Orange-bellied Parrot Male in South West Tasmania Conservation status Scientific classification Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Aves Order: Psittaciformes Family: Psittacidae Subfamily: Platycercinae Tribe: Neophemini Genus: Neophema Species: N. chrysogaster Binomial name Neophema chrysogaster
The Orange-bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) is a small broad-tailed parrot endemic to southern Australia, and one of only two species of parrot which migrate. The adult male is distinguished by its bright grass-green upperparts, yellow underparts and orange belly patch. The adult female and juvenile are duller green in colour. All birds have a blue frontal band and blue outer wing feathers. The diet consists of seeds and berries of small coastal grasses and shrubs.
The Orange-bellied Parrot breeds in Tasmania and winters in coastal grasslands on southern mainland Australia. With a population in the wild of fewer than 35 to 50 wild birds, it is regarded as a critically endangered species. Recent alarming declines in the wild population of Orange-bellied parrots has prompted the Australian Government to decide in April 2010 that it would capture up to 20 of the remaining wild population to further improve the genetic diversity of the species' captive breeding program as an "insurance" against extinction.
Taxonomy and naming
The Orange-bellied Parrot was first described by ornithologist John Latham in 1790. He gave it the specific name, chrysogaster, Ancient Greek for 'golden belly'. No subspecies are recognised. It is one of six species of grass parrot in the genus Neophema. It has previously been known as the Orange-breasted Parrot - a name given to the Orange-bellied Parrot in 1926 by the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union or RAOU (now known as Birds Australia) when the word 'belly' was considered inelegant.
The Orange-bellied Parrot is a small parrot around 20 cm (8 in) long; the adult male has bright green upperparts, and yellow below with a prominent, two-toned blue frontal band, a green-blue uppertail with yellow sides, and an orange patch on its belly. The under wing-coverts and flight feathers are dark blue, with paler blue median wing-coverts. Its iris is dark brown and beak and feet greyish. The adult female is a duller green with a paler blue frontal band. The juvenile is a duller green colour.
The Orange-bellied parrot utters soft tinkling notes, as well as a distinctive rapidly repeated chittering alarm call unlike that of other members of the genus. The alarm call is a quickly repeated tzeet.
Distribution and habitat
Orange-bellied Parrots only breed in South West Tasmania, where they nest in eucalypts bordering on button grass moors. The entire population migrates over Bass Strait to spend the winter on the coast of south-eastern Australia. These few sites contain their favoured salt marsh habitat, and includes sites in or close to Port Phillip such as Werribee Sewage Farm, the Spit Nature Conservation Reserve, the shores of Swan Bay, Swan Island, Lake Connewarre State Wildlife Reserve, Lake Victoria and Mud Islands, as well as French Island in Western Port.
The Orange-bellied Parrot is found in pairs or small flocks, and generally remain on the ground or in low foliage searching for food. Their diet consists of seeds of species such as the grass Poa biliarderi, saltbush (Atriplex cinerea), Suaeda australis and sea heath (Frankenia pauciflora), as well as berries, such as those of Coprosma. They have also been reported eating kelp.
Breeding season is October to January with one brood raised. The nest is a hollow in a tree, less than 5 m (16 ft) above the ground. Four or five white eggs are laid measuring 20 mm x 23 mm.
This species has a very small population and is on the verge of extinction in the wild. It is listed on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered. The current wild population is estimated at under 50 individuals, with a further 160 birds in captive breeding programs. Recent modelling suggests that on current trends the species will become extinct in the wild within five years.
There are now estimated to be about 35 individuals in the wild and only five have made the winter migration to the mainland so far in 2011. In May 2011, 10 individuals were captured and transferred by aircraft from Tasmania to Healesville Sanctuary near Melbourne in a last ditch effort to save the species from extinction. It is hoped that the new additions from the wild will improve the genetic diversity of the 80 birds at Healesville Sanctuary, which are all bred from three pairs. Captive populations in Hobart and Adelaide are also important to the aim of releasing captive bred birds back to the wild.
- In 2007, its status was upgraded from endangered to critically endangered on the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
- The 2000 Action Plan for Australian Birds lists it as critically endangered (Garnett and Crowley 2000).
- In a report on threatened and extinct birds in Australia in 1992, it was listed as endangered (Garnett 1992).
- In a report on threatened birds in Australia in 1990, it was listed as endangered (Brouwer and Garnett 1990).
