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Scientists race to save one of Australia’s rarest birds, the orange-bellied parrot
17th August 2020
By Erin Lyons, NCA NewsWire
Scientists are racing to determine how and why one of Australia’s rarest birds is dying off young and at an alarming rate.
Orange-bellied parrots, which traditionally breed in Tasmania before migrating to Victoria for winter, are critically endangered – the last step before extinction.
Just three females returned to their breeding grounds in 2016 due to devastatingly low juvenile survival rates. Researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) said this represented the lowest point of a decades-long decline.
Now they’re scrambling to find out why the rare bird is failing to survive migration.
While conservation efforts have boosted the breeding success of parrots in the wild, at least 80 per cent of juveniles born in their sole breeding ground in Tasmania die during migration or winter.
“Our results are very worrying,” lead author Dr Dejan Stojanovic said.
“We found over time, survival of juvenile parrots has dropped from 51 per cent in 1995 to only 20 per cent in recent years.”
As part of the study, ANU researchers used data collected by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment to examine the survival of orange-bellied parrots over 22 years.
More orange-bellied parrots are born in the wild thanks to recovery efforts, but the benefits are vastly reduced by “unidentified and unaddressed” threats during migration and winter, Dr Shannon Troy, study co-author and lead wildlife biologist for the DPIPWE Orange-bellied Parrot Tasmanian Program, said.
Academics suspect the flight over Bass Strait between Tasmania and the Australian mainland takes a severe toll on inexperienced juveniles during their first attempt at migration.
The challenge is heightened by the dwindling flock size and then survivors are forced to find a suitable habitat in Victoria for winter.
“Migratory animals need protection from multiple different threats at different times and places,” Dr Stojanovic said.
“Unfortunately, the main threats to this species are the most difficult to identify and fix, and our study shows that what’s been done to date hasn’t corrected the declining survival of juvenile orange-bellied parrots.”
Things did improve last year, with 23 birds returning to their breeding grounds in Tasmania, including 13 females.
But population size remains dangerously small.
The Tasmanian Government recently invested in a new breeding program and centre based near Hobart.