Swift parrot joins ‘critically endangered’ list

By Amelia Caddy 4 November 2015
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The Australian swift parrot, under threat from sugar gliders and logging, has been listed as critically endangered.

ONE OF AUSTRALIA’S most iconic species, the migratory swift parrot, has had its conservation status upgraded to ‘critically endangered’, with predictions it could come close to extinction within 16 years.

The announcement comes as the parrots begin their annual breeding season in Tasmania, where they face their two biggest threats: the ongoing logging of old-growth forests, and, more surprisingly, sugar gliders.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) upgraded the swift parrot’s status, along with 39 more species worldwide, following the latest assessment of birds carried out by BirdLife International.

Sugar gliders threaten swift parrot

Dr Dejan Stojanovic, a postdoctoral fellow at Australian National University, was among those who suggested a change of status for the swift parrot, in an article published in Biological Conservation.

Dejan says gliders have been known to take out entire nesting populations of the parrot, eating eggs, hatchlings, and even adult mothers.

“Swifties and gliders actually share a lot of the same habitat requirements. They both nest in tree hollows, they both feed on nectar, and they both like old-growth habitat,” he explains.

To qualify as critically endangered, a species must face a population decline of over 80 per cent within three generations, equivalent to 16 years for swift parrots. The swift parrot population could decline by 94 per cent within that timeframe, according to Dejan’s research.

40 more birds close to exinction

Dean Ingwersen, woodland bird program manager at BirdLife Australia, says the current recovery plan for the swift parrot doesn’t take sugar glider predation into account, since no one was aware it was happening when the plan was developed.

“There was very little in the literature up until two years ago about sugar gliders eating anything like a bird…They were these cute, fuzzy little things that would eat nectar and pollen,” says Dean.

Although sugar gliders are native to the Australian mainland, it’s now believed they were introduced to Tasmania about 200 years ago. In terms of management, this presents a unique challenge.

“It’s like a native species gone bad,” says Dejan, who is currently trialling techniques to curb glider predation, including lethal traps and glider-proof nesting boxes.