The elusive night parrot, a species thought to be extinct for about 100 years, has finally been captured and tagged by scientists as part of a pioneering project to safeguard the remaining ground-dwelling birds.
Aside from two dead parrots found over the past 25 years, the night parrot had not been captured since the 1890s and was presumed extinct by many bird experts.
But in 2013, ornithologist John Young announced that he had taken a few blurry images of the night parrot after a decade spent scouring the spinifex vegetation and caves of the Queensland outback for the bird.
Following an 18-month search for a night parrot, fellow ornithologist Steve Murphy netted one of the birds on 4 April. Feather samples were taken from the bird, and a small tracker, with a battery that lasted for 21 days, was placed on its leg to gain greater insight into the habits of the mysterious creature.
“It’s fantastic to have this bird, which is such an enigmatic creature,” said Rob Murphy, executive manager of conservation group Bush Heritage Australia. “When you talk to bird lovers, this is the holy grail. It’s like finding a thylacine.
“Before this research, we didn’t know what they ate, where they got their water from or anything. We’re really starting from ground zero with the night parrot.”
The area of south-west Queensland where the nocturnal parrot was caught is now to be protected, with the property bought and managed by Bush Heritage Australia.
The tagged bird roamed up to 8km for food each night, but remained in the same nesting site. It is unclear how many of the animals remain, and Bush Heritage is keeping the exact location of its habitat, the only known site for night parrots in Australia, a secret.
“This is such a rare bird that giving the location would attract some well meaning people but also poachers,” Murphy said. “The confidentially of the site has been the best friend to the bird.”
While the drought that has gripped western Queensland has reduced the number of feral cats in the area, the feline predators remain a mortal threat to the night parrot.
Bush Heritage will trial a feral cat “grooming trap” at the site to kill any cats in the area. The trap, developed by South Australian firm Ecological Horizons, contains a range of sensors that determine whether an animal passing within four metres is a cat.
If it identifies the target as a cat, the trap will spray it with a toxic gel that the cat will ingest when grooming.
“We are looking to get further prototypes in there because it’s so important that we control feral cat numbers,” Murphy said. “We will be doing spotlight shooting and trapping too, because we know before the drought the cat numbers were horrendous.”
This article was first published by The Guardian on 10 Aug 2015.