|Orange-bellied Parrot Photo: Bob McPherson|
|Orange-bellied Parrot |
The Orange-bellied Parrot is one of six species in the genus Neophema. It is a medium sized parrot approximately 20cm in length, for comparison being slightly larger than a budgie. In common with other Neophema it is predominantly green above, yellow underneath with blue markings on the leading edge of wings. Distinctive features include; a bright grass green colour above, an orange patch between the legs on the underside of the male and a broad two tone blue frontal band extending between the eyes above the bill. The orange patch between the legs is bright in the male, paler and less extensive in the female and mostly non-existent in juveniles.
The Blue-winged Parrot and the Elegant Parrot range overlap with the Orange-bellied Parrot range in South West Victoria. Both have similar blue wing and frontal band markings as the Orange-bellied Parrot which can sometimes lead to miss-identification, although neither have the same bright grass green colour as the Orange-bellied Parrot. In addition, the Orange-bellied Parrot has a distinctive call when alarmed, described as a sharp chitter-chitter and repeated so fast as to resemble a buzz-buzz call.
The Orange-bellied Parrot population has suffered a dramatic decline in recent years. In 2007 the wild population was estimated at 200 birds, by 2010 the population could have been as low as 50 birds in the wild. At the end of the 2013/14 breeding season the wild population of Orange-bellied Parrots was considered to be approximately 70 birds although 24 of the overall population were captive bred birds released into the wild. Between 2014 and 2016 the wild population remained around 70 birds with supplementation from captive breeding releases. In 2017 the wild population completing its migratory cycle could have been as low as 17 birds.
It is now considered the Orange-bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) is at serious risk of functional extinction in the wild (OBP Recovery Team 2016).
Distribution of Orange-bellied Parrot records in Victoria. Source: DEPI, Victorian Biodiversity Atlas, July 2014.
Habitat & ecology
Orange-bellied Parrot habitat is associated with coastal vegetation in south west Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia.
During the overwintering season Orange-bellied Parrots feed on a variety of seeds and fruits of grasses and salt marsh plants, several genera are recognised as being important food species, ie; Sarcocornia, Halosarcia, Sclerostegia -(glassworts), Chenopodium (goosefoot), Atriplex (saltbushes), Frankenia (sea-heath), Suaeda (seablight).
Summer habitat comprises the coastal ‘button grass’ plains in Tasmania’s South West Wilderness World Heritage Area. Breeding also occurs in this area during summer, which is assisted by provision of artificial nest boxes and where juveniles are banded.
Northward migration of adult birds across Bass Strait commences in February with juveniles following in March-April. By late March Orange-bellied Parrots have arrived in Victoria where they overwinter and disperse along Victoria’s coastline and into South Australia before commencing their return back to Tasmania by November.
There are several key sites within Victoria’s South West which provide suitable overwintering habitat for about 70% of the entire population. These sites include the saltmarshes on the western shore of Port Phillip Bay (Murtcaim Wildlife reserve/ Point Wilson area, Swan Bay and Swan Island), Lake Connewarre on the Bellarine Peninsula and the Yambuck wetlands west of Warrnambool. The Yambuck wetlands have been recognised as a significant site since 1999 when up to 18 Orange-bellied Parrots were recorded utilising the area. This area is now recognised as the most significant site for Orange-bellied Parrots in the far South West.
|Orange-bellied Parrot feeding on Sarcocornia quinqueflora. Photo Bob McPherson|
Orange-bellied Parrots feeding near Tower Hill, Warrnambool during 2016 mainland overwintering.
Note: Image quality impacted by high magnification. Footage courtesy Bob McPherson.
Although much of the summer habitat is secure in conservation reserves threats to migratory habitat and threats along migratory corridors across Bass Strait Islands requires on-going monitoring and response to development proposals. Wintering habitat consists of conservation reserves, Crown Land and private property that has been fragmented and degraded in many areas. Threats to salt marsh habitat (primary feeding areas) include; excessive stock grazing, grazing by rabbits, altered hydrology, dieback, weed invasion and physical damage. Due to the limited area of remnant wintering habitat available it is important to ensure these areas are managed in a way that does not result in further deterioration of habitat quality.
