protect this species from poaching. Young provided five feathers from a roost site in the Lake Eyre basin to the Western Australian Museum's Molecular Systematics Unit, where DNA analysis conclusively matched the feathers to DNA samples of dead Pezoporus occidentalis birds.[44][45]
  • 2016: Young announces he has found night parrots in Diamantina National Park, adjacent to the Pullen Pullen nature reserve. Seven sightings are recorded, including a pair and three active nests with eggs.[46][47]
  • September 2016: Camera trap records what appears to be a night parrot on property owned by the AWC, Kalamurina Station in the northern Lake Eyre region, SA, but the photo is not clear.[48]
  • July 2017: Single night parrot feather found in a finch nest on the Kalamurina property, by John Young and Keith Bellchambers from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.[48]
  • September 2018: Recording of a night parrot call, downloaded from an acoustic monitor at Kalamurina.[49]

In October 2018, Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) commenced an investigation into claims that some of John Young's first photographs of the night parrot may have been staged, after Australian National University ornithologist Penelope Olsen, author of Night Parrot: Australia's Most Elusive Bird raised concerns. Young resigned from the AWC in September 2018,[50] and the AWC removed all information about the night parrot from its website.[51]

In March 2019, Young's reports were found to have issues relating to robustness of much of his work done in Queensland and South Australia, labelled as unscientific, deceptive and damaging to the AWC. In 2019, the AWC retracted its reports based on work done by Young.[41] A panel of experts had looked at the nest and eggs found at Diamantina (2016); the feather found at Kalamurina (2017); and the recording of the call (2018). They found that each one had separate issues and none could be said to provide robust evidence of the parrot's presence.[49]


