Friday, February 16, 2007

Conservation news - the Night parrot

Australia has a poor record of conserving mammal species but quite a good record for, at least, not allowing bird species to become extinct.

22 Australian mammals have become extinct since white settlement. A few extant species survive only on offshore islands where they are protected from introduced predators such as cats and foxes. Many survive in small numbers in very narrow habitat ranges on the mainland - only about 30 Gilbert's potoroo survive at a single location, Two People's Bay near Albany in Western Australia.

On mainland Australia (i.e. Australia excluding its offshore islands) only a single bird species has almost certainly become extinct since white settlement - the Paradise parrot has not been seen since 1927. One cannot get too excited about this, or exaggerate our conservation success, since many bird species have suffered a really dramatic contraction of their ranges and, taking a populational rather than classical species viewpoint, our record has not been that good.

One of the rarest and most mysterious birds in Australia - the Night parrot - had long been considered very close to extinction. Then, in 1990, a road-killed specimen was found in north-west Queensland - the first sighting since 1912. Then, in 1996, a pair of live Night parrots were observed at a secret location on Newhaven Station in the Northern Territory. Now it is reported that a further dead specimen has been found in far western Queensland. This suggests strongly that the species does still survive over a very large range but probably with exceedingly low population density. Forshaw's book Australian Parrots surveys all the claimed sightings - Forshaw conjectures that the Night parrot might even be reasonably common but, as I say, spread over a huge range at low density. Despite this, very little is known about the species.

It is good news that an interesting Australian bird seems not to have been wiped-out. It is the only Australian parrot species that is active and feeds at night and is hence a uniquely valuable part of our natural heritage.

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