Night Parrot – The Most Famous Extinct Bird of Australia
Habitats: One of the most famous ‘extinct’ birds in Australia is the night parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis). In spite of sporadic sight records, there is no hard evidence that this species has survived since the turn of the century. It is a nocturnal, secretive, and nomadic species living in remote regions of inland Australia, and finding it is like searching for a needle in a haystack because it lives in remote areas.
Despite its nocturnal habits, the night parrot has a predominantly terrestrial lifestyle and in fact, it was a highly secretive species even when it was abundant. It takes to the air only when it is panicked or in pursuit of water. In spite of this, it is likely to persist in small numbers in spinifex Triodia breakaways and the samphire-covered margins of salt lakes that are surrounded by spinifex.
Behavior: There are several similarities between the Night Parrot and the Ground Parrot, both of which are closely related in terms of habits and appearance. The two species of birds are both ground dwellers and are active at night. Night Parrots do have a number of distinctive features, all of which seem to reflect the fact that they live in an arid environment because of their unique morphology.
In order for it to run and walk on bare ground, the claws on its slender feet are rounded and short, making it suitable for running and walking. Despite its reduced nostrils, it is surrounded by a number of fine hairs that adorn its ringed nostrils. As it can fly long distances, the wings are very long and the tail is short and pointed, possibly as a result of the long nomadic flight. The fact that night parrots are nomadic and have to travel long distances for food and water does not come as a surprise given the environment in which they live.
From the meager information available about them – all recorded 50 years ago and more – it appears that they fly out of their roosts soon after dusk to the group and drink at waterholes, and then they go on to feed. It has been suggested that the seeds of spinifex are the staple diet of birds, however, this has been supported by the behavior of a single bird in the London Zoo in 1868, who also ate shoots and vegetable matter.
By the time dawn comes around, the parrots have returned to their roosts and are sleeping. There has been a description of their flight being similar to that of a quail, but it may not be so different from the flight of a ground parrot. A Night Parrot sleeps by itself in small squats excavated beneath bushes that they reach through tunnels they create under the bushes.
Status: In the past few decades, there have been no confirmed sightings of this bird, and there has been speculation that it has gone extinct, which made it one of the most elusive and mysterious birds in the world. There have been very few sightings of the bird since 1979 and it is difficult to get a good estimate of the size of its population, but based on the limited number of records, it is believed to number between 50 and 249 mature individuals, and it is classified by the IUCN as an endangered species.
Other Names: Other names for this parrot include porcupine parrot, nocturnal ground parakeet, midnight cockatoo, solitaire, spinifex parrot, and night parakeet.
Size: Night Parrots measure about 230-240 millimeters in length.
Identification: The short tail of this parrot, as well as the fact that it ranges and lives in different habitats, differentiates it from the other two superficially similar species of ground parrot. Adults: There is no difference between the sexes. There is a pale olive color on the head, back, and shoulders, with black streaks over the head and bar-mottling with black and yellow on the back and shoulders. A fuscous flight feather with a broken yellow bar above and below, lined with a fuscous liner.
There is a dusky tail that is closely barred with a yellowish-green color. Yellowish olive on the throat and breast, chevroned with dusky black on the rim of the throat and breast, grading to plain yellow on the belly and crissum. The iris is blackish in color. A slate-grey hue is led by Bill and Cere. The feet and toes are leaden or flesh-brown in color. Immatures: The same as adults, but duller and plainer.
Voice: A croak has been described as one of the vocalizations of the night parrot, which is thought to be a call made by the bird in order to make contact. As the night parrots fly, they give a sweet two-note or long-drawn, rather mournful whistle, repeated at intervals, with a sweet two-note or long-drawn call in flight. There was also a short, sharp croak made by the bird, probably as a signal of alarm. Queensland and Western Australia have also recorded some other calls, mostly short “ding-ding” whistles, and a more drawn-out whistle, which are more difficult to distinguish from each other.
Nesting: During July and August, nesting is recorded, but it is erratic, as a result of plants being regenerated after rain. The nest is under a chenopod bush or spinifex tussock, a cup or platform made up of twigs and needles is nestled in a scrape, often with a tunnel dug into the ground, surrounded by tussock and chenopod bush.
Eggs: One or two to four or five eggs are laid by the Night Parrot, which is white and oval in shape, with a size of about 25 x 20 mm, and a diameter of about 3 mm.
Distribution: A Night Parrot is considered to be extremely rare and nomadic throughout inland Australia, usually found in spinifex Triodia sand plains and samphire fringes of salt lakes with spinifex Triodia sand. It is also likely to inhabit chenopod shrublands, eucalyptus woodlands, and mallee shrublands in addition to lichen-rich zones. The Diamantina and Astrebla Grasslands in western Queensland, as well as the Fortescue Marshes in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, have been identified by BirdLife International as sites of importance for the night parrot’s conservation.
Sighting: In the Pilbara region of Western Australia, south-western Queensland, the Lake Eyre basin in South Australia, and the Northern Territory, there have been a few sightings or recordings of its presence, with varying degrees of certainty.
Races: There are no races.
First Described: According to Gould, the night parrot was described by him in 1861, based on a specimen that he collected 13 km southeast of Mt Farmer, west of Lake Austin in Western Australia, a specimen known as the holotype.