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The native swift parrot (Lathamus discolour) has only 2000 individuals left in the wild. (Credit: C. Tzaros)

Half of entire parrot species seen in one flock

  • BY Clémentine Thuilier |
  • August 23, 2012

Half of the world's population of our endangered native swift parrots has been spotted in one flock in one location.

ON A RECENT WINTER day, Julie Morgan, together with a few other volunteers from the Eurobodalla Natural History Society, was conducting a survey of the swift parrot (Lathamus discolour) population - listed as Endangered by the IUCN -  in the Bodalla State Forest, NSW, hoping to come across a few individuals. Suddenly, Julie found herself right in the middle of a tremendous flock.

Still astonished by the event, she says that in over 20 years of bird watching, she has never seen anything like that.

"We got out of our cars and were completely surrounded by these birds", she says. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing or hearing".

She immediately called Chris Tzaros, national coordinator for the Swift Parrot Recovery Program, to help measure the size of the gathering, which he estimated about 1000 birds - half of the estimated 2000 individuals left in the world.

Swift parrots, massive flock

Julie was lucky to witness this unique gathering, considering the biggest flocks previously spotted have comprised just a couple of hundred birds.

The entire population migrates from Tasmania to mainland Australia for winter, but generally gathers in small flocks to cross the Bass Strait, says conservation manager Michael Saxon from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Biodiversity.

The flocks then spread over New South Wales, Victoria and occasionally Queensland, in areas where flowering eucalypts provide enough nectar for them to feed on.

This year, spotted gum flowering was prolific around the NSW south coast and modest on the mainland, which may explain the concentration of the birds in Bodalla state forest - although how the birds knew about the feast is quite intriguing.

"There is a true mystery of how they know about this unusual circumstance of these quantities of nectar" says Michael.

Good news for swift parrot conservation

This event is a reassuring sign for the swift parrot conservation, Michael says. "It makes us optimistic to see a thousand birds. It is a reasonable indication that there has been no dramatic decline in the population but that it is staying stable".

The swift parrots are now on their return journey to Tasmania for the summer. They only nestle and breed in the hollows formed in the very old blue gum tree branches and trunks. But the felling of these trees for timber or land clearing has reduced their habitat, disturbing reproduction and leaving the species endangered.

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