A researcher explains the night parrot's presence in outback Queensland

A photo of the night parrot. Photo: Steve Murphy.

A photo of the night parrot. Photo: Steve Murphy.

A researcher of the night parrot says much is unknown about the mysterious bird recently discovered to have a presence in central west Queensland. 

What they eat, where they go to do it, the population, the threats that face it and how they deal with resources dependent on weather conditions are among the questions that researchers are studying. 

University of Queensland PhD student Nicholas Leseberg speaks from the 56,000 hectare Pullen Pullen Reserve, which had been approved by the Queensland Government last year for the protection of the parrot. 

It used to be part of a cattle station south of Winton but had been bought by Bush Heritage Australia.

The parrot had been tracked to nearby stations as well such as in Mt Windsor.

Video: Bush Heritage

Mr Leseberg’s work is funded by Bush Heritage which also grants him access to the reserve. 

Most of the knowledge of the night parrot had been accumulated more than a century ago. There had been few sightings of the nocturnal parrot since then and it had believed to have been extinct. At least until wildlife bird photographer John Young captured photos and a video of the parrot after many years of searching. 

“We don’t really know what they eat, where they go to eat...at night they come out to feed but didn’t know where they go,” Mr Leseberg said.  

Even the food they ate was a mystery but one that could be solved with their droppings, he said. 

“Night parrots are really hard to detect,” the researcher said. “We can’t search for them visually because they hide out in the day. 

“At night they call for a 10 minute period just after sunset. We put out these things called a song metre...and you can put them out in the field and leave them for a few days and analyse later.” 

The recorder could pick up the night parrots’ cries within several hundred metres depending on the wind. 

Their cries in this period were likely social cries of interaction when they are ready to feed. 

Ecologist Dr Steve Murphy, on the night parrot recovery team, had GPS tracked a parrot last year which showed it traveled 40 kilometres a night.

“That was during a particular time when there was a bit of rain around," Mr Leseberg said. “The trick is to find out what they do when it’s dry.

“We might find in the middle of drought birds are traveling 100 kms a night to get the food they need.” 

.Researchers are still uncertain what the night parrots’ threats are, but correlate these with the threats of other nocturnal birds. Cats, foxes, and fire are the most likely threats of the night parrot.

“We know they need spinifex  that is really old that hasn’t been burnt, that’s a possible threat. 

“Cats, foxes and fire. We know they were starting to become more common in the landscape when the night parrot disappeared.” 

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