First night parrot fledgling in 100 years spotted in western Queensland

By Sofia Charalambous 24 November 2016
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Scientists have sighted and photographed a night parrot fledgling for the first time in a century.

FOR THE FIRST time in nearly 100 years, a night parrot fledgling has been sighted and photographed. The fledgling was observed in the Pullen Pullen Reserve in western Queensland, a sanctuary established by conservation charity Bush Heritage Australia in order to protect one of the only known populations of night parrots in the world.

The young bird appeared from behind a hummock of spinifex grass in the late afternoon and was observed and photographed by Nick Leseberg and James Watson from the University of Queensland.

This is the first observed breeding success in nearly 100 years and the discovery has confirmed that the nature reserve is helping to protect the population and encourage breeding.

“This is the first time the successful fledging of chicks has been documented,” PhD candidate Nick Leseberg said. “It’s fantastic to know that the birds are successfully breeding and doing their bit to avoid extinction.”

night parrot fledgling

Night parrot in flight at Pullen Pullen Reserve, QLD. (Image: Nick Leseberg)

From 1912 up until very recently, only a handful of dead night parrot specimens had ever been found and the bird was presumed to be extinct. In 2013, the night parrot was rediscovered and the first ever photographs and video footage of the elusive species were recorded by ornithologist John Young, who discovered the Pullen Pullen night parrot population.

Since then, the population has been fiercely protected, and the site of the rediscovery has been converted into protected land dedicated to the conservation of this endangered species.

Recently, several active nests were found in the Diamantina National Park in central-west Queensland, indicating a second population of night parrots.

Despite this, the night parrot has remained extremely secretive and only a handful of people have ever actually seen a specimen alive. The sighted fledgling was the first to be spotted in over a century.

After initially spotting the fledgling, the researchers returned to the site later in the night with sound recording equipment. “After dark an adult bird came in and started calling, and we could hear what we think was the fledgling responding,” Nick said. “It sounded like there were at least two fledglings nearby.”

pullen pullen reserve

Pullen Pullen Reserve was created by Bush Heritage Australia in western Queensland to protect a population of night parrots. (Image: Annette Ruzicka)

Over three years researchers have spent more than 250 days in the field at Pullen Pullen, tracking the nocturnal birds with GPS, installing sound recorders in the landscape and collecting recordings that contain more than 5,000 night parrot calls.

The next steps for night parrot research include determining whether there are any more birds in the wider region (other than the Pullen Pullen and Diamantina populations) and capturing and GPS-tagging more night parrots.

“If we can get a better idea of what resources the birds are using, we can create a model of what habitat night parrots require, and work out where this habitat occurs,” Nick explained.

The sighting of the fledgling has meant hope for one of the world’s rarest and most mysterious birds, which now has a chance of being recovered from the brink of extinction.