Indigenous rangers capture new recordings of Australia's rarest bird - National Tree Day Blog

Indigenous rangers capture new recordings of Australia's rarest bird

The groups have uncovered the largest known night parrot population in the country.

The night parrot is not the name of a trendy new Melbourne bar but Australia's rarest and most mysterious bird species. The critically endangered nocturnal birds have been eluding scientists for the last century. The last living night parrot specimen was collected in 1912 with scientists only discovering two dead specimens since then, once in 1990 and again in 2006.

New recordings of the night parrot's song taken by Ngururrpa and Kiwirrkurra rangers indicate that there may be a thriving night parrot population in the southern Kimberly. The recordings were taken over a 100km stretch of the Great Sandy Desert and capture two or more birds calling to each other in the night.

"It's probably the largest population that we know of at the moment," University of Queensland night parrot researcher, Nick Leseberg, told ABC News.

"It could be up to 50 or 60 birds in that sort of stretch," he added.

"Getting those five or six detections over that long area tells us there are probably more birds there that we don't know about."

Night parrots spend their days snoozing in old growth spinifex grass hummocks. This not only makes the birds hard to find, but also means they are vulnerable to predators and losing their habitat to fire.

It can take up to 40 years for the grass to grow into the right structure and density to support the birds, a factor that may explain the scarcity of night parrots.

Harnessing the knowledge of Indigenous ranger groups has been crucial to understanding more about these elusive birds.

"I think we're only up to eight places right across Western Australia and most of those places are just a couple of birds here, and a couple of birds there," Leseberg said.

"The key has been transferring the technical knowledge of how to find them to the people who know their country and can get out on country and look for them."

Ngururrpa ranger Clifford Sunfly, who grew up in the Balgo community, told ABC News that local elders were familiar with the bird's call but had not visually identified it for cultural reasons.

"All the old people are telling me about them, they are saying they heard the noises and didn't know what it was until us rangers found them," Sunfly said.

"The noise they make is similar to an evil spirit noise, so they couldn't get closer."

Connecting recordings of the night parrot's call with the bird itself is a breakthrough for research on the species.

"Ten years ago, nobody knew what a night parrot sounded like — we could have put out these recorders and been recording night parrots all night long, but no one would have known what that sound was," Leseberg said.

"Now we can listen to recordings and go, 'Oh! That's a night parrot, we know that's a night parrot'."

Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes. 

Lucy Jones

Lucy started her career working as a writer and editor in print and digital publishing. She went on to create content for Australia's leading sustainable fashion platform while completing her Master of Cultural Studies. Lucy spends her downtime at the beach, crocheting and hanging out with her cat Larry. She believes words can change the world and is stoked to help Planet Ark spread the message of positive environmental change.