Orange-bellied parrot numbers are increasing in the wild, giving hope for the species’ survival


Volunteers working to help save the Orange-bellied Parrot from extinction eagerly await the first baby birds of summer.

The critically endangered orange-bellied parrot is one of three species of migratory parrots in the world.

The birds are on average eight inches long and weigh only 45 grams, but make the perilous journey through Bass Strait every year.

They breed in Melaleuca in SW Tasmania, but overwinter in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales.

This year, 70 birds returned to Melaleuca to breed, breaking last year’s record of 51 birds.

Of the 70 birds, 36 are females and 39 are first year birds that took flight in the wild or were released from the captive population earlier this year.

Baby parrots with orange bellies November 2016
There is renewed hope for the survival of the orange-bellied parrot.(Provided: Mark Holdsworth)

Breeding is now underway and the first wild eggs of the season were confirmed on December 16.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley was visiting volunteers from the Orange-Bellied Parrot program when the eggs were discovered.

She said there was still a lot to learn about the parrot.

Biologist holding a parrot
Wildlife biologist Shannon Troy says the orange-bellied parrot faces a number of threats.(Provided: Shannon Troy)

Threats to parrot survival include predators and competitors, invasive species, and habitat loss.

β€œAs the population shrinks, there are likely factors like genetic diversity and disease that come into play,” Dr Troy said.

The modified fire regimes have also resulted in reduced food availability in southwest Tasmania.

β€œWe were discussing future cold burns in the Melaleuca area to bring back the type of plants that are little wood daisies that provide the bird with other opportunities at a different time of year,” Ms. Ley said. .

The minister also visited the captive orange-bellied parrot breeding center outside Hobart, where Acting Senior Wildlife Officer Michael Domrose has worked for the past four years.

A woman wearing blue overalls stands inside an aviary where three parrots are perched on a wire fence
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said there is still a lot to learn about the orange-bellied parrot.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Mr Domrose said the number of captive birds increased from 170 to 304 during this period.

β€œIt’s of course a lot different to working in a zoo environment where you want to get close to the bird… we try to keep our birds as wild as they can be, so we have minimal contact,” a Mr Domrose said.

β€œParents sometimes throw curved balls at us when we’re trying to raise their chicks, but I guess we have it with all species. Some of them might not be the best parents, maybe we need to step in. , but on most occasions they do pretty well. “

A newly hatched parrot chick being held by someone wearing blue plastic gloves
Orange-bellied parrot chicks have started to hatch at the captive breeding center outside of Hobart.(ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)

The birds are fed a mixture of pellets, seeds and grains, as well as a green mixture of vegetables and fruits.

“We also try to give them natives [grass] species… but also weeds; they really like weeds like the dock, ”Mr. Domrose said.

Some of the captive-bred birds are released as adults, but the program also releases chicks. Up to 50 chicks are expected this summer and will be released from January to March into the wild population.

A man sits with his elbows on his thighs and his hands clasped
Michael Domrose says captive-bred orange-bellied parrots are kept as wild as possible.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Dr Troy said captive-bred birds have continued to play an important role in the recovery of the wild population.

“By the time we were 17 birds [in the wild], there were only four females. We were able to release an additional number of… birds into the wild to allow more pairs to breed and produce young.

A close up of a green parrot with an orange belly standing on a native grass stalk
The orange-bellied parrot is one of only three migratory parrots in the world.(ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)

β€œWe have continued to release in the spring each year. We are also releasing captive-bred juveniles at the end of the season to increase the size of the migrating herd,” she said.

β€œCaptive-bred birds breed just as successfully as wild-born birds in Melaleuca, so we know that if we release them, they will breed.

β€œThe captive-bred adults we release breed very well, but they don’t migrate as well as wild birds. However, when we release captive-bred birds as juveniles, they migrate just as successfully as wild birds.

There is also a captive breeding program in Victoria. The captive-bred birds there are released into good habitat to act as a signal for migrating birds to find places to feed when they reach Victoria.

An updated national stimulus plan for the orange-bellied parrot is in the works and is expected to be released next year for expert and public comment.

Close up of a green parrot side with one eye closed
Captive-bred orange-bellied parrots are released into the wild population at specific times of the year.(ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)



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