Menu

National News

Night parrot sighting in Western Australia shocks birdwatching world


RN By Ann Jones for Off Track                   Updated 23 Mar 2017, 4:36pm
A group of four birdwatchers from Broome has photographed Australia's most mysterious bird, the night parrot, in Western Australia.

The sighting is all that more remarkable when you consider that the night parrot was not confirmed as still alive in Australia until three years ago, and that the photograph was taken in a patch of spinifex 2,000 kilometres from where the bird was rediscovered in Western Queensland.

While the group described the parrot as a "fat budgerigar", the sighting was the equivalent of winning the bird watching lotto.

"I grew up knowing that the bird was extinct and didn't expect to ever see one in my life," says Adrian Boyle from Broome, part of the group that found the bird.

"I just knew it was a fairly small green and yellow parrot that used to live in deserts in spinifex countries that was sort of the unseeable, that it was the holy grail if you get to see one."

To find the bird, the team travelled to a habitat they identified by poring over detailed aerial maps, and camped out, listening for the calls of the largely nocturnal parrot.
PHOTO: Adrian Boyle, Nigel Jackett, George Swann and Bruce Greatwich, who discovered the parrot in WA. (Supplied: Bruce Greatwich)
"The night before, we actually heard the birds, which sounded very unusual to us actually. We couldn't sleep, we were just pondering the question: 'what was making this noise?'" says Nigel Jackett, a warden at the Broome Bird Observatory.

"There were quite a few of them, there was at least five or six of these things calling around us, so we didn't know what they were, but we saw the habitat was beautiful and thought that they could be night parrots."

"The next day we walked out into that area and one just burst out from under our feet from the spinifex."
In that moment, one of the members of the group, Bruce Greatwich, managed to take a photo of the south end of the northbound bird. It was definitely a night parrot.

The men's discovery is the first confirmed sighting of a night parrot in Western Australia for nearly a century. There have been other rumours of sightings throughout the 2000s, but no evidence accompanied them.

The sighting increases the known range of animals by thousands of kilometres, from the site in Western Queensland all the way across the Northern Territory to patch of rocky spinifex in Western Australia, the exact location of which is not being disclosed.

The birds are so difficult to spot, even in their known Queensland habitat, that even the chair of the Night Parrot Recovery Team, Allan Burbidge, hasn't even seen one.

"Not for lack of trying too," says Dr Burbidge, also a principal research scientist with the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife. "It's a species that is really hard to detect.

"It's active at night, you don't see them walking around in the day time, and until relatively recently, we didn't know what the calls were, so we didn't know how to look, where to look."
While it is unlikely that the bird consistently appears across the whole arid interior, this find gives scientists and birdwatchers hope that pockets of population live in areas relatively undisturbed by development, other human-caused habitat degradation or feral animals.

"Having a photograph now, being absolutely certain [about the birds' presence], hopefully our regulators will be able to use that," says Dr Burbidge.

"So if anyone's sceptical about they can say: 'We have definite evidence that they're in Western Australia and we really do need to survey adequately for them where there are development proposals.'"

Topics: endangered-and-protected-species, environment, birds, animal-science, broome-6725, wa, australia

First posted 23 Mar 2017, 9:35am