Housing developments either on or in close proximity to salt marsh habitats has the potential to displace birds through loss of habitat, increased disturbance and increased predators (eg. domestic/feral cats). Major infrastructure such as wind farms that are inappropriately sited along flight lines between feeding and migrating areas poses a direct threat to Orange-bellied Parrots.
There has been a marked decline in the number of individuals counted during coordinated winter surveys on mainland Australia from 70-90 individuals in the 1980s (with a peak of 122 in 1983) to fewer than 20 in each year since 2001 and fewer than 10 in the last 5 years (White et al. 2016).
A report titled 'Orange-bellied Parrot: A retrospective analysis of winter habitat availability, 1985-2015' concluded that most of the gross habitat loss occurred well before 1983 and that since that time mainland winter habitat is unlikely to have declined significantly in a structural or compositional sense to explain the decline in Orange-bellied Parrot population (White et al. 2016).
The population decline is thought to be associated with issues relating to small populations – genetic erosion, inbreeding depression, poor reproduction rate, disease and loss of knowledge between generations about migration routes and the location of suitable habitat patches.
Management measures for conservation of the Orange-bellied Parrot
A number of management actions have been progressing since the formation of a co-ordinating committee in 1983, although some activities such as winter surveys have been carried out since 1978. The captive breeding of Orange-bellied Parrots commenced in 1981 and with refinement, this program has made a valuable contribution to the wild population and is an accepted component of the overall recovery for this species.
The Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Team now oversees the Orange-bellied Parrot recovery program. This team comprises State Government representatives from Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia, Commonwealth, non-government organisations (WWF, BirdLife Australia, Zoological boards and specialists); of course volunteers and specialist bird observers play an integral part in the recovery of this species. Within the broader recovery group there are more specific working groups such as; the Victorian Working Group which focuses on overwintering issues, the Captive Management Group and the Tasmanian operations group.
Because the survival of this species is in such a perilous state the Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Team is introducing some new management techniques.
Summary of proposed management (OBP Recovery Team 2016)
Survival and reproductive success of wild birds - maximise adult survival and reproductive success, so as many wild born birds as possible are able to migrate naturally this autumn.
Assisted / aided migration trial of captive bred birds - males transported and released into suitable wild habitat in Victoria for overwintering. Females transported to a captive institution on the mainland for ‘ranching/holding’ before re-release at Melaleuca next breeding season. The Recovery Team hopes that aiding migration and ranching/holding will improve winter survival and migration success (for the assisted/aided migration group) of these birds.
Release of 10 or more juvenile captive bred birds -these will be released at breeding grounds in Tasmania during late summer 2017
Release of ten or more adult captive bred males - these releases will be at a mainland overwintering site/s.
Release of captive-bred adults at Melaleuca in spring 2017 - this is part of on-going management to balance the sex ratio and increase breeding potential.
Key actions in Victoria
The following are specific actions identified for Victorian managers of this species.
- Protect and enhance habitat on areas adjacent to or near areas of currently-utilised habitat.
- Continue to search for colour-banded birds and pass on all details to the recovery coordinator.
- Publicise the need to accurately record band details amongst the bird-watching community.
- Provide interpretative displays to the Queenscliff Golf Club to educate golfers and visitors to Swan Island about the need to keep out of saltmarsh adjacent to the fairways at Swan Island.
- Organise the annual winter population counts - in May, July and September - using voluntary bird observers.
- Advise landholders how to enhance habitat on their properties through the Land for Wildlife Scheme and other means.
- Provide incentives to restore habitat where appropriate.
- Conduct surveys of potential suitable habitat to find any new areas utilised by parrots.
- Protect, expand and enhance habitat on known feeding sites.
Key areas for habitat conservation x Local Government Area
Although Local Government may or may not be directly involved with on-ground management, land use planning in these localities should take account of the need to protect Orange-bellied habitat.
- Moyne Shire - Belfast Lough - Port Fairy, Killarney Coast, Yambuk Lakes.
- Warrnambool City - Lower Merri Wetlands.
- Surf Coast Shire - Breamlea Flora & Fauna Reserve.
