Parrot Oddballs Part II: The Mysterious Night Parrot of Australia
Today, I will continue with my series of posts on the more unusual species of parrots.
This post is on a rather mysterious parrot species – one that has only rarely ever been spotted. There aren’t any kept in captivity, so they are not kept as pets. This is a bird that lives largely on the ground, and is nocturnal, two characteristics rarely found in parrots.
This is the Night Parrot of Australia, a bird that is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as being critically endangered. Night Parrots were seen and collected sporadically during the 1800s, and in the 1900s, one bird was collected for a museum in 1912. After that, the Night Parrot was presumed to be extinct, though there were unconfirmed sightings in the 1950s and 1960s. However, in 1979, four birds were sighted at Cooper Creek in northern South Australia. Then, in 1990, a carcass of one was found in western Queensland. Further evidence of the bird’s existence include a sighting from the Pilbara region of Western Australia in 2005, and two dead specimens found in western Queensland.
Night Parrots are active mainly at night, and blend in very well with their surroundings, due to their yellowish-green feathers. They can fly but rarely do and seem to prefer to escape from threats by running. Sometimes, one will flee from a potential danger by flying a short distance close above the ground before landing and running or perhaps hiding in a burrow. Apparently, they may fly at night to reach water. During the day, they remain well concealed, either perching low in a tree, sitting concealed in bushes or tussock grass or hiding in a burrow.
Although Night Parrot sightings are very rare, the birds have been seen in each of Australia’s provinces, indicating that it has or had a very large range. Almost nothing is known about the bird’s current range or population size.
The Night Parrot’s (Pezoporus occidentalis) closest relative is the largely solitary Ground Parrot (Pezoporus wallicus). They are very similar-looking birds, but the Ground Parrot is brighter green and has a red band above the beak. The Ground Parrot isn’t quite as mysterious as the Night Parrot, though Ground Parrots are endangered and difficult to see. One subspecies, P. w. wallicus is found along the coasts in southeast Australia and Tasmania. The range of the second subspecies, P. w. flaviventris, (Western Ground Parrot) does not meet that of the first and is separated from it by hundreds of kilometers. It is found along the coast in southwest Western Australia. The Western Ground Parrot has more yellow colouring on its belly than the eastern subspecies.
Ground Parrots do not fly much during the day and typically call and fly only right before sunrise and right after sunset. They may flee from perceived danger by flying up and low over the ground for about 30 m before landing again.
Davis R. A., Metcalf B. M. 2008. The night parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) in northern Western Australia: a recent sighting from the Pilbara region. Emu, 108, 233-236.
Forshaw, J. 2006. Parrots of the World. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, USA.
Leeton, P. R. J., Christidis L., Westerman, M., Boles, W. E. 1994. Molecular phylogenetic affinities of the Night Parrot (Geopsittacus occidentalis) and the Ground Parrot (Pezoporus wallicus). Auk, 111, 833-843.
McDougall, A., Porter, G., Mostert, M., Cupitt, R., Cupitt, S., Joseph, L., Murphy, S., Janetzki, H., Gallagher, A., Burbidge, A. 2009. Another piece in an Australian ornithological puzzle – a second Night Parrot is found dead in Queensland. Emu, 109, 198-203.