The Night Parrot is a small ground-dwelling nocturnal parrot only found in Australia. Until very recently it was thought to be extinct (With no confirmed sighting of it for over a hundred years). Fortunately two birds were observed at Minga Well, Western Australia in 2005 and a very small population of these birds was re-discovered in remote parts of south-west Queensland in 2013, and subsequently other populations have been found in Western Australia and South Australia too. As its name suggests this parrot only comes out at night. Because of its secretive and nocturnal nature, the night parrot is sometimes referred to as the world's most mysterious and elusive bird.
Scientific name: Pezoporus occidentalis
The night parrot, with a rather plump body and short tail, is approximately 25cm in length with a wingspan of 45cm. It has bright green feathers with black and yellow spots, streaks and bars. The underside of its body is yellow. Males and females are similar in appearance. They live for about 10 years.
The night parrot is a ground dwelling bird that shelters in dense clumps of spinifex and shrub emerging at dusk to forage for food. Because the night parrot lives in the extremely dry areas of Australia where water is in short supply; it has been suggested that its nocturnal behaviour is an adaptation to conserve water by staying hidden and protected during blistering heat of the sun during the day. The night parrot flies low and fast.
The Night Parrot once lived over a vast area of the Australian Outback (orange area on map). In recent times it has only been sighted in a few remote locations in Australia. (shown as 'red' dots on the map).
This rarely seen ground-dwelling parrot lives amongst the shrub and grasslands of the arid and semi-arid interior of Australia. It hides and nests in the grasslands during the day and only comes out to forage for food at night. The birds appears to be highly nomadic, travelling as far as 100km in search of food. That is to say that they move from place to place in search of seeding spinifex grass and water. There has also been occasional sighting of these birds in bluebush, samphire and saltbush scrub-lands.
The night parrot's nest consists of a small tunnel through triodia grass or shrubs leading to a nest made of a few twigs.
Night parrots only come out to feed after sunset. Their exact diet is unknown, but is believed to feed primarily on seeds, especially that of Triodia grass (commonly referred to as spinifex). It is also thought to eat leaf matter, roots and tubers.
They generally get all their water requirements from succulent plants. During extremely dry weather they may also drink at free standing water.
Night parrots may fly as much as a 100 km or more in a night in search of food and drinking water.
Very little is known about the night parrot's life cycle. It is thought that they mate during the rainy sessions and that the female lays about four eggs in a nest made of a few twigs hidden in the spinifex grass.
Until about 1880, the night parrot was quite common in the Australian outback. The exact cause of its decline to the point of near extinction is not known. It is suspected that human interactions are the major cause of the demise of the night parrot.
Humans introduced a number of animals that preyed on the night parrot. The first of these was the dingo which arrived in Australia about 5,000 years ago. However, there is no proof that the dingo had any significant impact on the native night parrot populations, as these birds were still quite common at the time of European settlement.
It is thought that the drastic decline in night parrot populations coincided with the introduction of cats and foxes into Australia. These animals escaped from captivity and spread rapidly throughout the Australian Outback.
The behaviour of these rare birds make them "sitting ducks" for introduced predators such as feral cats, foxes and to a lesser extent dingoes. It has been observed that when threatened night parrots freeze and stay motionless hoping to elude their predators by their stillness. Unfortunately, this behaviour makes them easy targets for predators.
Prior to their rediscovery, the last confirmed record of a night parrot was in 1912 when one was shot. Since then the birds were thought to have become extinct. Fortunately the first confirmed sighting of live parrots was made in 2005 when two or three birds were observed at Minga Well in Western Australia. The first definite proof that they were still alive occurred in 3 July 2013 when a photographer named John Young succeeded in photographing some these birds in a remote part of Queensland.
On the 4 April 2015 in South-Western Queensland, ornithologist Steve Murphy and Rachel Barr succeeded in capturing one of these birds, radio tagging it and setting it free. For some unknown reason they named it "Pedro". They have kept the precise location of their find secret to protect the animal from poachers and harm. The Queensland government responded quickly by declaring an area of 56,000 hectares around the region where the birds were sighted as a nature reserve to protect the species.
Since this initial discovery subsequently other populations have been discovered in Western Australia and South Australia too.
Because of the night parrot's secretive nature - only coming out at night and rarely flying, their exact numbers are not known. It is estimated that only 50-250 birds exist in the wild today. They are classified as endangered.
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