- City of Greater Geelong - Lake Conewarre, Swan Bay - Edwards Point Wildlife Reserve, The Spit Wildlife Reserve.
- Queenscliffe Bprough - Swan Island.
- Wyndham City - Western Treatment Plant managed by Melbourne Water.
- South Gippsland Shire - Corner Inlet - Saltmarsh Islands, Wilsons Promontory National Park managed by Parks Victoria
Summary of conservation efforts
- 2010 summary
- 2011 summary
- 2011 / 2012 summary
- 2012 /2013 summary
- 2013 / 2014 summary
- 2015/16 summary
- 2017 summary
A summary update from information provided by Rachel Sims, Biodiversity Officer, Biodiversity Services South West, DSE and member of the OBP Recovery Team.
The elusive and critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrot is in serious danger of extinction in the wild. Monitoring by volunteers and researchers at key sites indicates that there are now only about 50 wild Orange-bellied Parrots remaining, and that the species is likely to go extinct in the wild in the next three to five years. There is a captive population of around 160 birds; however the genetic variation (gene pool) of these birds is likely to be too small for long-term survival of a healthy captive population.
The recovery effort is now focusing on actions to try and preserve options for a future wild population for OBPs. Key activities include:
- Improving genetic diversity of the captive breeding population by bringing in some new birds from the wild. Two juveniles captured in Tasmania in March 2010 are now at Healesville Sanctuary, ready to participate in the upcoming breeding season. Attempts to capture more juveniles on the mainland this winter were unsuccessful. The next phase of captures will focus on nestlings in Tasmania at the end of the 2010/11 breeding season.
- Improving breeding output in the wild by providing more nest boxes, and additional supplementary food to wild birds. This winter, field staff and volunteers provided specially selected supplementary seed to overwintering birds in an attempt to ease their way through the winter. When birds arrive in Tasmania this spring, they will be supplied with a high quality breeding bird diet, to make sure every bird has enough energy to raise a brood of chicks.
- Continuing to monitor the population though important volunteer programs on the mainland and in Tasmania. It is only through quality data, collected by hundreds of volunteers over three decades, that the Recovery Team can identify the current problem and plan their response. Monitoring activities in Tasmania, King Island, Victoria and South Australia, continue to be vital to the recovery effort. In winter 2010, birds were found in the Coorong SA, near Port MacDonnell SA, near Werribee Vic, and around Swan Bay Vic. As the birds head for Tasmania, the summer monitoring program becomes the focus. The continued efforts of volunteers in these programs are vital to the recovery effort.
- Continuing to improve habitat quality by encouraging sound management of breeding and non-breeding habitat. An ecological burning program will be initiated near breeding sites, to ensure suitable aged feeding habitat is available. A research program in Victoria will look at the best way to manage saltmarsh for OBP habitat values.
- Planning for the future with the preparation of a new Recovery Plan and a Release Strategy outlining the future uses of captive-bred birds.
At least 21 adults arrived last spring at the only known wild breeding population at Melaleuca on the souh-west coast of Tasmania. The number of adults compares favourably with a minimum of 23 adults arriving the previous spring.
|Juvenile Orange-bellied Parrots on feeding table at Melaleuca in Tasmania|
Encouragingly, it appears that 100% of females at Melalueca participated in breeding, an important improvement from recent years of low breeding participation. At least 16 unbanded juveniles appeared at the feed table. The minimum number of juveniles produced at Melaleuca in 2011 is therefore 27. This is an improvement over the previous breeding season when only 13 juveniles are known to have fledged.
Collection of new birds, or founders for the captive population was a priority. Over the 2010/11 summer 21 juveniles were collected at the feed table between late January and late March. The new birds will add much-needed genetic variation to the existing captive breeding program. There will be no attempts to capture founders on the mainland this winter.
The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service have completed planned burns at a number of sites which will reduce the risk of large wildfires adversely affecting natural values in the southwest Tasmania, and improve Orange-bellied Parrot feeding habitat. Planned burns to maintain suitable feeding habitat has been a high priority for the recovery program for many years, and is a very high priority under the Action Plan.