  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2022). "Pezoporus occidentalis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2022: e.T22685237A211825128. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2022-3.RLTS.T22685237A211825128.en. Retrieved 22 July 2022.
  2. ^ "Appendices | CITES". Retrieved 14 January 2022.
  3. ^ a b Gould, John (1861). "On a new genus and species of parakeet from Western Australia". Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London: 100–01.
  4. ^ Forshaw, Joseph M. & Cooper, William T. (1981). Parrots of the World (3rd ed.). Willoughby, Australia: Press.
  5. ^ Gould J. (1972) [1865]. Handbook to the Birds of Australia. London: Lansdowne Press.
  6. ^ a b Murie, James (1868). "On the nocturnal Ground Parakeet (Geopsittacus occidentalis Gould)". Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London: 158–65.
  7. ^ a b 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)" (PDF). Auk. 111 (4): 833–43. doi:10.2307/4088815. JSTOR 4088815.
  8. ^ Leo Joseph; Alicia Toon; Erin E. Schirtzinger; Timothy F. Wright (2011). "Molecular systematics of two enigmatic genera Psittacella and Pezoporus illuminate the ecological radiation of Australo-Papuan parrots (Aves: Psittaciformes)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 59 (3): 675–684. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2011.03.017. PMID 21453777.
  9. ^ Olsen, Penny (2018). Night Parrot: Australia's Most Elusive Bird. CSIRO Publishing. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-4863-0299-4.
  10. ^ Morcombe, Michael (1986). The great Australian birdfinder. Sydney: Lansdowne Press. p. 316. ISBN 978-0701819620.
  11. ^ Murphy, S. A.; Austin, J. J.; Murphy, R. K.; Silcock, J.; Joseph, L.; Garnett, S. T.; Leseberg, N. P.; Watson, J. E. M.; Burbidge, A. H. (28 February 2017). "Observations on breeding Night Parrots (Pezoporus occidentalis) in western Queensland". Emu. 117 (2): 107–113. doi:10.1080/01584197.2017.1292404. S2CID 89725902.
  12. ^ "Leading Night Parrot Conservation".
  13. ^ Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (2008). "Pezoporus occidentalis — Night Parrot". Biodiversity: Species Profile and Threats Database. Australian Government. Retrieved 10 August 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ "Night Parrot". Important Bird Areas. BirdLife International. 2012. Archived from the original on 30 June 2007. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  15. ^ John Blyth: Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) Interim Recovery Plan for Western Australia. 1996 to 1998 Archived 2008-07-31 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ a b c Roberts, Greg: Bad news for one night parrot, good for species Archived 2007-02-17 at the Wayback Machine, The Australian, 16 February 2007. Retrieved 16 February 2007
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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. S2CID 85412524.
  19. ^ Campbell stands by Cloud Break mine approval ABC News, published: 24 July 2006, accessed: 9 November 2010
  20. ^ a b Management Plan Archived 2011-07-06 at the Wayback Machine EPA website, published: April 2005, accessed: 9 November 2010
  21. ^ Pezoporus occidentalis — Night Parrot Department for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities website, accessed: 9 November 2010
  22. ^ Fortescue Wetlands Area, Presence of Endangered Species Parliamentary Question, Parliament of Western Australia, published: 8 November 2005, accessed: 9 November 2010
  23. ^ 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. S2CID 84859858.
  24. ^ "Twitchers cry foul in case of the deceased parrot". Brisbane Times. 23 June 2007. Retrieved 9 April 2008.
  25. ^ Ex-parrot sighting in Qld sparks interest, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 19 February 2007. Retrieved 19 February 2007
  26. ^ Milman, Oliver (10 August 2015). "Night parrot capture and tagging hailed as 'holy grail' moment for bird lovers". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  27. ^ Grewal, Jessica (10 August 2015). "Looking for a night parrot in a haystack? Found one". The Australian. News Ltd. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  28. ^ a b McLeish, Kathy (10 August 2015). "Night parrot conservation reserve created in Queensland for endangered and elusive bird". ABC News. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  29. ^ a b "BBC World Service - Discovery, The Chase, Back from the Dead". BBC. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  30. ^ a b "Critically endangered night parrot fledgling photographed on Queensland reserve". Australian Geographic. 8 February 2018.
  31. ^ Beavan, Katrina (24 May 2017). "'Probable' night parrot found in Central Australia thanks to audio recordings". ABC News. Retrieved 27 February 2019.
  32. ^ Jones, Ann (23 March 2017). "Night parrot sighting in Western Australia shocks birdwatching world". ABC News (ABC Radio National). Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  33. ^ "Night Parrot rediscovered in Western Australia". Bird Guides. 23 March 2017.
  34. ^ Harewood, Greg (July 2018). "Night Parrot Survey Report Lake Disappointment: Potash Project" (PDF) (Version 3 ed.). Reward Minerals Ltd.
  35. ^ Borrello, Eliza (10 October 2003). "Second known photo of rare night parrot taken in the Kimberley" (audio). ABC Radio. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  36. ^ Michelmore, Karen; Birch, Laura (21 August 2020). "Night parrot located by KJ rangers on Martu country in the Pilbara". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  37. ^ Barry, Derek (21 August 2020). "Night parrot pops up in Western Australia". The North West Star. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  38. ^ Hannam, Peter (27 August 2021). "Rare night parrot photograph 'gives us hope there are more out there'". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 August 2021.
  39. ^ Tony, Koch (29 June 2013). "Is this a sighting of Australia's most elusive bird, the night parrot?". The Australian.
  40. ^ Worthington, Elise (4 July 2013). "Queensland bird enthusiast presents museum with photos of elusive night parrot". ABC news. Retrieved 10 July 2015.
  41. ^ a b Jones, Ann; Sveen, Benjamin; Lewis, David (22 March 2019). "Night parrot research labelled 'fake news' by experts after release of damning report". ABC News (Background Briefing). Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  42. ^ Pickrell, John (3 July 2013). "Night parrot: tantalising clues revealed". Australian Geographic. Archived from the original on 7 July 2013. Retrieved 4 July 2013.
  43. ^ Leo Joseph (29 December 2013). "Found: world's most mysterious bird, but why all the secrecy?". The Conversation.
  44. ^ "DNA confirms elusive Night Parrot found – Western Australian Museum". Western Australian Museum.
  45. ^ Fraser, Andrew. "DNA test confirms rare night parrot find". The Australian. Archived from the original on 10 August 2013. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  46. ^ O'Donnell, Jenna (1 November 2016). "Yes! More Australian Night Parrots Have Been Discovered". National Audubon Society. Retrieved 2 November 2016.
  47. ^ Wahlquist, Calla (25 October 2016). "Night parrot population discovered in Queensland national park". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 November 2016.
  48. ^ a b McCarthy, Marty (13 September 2017). "Night parrot feather discovery proves Australia's most elusive bird is alive in South Australia". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Commission. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  49. ^ a b "AWC receives findings from independent Night Parrot review panel". Australian Wildlife Conservancy. 29 March 2019. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  50. ^ Henriques-Gomes, Luke (12 October 2018). "Wildlife group investigates claim night parrot photos were staged". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  51. ^ Taylor, Tegan (12 October 2018). "Night parrot: 'questions about the veracity' of evidence for back-from-the-dead bird appearing in SA". ABC News. Retrieved 13 October 2018.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]