The Orange-bellied Parrot has been recorded from four states within Australia; Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. Its conservation status varies from state to state within Australia. For example:
- The Orange-bellied Parrot is listed as threatened on the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988). Under this Act, an Action Statement for the recovery and future management of this species has been prepared.
- On the 2007 advisory list of threatened vertebrate fauna in Victoria, the Orange-bellied Parrot is listed as critically endangered.
The 2000 Action Plan for Australian Birds identifies the following potential threats to the Orange-bellied Parrot:
- Fragmentation and degradation of over-wintering habitat
- Competition with introduced seed-eaters
- Abandonment of former breeding habitat due to altered fire regime and competition for hollows (with the introduced Common Starling)
- Random events due to the small size of the population
- Disorientation from brightly lit fishing boats (during the migrations across Bass Strait)
- Introduced predators
- Disease (such as Psittacine Circoviral Disease)
Other identified potential threats include:
- Lack of safety in numbers for a small bird attractive to avian predators (Brouwer and Garnett 1990)
- Historically was trapped for aviculture (Garnett 1992)
- A stomach virus is threatening a breeding program for the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot.
Conflict with development
The Woolnorth windfarm on Tasmania's North-West coast is operating with a license to kill up to six Orange-bellied Parrots every two years. In 2001, then Australian federal environment minister Robert Hill approved the wind farm, along the main migratory flight path for the parrot, with several conditions to protect migrating birds. To date no Orange-bellied Parrots have been found to collide with the turbines.
The Orange-bellied Parrot earned the wrath of Victorian premier Jeff Kennett in the 1990s. A proposed relocation of the Coode Island Chemical storage facility to a location near Point Wilson, Victoria was jeopardised by the potential impacts upon Orange-bellied Parrot habitat. Mr Kennett described this species as a 'trumped-up corella'. This epithet was later adopted as the title for the Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Teams newsletter.
In 2006, the potential threats to the Orange-bellied Parrot were cited as the key reason for Commonwealth Minister rejecting the proposal to build the Bald Hills Wind Farm in eastern Victoria. This decision was later reversed, and the company was provided with approval to proceed (under certain conditions). The intense media scrutiny at this time placed the Orange-bellied Parrot temporarily into the spotlight. In the subsequent months, additional funding was provided for the parrots recovery, and its status under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 was raised from endangered to critically endangered.
- ^ http://www.environment.gov.au/minister/garrett/2010/mr20100421a.html
- ^ Forshaw, p. 266
- ^ Forshaw, p. 268
- ^ Hinsby KB (1947). "The Orange-bellied Parakeet". Emu 47: 67–68. doi:10.1071/MU947054q.
- ^ Beruldsen, G (2003). Australian Birds: Their Nests and Eggs. Kenmore Hills, Qld: self. pp. 251–52. ISBN 0-646-42798-9.
- ^ Morton, Adam (22 April 2010). "Parrots face extinction". The Sydney Morning Herald. http://www.smh.com.au/environment/parrots-face-extinction-20100421-szzx.html.
- ^ Ker, Peter (2011-05-23). "Birds in the hand are worth a species' future". The Age. http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/birds-in-the-hand-are-worth-a-species-future-20110522-1eyvh.html.
- ^ Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria
- ^ Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria
- ^ Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment (2007). Advisory List of Threatened Vertebrate Fauna in Victoria - 2007. East Melbourne, Victoria: Department of Sustainability and Environment. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-74208-039-0.
- ^ http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/11/08/3060023.htm?section=justin
- Brouwer, J. and Garnett, S. (eds.), 1990. Threatened Birds of Australia. An Annotated List. RAOU Report Number 68. Published by the Royal Australian Ornithologist Union and Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service.
- Garnett, S. T. (ed.), 1992. Threatened and Extinct Birds of Australia. RAOU Report Number 82. Published by the Royal Australian Ornithologist Union and Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service.
- Garnett, S. T. and Crowley, G. M., 2000. The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. Environment Australia, Canberra, ACT.
- BirdLife International (2006). Neophema chrysogaster. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes a range map and justification for why this species is critically endangered.
- MacDonald, J. D., The Illustrated Dictionary of Australian Birds by Common Name. Reed Books, Australia.
- Forshaw, Joseph M. & Cooper, William T. (1978): Parrots of the World (2nd ed). Landsdowne Editions, Melbourne Australia ISBN 0-7018-0690-7
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