The winter monitoring program remains an important measure of how the wild population of Orange-bellied Parrots is faring. Regional Coordinators and volunteers will be continuing to search habitat in South Australia and Victoria to locate overwintering birds. When Orange-bellied Parrots are located, Regional Coordinators will make arrangements to supply supplementary food to the birds, with the aim of improving their food uptake over the winter period. Supplementary feeding of birds with specially selected seed aims to improve the condition of birds to enhance over-winter survival and encourage high rates of breeding participation next summer.
It is estimated the wild population could be as low as 30 birds. The captive breeding program at Zoos Victoria now holds 75 birds. Combined with new genetic variability from this year’s juveniles taken from the wild it is hoped that the captive population can be expanded with the aim of being able to release birds back into the wild again in the future.
Overwintering record sightings of the Orange-bellied Parrot during its time on the mainland recorded 26 separate sightings of these threatened birds. While three sightings (each of two birds) were in South Australia, the other 23 sightings were all between Queenscliff and Werribee.
The Orange-bellied Parrot population monitoring activities occurred between July and September 2011 and April and June 2012. Monitoring involved over 50 local volunteers, supported by a local coordinator based in the Corangamite region and winter count coordinator based centrally at BirdLife Australia, unfortunately no OBPs were located on the mainland during the July and September Winter 2012 surveys.
An honours study is examining the emerging weed threat Sicilian Sea Lavender. This weed has already invaded and excluded some saltmarsh from the Moyne River estuary and has the potential to have a major impact on OBP habitats.
2012 return of overwintering birds (report from the OBP team).
The first OBP, an unbanded male, turned up at the feed table at Melaleuca at about 8 am on the 1st October. A banded male turned up on the 4th October and these two males were joined by a female (banded as an adult in 2011) on the 5th October. Birds continued to return and by late October several pairs had settled at nest boxes in the local area at Melaleuca. As of late November there were 12 males and 9 females at Melaleuca. Whilst this may be a low number, it does compare favourably with the minimum numbers of 21 which returned to breed in 2010/11 (13 males, 8 females) and 22 which returned to breed in 2011/12 (14 males, 8 females).
A summary of information provided by Sheryl Hamilton, Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Program Coordinator
The Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Team have been pleased with a stability in the wild population between December 2011 and December 2012. There has also been a good start to the 2012/13 breeding season both for the wild population at Melaleuca and the captive breeding program.
No releases of captive-bred birds were undertaken in November 2012 based on field observations at the Melaleuca breeding grounds in Tasmania. It was found a similar number of birds had returned to the Melaleuca breeding grounds as were present last year and there was an equal sex ratio of adult birds in the wild.
In line with the objectives of the OBP Recovery Plan and Captive Management Plan, the parrots assigned for potential release are now contributing to the captive breeding program in the 2012/13 season.
The OBP recovery team has been working with researchers to gain an increased understanding of the Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) and limit any risks to both the captive and wild populations of this viral disease.
The 2012/13 wild breeding season had a good start at Melaleuca, the only known wild breeding population. At least 20 adults arrived in spring, which compares favourably with recent years (at least 22 in 2011/12, 21 in 2010/11 and 23 in 2009/10).
In January 2013, 19 chicks were banded from five nest boxes. As there were at least nine females at Melaleuca in November 2012, there may be up to four additional ‘natural’ nests in unknown locations.
The wild population at Melaleuca continues to be monitored by Wildcare volunteers and managed by DPIPWE Tasmania staff.
Captive breeding - the program has expanded to facilities at Halls Gap Zoo (Victoria) with display birds also installed at Moonlit Sanctuary (Victoria). These institutions joined Taroona, Healesville Sanctuary, Adelaide Zoo, Melbourne Zoo and Priam Parrot Breeding Centre (NSW) to increase capacity and diversify techniques to increase the population. Based on a studbook analysis conducted on 7th July, 2012, the size of the captive population was 205 birds with the program aiming to have at least 350 birds by 2016/17.
A standardised quarantine and testing protocol is being developed for all institutions involved in captive breeding.
2013 over-wintering observations.
