A night parrot has been spotted in Western Australia, adding to the enigmatic history of the species, which was thought to be extinct until it was recovered four years ago in Queensland.
It’s the first confirmed sighting of the bird in Western Australia in almost a century, and it comes after a long history of dubious sightings, untrustworthy claims, and failed ecological assessments that matches the quest for Tasmania’s (probably still extinct) Thylacine.
The discovery was discovered by a group of four Broome friends who spent the better part of seven years looking for the bird, studying extensive maps, traveling into possible habitats, and listening for strange bird sounds in the state’s parched interior.
They heard “some extremely intriguing cries” two days into a tour to an unnamed location near a salt lake somewhere in interior WA this month.
“The calls to us were strange,” Bruce Greatwich, a member of the group, told the Guardian Australia. “We’ve spent a lot of time in these ecosystems, so hearing anything new was quite thrilling.”
The cries were not the same as those heard in the Queensland night parrot population in 2005, which were characterized as “a ‘ding-ding’ cry similar to that of a bell miner” followed by “a brief frog-like ‘grieet’.” However, they were adequate to suggest the bird was present.
The next morning, while strolling through spinifex hunting for wholly new species, a night parrot leapt out in front of one of the group, George Swann.
It had black banded feathers and was green and yellow. A huge, dumpy budgerigar, approximately the size of a rainbow lorikeet, is the most popular description.
Swann, who Greatwich describes as a “old-school birder,” summoned the others.
Greatwich stated, “We were able to go down and re-find it, and we had our cameras at the ready to capture a shot.”
“Normally, we would never disturb a nocturnal bird during the day,” he continued, “but in this case, we knew we had to capture a shot.”
“We were ecstatic, as ecstatic as you can get,” he remarked. “We were clearly very, very happy to see something happen that we had worked for for a long time and that many others had sought to achieve.”
Swann, Greatwich, Adrian Boyle, and Nigel Jackett are all credited with the finding.
Jackett is a warden at the Broome Bird Observatory, while Boyle and Swann are specialist consultants for Monash University’s Research Ecology. All four had worked in the fields of science and ecology before embarking on the parrot quest as a passion project, fitting the trip around yearly leave and family obligations.
Greatwich thanks their families for allowing them to indulge their interest, fellow WA birdwatchers Neil Hamilton, Tegan Douglas, and Aneta Creighton, and ornithologist John Young, who found the night parrot colony in western Queensland, like an Oscar winner.
Last year, the parrot’s recognized range in Queensland was increased to encompass Diamantina national park in the state’s middle west, which is more than 2,000 kilometers away from WA.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Greatwich added. “It’s awe-inspiring.”
The revelation might have a major influence on mining development in areas of Western Australia that were previously thought to be night parrot habitat.
Rohan Clarke, the head of Research Ecology, remarked, “This is irrefutable proof.” “Night parrots are now known to exist in Western Australia. When it comes to assessing proposed projects or habitat degradation in the region, mining corporations, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Parks and Water… they will have to place a lot more weight on confirmed sightings now and in the future.”
To avoid being targeted by poachers, the night parrot organization will only give a vague description of “dry inland areas,” which encompasses roughly a third of the state.
The last reported sightings of the parrot in Western Australia were in the Pilbara in 1912, when the sole known specimen in almost a century was taken.
In 1971, a suspected night parrot nest was discovered in the Pilbara, prompting Fortescue Metals Group to explore a night parrot management plan for its Pilbara Iron Ore Hub, a huge mine midway between Pannawonica and Tom Price, in 2005.
According to Clarke, the bird nested in unburned spinifex, generally near some type of protection, such as a salt lake, gypsum plain, or rocky outcrop, as evidenced by Queensland evidence used by WA parrot watchers to find the species.
This suggests that viable night parrot habitat might be found everywhere from interior Western Australia to the southern Northern Territory and northern South Australia, as well as Queensland and north-west New South Wales. According to Clarke, this indicates that parrots are likely to be attached to a small patch of habitat and are particularly sensitive to localized habitat degradation.
“If there was a development in that region, it wouldn’t take much to make a huge influence,” he added.