Threatened superb parrots are being wiped out by motorists, but you can help

By Angela Heathcote 22 January 2018
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Australian Geographic spoke with Laura Rayner, an expert on superb parrots, to find out how exactly we can avoid colliding with these excellent birds on the road.

AS IF THE threats of climate change, nest competition and habitat loss weren’t enough, environmentalists fear that unusually large numbers of threatened superb parrots (Polytelis swainsoniiare being killed by motorists.

In what’s been described by ecologist Saan Ecker as a ‘catastrophic’ scene, up to 30 superb parrots were found dead along a road off Barton Highway in New South Wales.

“For every dead body there was one or two live birds sitting between each and [they] are getting hit [by cars] as well,” Saan told the ABC.

“Obviously it is normal for birds to become roadkill but not to this huge scale.”

Laura Rayner, a Woodland Fauna Ecologist with the ACT Government, who’s worked with the superb parrot for four years, tells Australian Geographic that there are a number of ways we can prevent the death toll from climbing.

Removing dead birds from the road

Superb parrots will revisit a known food source for many days, even weeks, making them highly vulnerable to fatal vehicle collisions.

“It is important to remove dead superb parrots, and any other road-killed animals, from the road as a carcass provides a source of interest and food, and therefore acts as an attractant, to other fauna,” Laura says.

“Flocks of superb parrot that aggregate to forage on spilt grain are likely to contain many young, naive birds that have only recently left the nest. If their parent or sibling is killed, they may be inclined to stay near the body.”

Exercise more caution around annual harvests

Superb parrots are most at risk during the annual cereal harvest, which occurs between August through to January, when large quantities of grain is transported along NSW roads, and spills of grain happen regularly.

The harvest coincides with the superb parrot settling in southern parts of Australia to commence breeding season, which occurs following their migration over inland eastern Australia.

“Superb parrots will often forage in groups in the early morning and at dusk during this period, and this is when a single strike may kill a large group of birds.

“Due to their ability to quickly travel large distances, superb parrots are able to locate new foraging resources as they become available, making it hard to identify high risk areas of roadfor the species.”

Look out for grain spills

Laura says that superb parrots are extremely difficult for motorists to spot, however looking out for grain spills —a food source for the parrot — could prove vital.

“If a grain spill is noticed within the species’ distribution it would be prudent to erect signage and for drivers to slow down where it is safe to do. Such practices would benefit all of our granivorous wildlife, including superb parrots.”

Report the dead superb parrots you see

According to Laura, if people reported the road strikes they saw, ecologists could form a better understanding of how this is effecting the bird’s conservation.  

“One of the limitations to understanding the prevalence of road strikes as a primary threat to the superb parrot population is a lack of consistent reporting.

“While this is an area of study that would benefit from a dedicated research team, the public can assist by reporting superb parrot collisions involving large groups of birdsto the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.”