The 2013 coordinated surveys were conducted on 18-19 May and 27-28 July. A further survey will be held on 14-15 September. Unfortunately no Orange-bellied Parrots were recorded in the May and July surveys. Two Orange-bellied Parrots were observed a few days prior to the official count at a site near Warrnambool. Also a couple of weeks after the July count 6 Orange-bellied Parrots (two adult males, one adult female and three juveniles) were recorded at Port Phillip Bay West. The two males and two of the juveniles are thought to be the same four birds that have been sighted in the vicinity throughout the winter.
Other sightings this season include a juvenile Orange-bellied Parrot at West Gippsland and a possible sighting on the Fleurieu Peninsula (South Australia).
Volunteers put in an enormous amount of effort during the counts, e.g. over 720 volunteer hours were spent during the Bellarine Peninsula counts in 2012. This demonstrates the commitment of many people in our community who care about the Orange-bellied Parrot and contribute towards its conservation.
A summary of information provided by Sheryl Hamilton, Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Program Coordinator
The Orange-bellied Parrot National Recovery Team held its annual meeting on 30th April 2014 in Hobart to review the status of wild and captive bred Orange-bellied Parrots and to formulate ongoing conservation measures. By the end of the 2013/14 breeding season the wild population of Orange-bellied Parrots is considered to comprises approx. 70 birds.
The Orange-bellied Parrot National Recovery Team has been encouraged by:
- the initial indications that a release of captive-bred adults into the wild population in November 2013 has been successful with some captive-bred birds known to have successfully bred;
- the production of at least 39 chicks in the 2013/14 breeding season at Melaleuca;
- to date, the successful post-breeding migration of at least one captive-bred bird from Tasmania to the mainland coast; and
- a steadily increasing captive breeding population.
Breeding season - there was a good start to the 2013/14 breeding season at Melaleuca (southwest Tasmania) which is the only known wild breeding population. At least 19 adults arrived in spring following their migration from the mainland, this being a similar number of adults to the last two seasons.
In line with the recovery plan and translocation proposal 24 captive-bred Orange-bellied Parrots adults (13 males and 11 females) were released to join in with the wild population at Melaleuca in November 2013.
Monitoring of the released and wild birds at Melaleuca was made possible by Zoos Victoria, Friends of the Orange-bellied Parrot (Wildcare Inc.) and volunteers.
In January and February 2014, the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment staff and Australian National University scientists banded 36 chicks from the purpose-built nest boxes provided for birds at Melaleuca. At least 3 more chicks fledged from nests in natural hollows. Therefore, there was increase in the number of fledgling OBPs produced at Melaleuca from 24 in 2013 (when there was no release of captive-bred birds) to 39 in 2014 (following the November 2013 release).
Captive breeding - The OBP captive population acts as an insurance population as well as providing birds for release to the wild to bolster the wild population and improve genetic diversity The captive breeding program includes the following institutions: DPIPWE’s Taroona facilities (Tasmania), Healesville Sanctuary (Victoria), Melbourne Zoo (Victoria), Priam Parrot Breeding Centre (NSW), Halls Gap Zoo (Victoria) and Moonlit Sanctuary (Victoria). Small numbers of non-breeding birds are also held at Adelaide Zoo, Taronga Zoo, Australian Reptile Park and Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
Following a successful breeding season, the size of the captive population in April 2014 was about 320 birds. This is well on the way to the recovery program target of 400 for the insurance captive population.
2014 over-wintering observations ( to May 2014) - These are observations of Orange-bellied Parrots which have flown from Tasmania, across Bass Strait to over winter on mainland Australia. The first confirmed sighting was on 25th March 2014 on the. In April other sightings were made on the Bellarine Peninsula, the Bass Coast, Surf Coast, again on the western side of Port Phillip Bay. In May there were more sightings on the western side of Port Phillip Bay.
One of the sightings on the Surf Coast included a captive-bred adult female bird hatched in captivity in the 2011/12 breeding season at the Taroona captive breeding facility and released at Melaleuca in November 2013. During the 2013 /14 breeding season at Melaleuca, she produced five ‘wild’ chicks and has now made the over winter journey across Bass Strait.
Volunteers continue to play an important part during the over winter counts in building up our knowledge of habitat use, flocking and feeding behaviour. In particular, information on banded OBPs will be important in determining whether any released birds and their offspring have made the northern migration.
