Aussie Parrot, Missing for 170 Years, Found!

One of the world’s most elusive birds

The night parrot is infamously elusive. It’s managed to dodge human contact for over a century and scientists in the field have argued over the parrot’s existence for just as long.

Now, a feather with the same markings as the night parrot has been found in a finch nest, in the Lake Eyre area of South Australia. 

Because the parrot is nocturnal, it has been hard to pinpoint exactly where in Australia the bird lives. The first and last capture of the species in South Australia was in 1845. There has been no proof since, that the bird can still be found in the area. Until John Young and Keith Bellchambers from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), found a feather in a Zebra Finch nest in South Australia, later confirmed to belong to the night parrot.

“Keith and I looked at many Zebra Finches’ nests before finally an unmistakable small green feather appeared within the fresh base lining of one of the nests.” John explained on the AWC webpage.

“In my eyes there was no doubt that this was the feather of a Night Parrot and the fact that the Zebra Finches nest was fresh, it seemed feasible that it was collected within a few hundred metres in the past few weeks.”

The find is particularly astounding because though there have been sightings of the bird further north in Queensland, Western Australia and just north of Alice Springs, the bird’s understood habitat, spinifex doesn’t grow anywhere near Lake Eyre.

Image: Camera trap image on Kalamurina compared to John Young’s photo of a Night Parrot during his initial re-discovery of the species in Queensland, AWC

Camera footage taken by a trap camera owned by the AWC in 2016 alerted the crew to the bird’s whereabouts. After pouring over old historical reports of the bird, Mr Young discovered the bird often nests in samphire, a native succulent, which incidentally grows in the Lake Eyre area. After scouring the landscape, Young found, hidden among the samphire, a finch nest containing the nocturnal bird’s brilliantly green feather.

"The key thing we have learnt is that the bird is not just in spinifex but in the samphire habitat, and what this means is its range is a lot further than we previously thought," says Young

Evidence suggest that the bird is not only alive, but inhabits more of Australia than previously thought.

"The more we learn about this bird, the easier it is to identify where it is hiding, and when we know that we are in a better position to protect this rare bird."

Lead Image: A Night Parrot feather found by AWC ecologists north of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC)

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