Wild breeding - Twenty three Orange-bellied Parrots returned for the 2015-16 breeding season at Melaleuca (southwest Tasmania) which is the only known wild breeding population. The season produced 18 fledglings.
Captive breeding - The overall captive population is around 350 birds. Captive breeding focuses on maintaining genetic diversity and the capacity to provide birds for translocation into the wild. It also provides an insurance population.
The population was supplemented with the release 13 captive-bred adults at Melaleuca in November 2015 from the Taroona breeding facility.
Further releases totalling 24 birds were carried out at Melaleuca in November 2016 to produce a balanced sex ratio in the population.
2015 over-wintering observations - These are observations of Orange-bellied Parrots which have flown from Tasmania, across Bass Strait to over winter on mainland Australia. A significant amount of observation effort was carried out by volunteers across known areas in southern Victoria and south-east South Australia. Only 4 Orange-bellied Parrots were observed over the 2015 winter period, all being at Werribee.
2016 over-wintering observations - survey were held on the mainland in Victoria and south-east South Australia on 21/22 May, 23/24 July and 10/11 September 2016. Overall results found up to 7-10 birds had migrated across Bass Strait to overwinter in Victoria (It is not clear if 3 unidentified birds spotted in May were the same ones seen in August). Given the vast area to be surveyed it is highly unlikely that all the birds which flew from Tasmania to the mainland would ever be identified.
A more detailed report on the 2015/16 season - Birdlife OBP Recovery Summary
2016 Migration back to Tasmania - By the end of November 2016, 15 birds were recorded to have completed their migration from mainland Australia back to the breeding area at Melaleuca in Tasmania. One of the Orange Bellied Parrots was a captive-bred bird that hatched at Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) Hobart Wildlife Centre on 5/12/13. Her parents were also captive-bred at the Hobart Wildlife Centre. Whilst at the Hobart Wildlife Centre she had a single clutch of five young in late November/early December 2014. She was released at Melaleuca the following year on 4/11/15. Upon release at Melaleuca, she paired up and they produced three fledglings. Her flight from Tasmania to overwinter on mainland Australia and return back to Tasmania is significant considering her captive bred ancestry.
2017 breeding in Tasmania
A total of 17 Orange-bellied Parrots (12 males and 4 females, including 1 captive-bred female migrated back across Bass Strait from the mainland to the breeding grounds at Melaleuca in Tasmania this breeding season. This meant there was only a maximum of four breeding pairs of wild birds. In order to maximise breeding opportunities 23 captive-bred birds were also released at the breeding grounds (8 males and 15 females).
By January 2017, 15 Orange-bellied Parrot nests were detected in the nest boxes. At least 8 active nests were parented by captive-bred females. There were at least 4 failed nests and 5 nests were holding nestlings.
More detailed updates:
Because the survival of this species is in such a perilous state the Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Team is introducing some new management techniques for 2017. See above.
- Vegetation survey and remote sensing of Victorian saltmarshes in relation to Orange-bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) habitat. A report prepared for Department of Conservation & Natural resources, March 1994. A. McMahon, G. Race, G. Carr, Ecology Australia Pty Ltd.
- Management of the Orange-bellied Parrot. Peter W. Menkhorst., Richard W. Loyn., Peter B. Brown. In: Management and Conservation of Small Populations, pp.239-252. Ed. Tim W. Clark and John H. Seebeck (1990). Chicago Zoological Society, Chicago.
- Field Guide to birds of Australia. Simpson & Day, 6th edition, published by the Penguin Group, Camberwell, Victoria.
- Orange-bellied Parrot Action Statement No. 43, Flora & Fauna Guarantee, Dept. Natural Resources & Environment, Victoria 1993.
- (OBP Recovery Team 2016) Communique from the National Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Team on workshop held in Hobart, 14th to 15th December 2016.
- White, M., Menkhorst, P., Griffioen, Green, B., Salkin, O. and Pritchard, R. (2016). Orange-bellied Parrot: A retrospective analysis of winter habitat availability, 1985-2015. Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research Technical Report Series Number 277. Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Heidelberg, Victoria.
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