Justification of Red List category
This species has a population size believed to be less than 250 mature individuals with no more than 50 individuals in each subpopulation, and records suggest a continuing decline. For these reasons the species is assessed as Critically Endangered.
Targeted acoustic surveys across the country since 2013 have detected no more than 30 individual Night Parrots, although comprehensively surveying the large areas of potential habitat where the bird might occur is difficult. Research suggests that wherever the species is found, more individuals occur than are detected, but not many more. The failure to find many additional sites, despite searching, suggests that it is prudent to assume there may be no more. Expert consultation regarding densities known at available habitat indicates a population estimate of 40-500 individuals with a best estimate of 200 (Leseberg et al. 2021b). In any given subpopulation, there is thought not to be any more than 30 individuals (and more likely 20) (Leseberg et al. 2021b).
The species continues to persist at two of the sites found since 2013 where multiple follow up surveys have occurred (N. P. Leseberg and A. H. Burbidge unpublished, in Leseberg et al. 2021b) but longer term analyses of trends in sightings suggest that there has been a gradual attrition of surviving subpopulations so a continuing decline is assumed. Since 1960, there have been continuing probable records from the northern part of the species’ historical range, but no records from northwest Victoria, and only two records from southern South Australia, suggesting a contraction from the southeast (Leseberg et al. 2021a). There are also no probable records from the southern Northern Territory since 1960. Since 2000, there have been probable records from only two regions of the Night Parrot’s historical distribution: western Queensland, and central northern Western Australia. The lack of probable records from the south east of the species’ historical range suggest the Night Parrot is locally extinct in southern South Australia and north west Victoria. Likewise, the absence of probable records from the southern Northern Territory since before 1960 suggest local extinction. Importantly, increased rates of both unconfirmed reports and probable records from elsewhere as the range contraction progresses, point to the range contraction being genuine rather than an artefact of survey effort. The results of this research and widespread searches for the species in western Queensland (N. Leseberg unpublished, in Leseberg et al. 2021b), and emerging data from searches in central and northern Western Australia, point to the species occurring in very low numbers, at extremely low densities, and in isolated, resident populations. The probable extreme fragmentation of the population poses a significant extinction risk. Furthemore, expert opinion concludes that if no management occurs, populations at specific sites will continue to decline over the longer term (N. Leseberg in litt. 2021). Currently, only the population on Pullen Pullen SWR in western Queensland is under specific management, which represents a small percentage of the total population and therefore suggests an overall continuing decline for the species.
This nocturnal parrot is endemic to Australia. Night Parrots are currently known from one site in south-west Queensland and six sites in the northern half of arid Western Australia (Jackett et al. 2017, Murphy et al. 2017a,b, Night Parrot Recovery Team unpublished, in Leseberg et al. 2021b). Historically, they were recorded from throughout arid and semi-arid Australia, mostly before the 1880s (Higgins 1999) and the species is now considered extinct in New South Wales and Victoria. Many recent searches using automated recording units, the most suitable technique for detecting the species, have failed to find any birds (N. P. Leseberg, A. H. Burbidge unpublished, in Leseberg et al. 2021a). This has included numerous searches at sites where there were records in the 1990s and 2000s (Garnett et al. 1993, Boles et al. 1994, Davis and Metcalf 2008, Murphy 2018).
In an attempt to explain widespread but scattered records, the species was previously thought to be nomadic or to have very large home ranges (Higgins 1999). However, limited radio- and GPS-tracking carried out by Murphy et al. (2017b) implies that the species is more sedentary than these speculations suggest. Movement of two tracked birds remained within an area of approximately 70 km2. Individuals moved approximately 30 km per night within a radius of less than 10 km from roosting locations. Tracked birds moved from their roosts in Triodia (spinifex) hummocks to feeding sites in more diverse habitats marked by large-seeded grass and forb species. Physiological modelling suggests that the species may need to visit standing water, especially during summer (Kearney et al. 2016). The bird GPS-tracked by Murphy et al. (2017b) only visited a permanent water source once. However, a considerable amount of rain fell during the tracking period, and so ephemeral water sources were likely to be available. During winter, Night Parrots may satisfy water requirements from their diet, which may include succulent plants, such as Sclerolaena spp. (Kearney et al. 2016). Night Parrots occur in open semi-arid grasslands where roosting habitat is close to feeding grounds that support key seed-producing species (Murphy et al. 2017b). Most recent studies have located them in or near mature spinifex grassland Triodia spp. where they roost during the day and also breed. They also occur in chenopod-dominated systems in and around salt lakes (Andrews 1883, Leseberg et al. 2021a). At night radio- and GPS-tracked birds in Queensland flew up to 9 km from their Triodia roost sites to feed and drink (Murphy et al. 2017b). The Queensland birds are known to feed on ephemeral grasslands, consuming a variety of grasses, herbs and chenopods (Murphy et al. 2017b; S. A. Murphy and N. P. Leseberg unpublished in Leseberg et al. 2021b). Breeding occurs at any time of year at the south-western Queensland site if sufficient resources are available, which typically occurs in response to local rain or flooding and may continue for some time. The nest is a flimsy grass cup built on the ground within a spinifex clump or under a chenopod bush. The clutch size is 2–4, and productivity is about 0.8 fledglings per nesting attempt (Murphy et al. 2017a, Hamilton et al. 2017, N. P. Leseberg unpublished, in Leseberg et al. 2021b). Causes of nest failure include predation by a King Brown Snake Pseudechis australis, and potentially heat stress (Murphy et al. 2017a). Cats Felis catus, which may be attracted to the begging calls of dependent fledglings, almost certainly prey upon young birds, resulting in limited recruitment to the population (Leseberg et al. 2021a).
Blyth (1996) proposed a list of threats considered realistic in the absence of direct evidence. Threats to the species are likely to vary across its range and might include predation by feral cats and foxes; soil disturbance, erosion and loss caused by herbivores (including livestock and over-abundant native and feral herbivores); degradation of habitat around water points by herbivores; competition for food by herbivores; fire; psittacine beak and feather disease, avian pox, and other diseases; illegal collection of birds or eggs; disturbance from bird-watching activities; fences; and reduction in water availability through over-use of waterholes by camels and reduced waterhole maintenance (TSSC 2016). The sharp decline in reporting of Night Parrots after the 1880s is thought to have been caused primarily by a proliferation of cats (Ashby 1924, Whitlock 1924) but they are among the 20 Australian bird species most likely to be taken by foxes Vulpes vulpes (Woinarski et al. 2021). However, fire and grazing are also likely to have been influential in their decline (Blyth 1996, Olsen 2018). The species has persisted where predation pressure from cats and possibly foxes Vulpes vulpes is thought to be low, spinifex cover is stable because appropriate fire regimes are maintained, and there are relatively productive patches in the landscape that have only had moderate grazing pressure from sheep, cattle and rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus (Murphy et al. 2018). Although well adapted to arid conditions, longer and hotter droughts could have a deleterious effect. Biophysical modelling suggests that predicted temperature increases under various climate change scenarios would increase the species' dependence on free-standing water dramatically (Kearney et al. 2016). Thus, climate change, interacting with the spatial configuration of water points and habitats, and the concentration of feral predators at water points, may become a serious future threat. Concern that detection of the species on pastoral properties would have deleterious effects on subsequent management were generally misplaced (Garnett et al. 2016). Improperly managed potash mining of salt lakes could reduce their suitability by affecting hydrology, fire or predation pressure.
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. Some subpopulations are within public or private conservation areas. Listed as threatened under appropriate legislation, including as a National Threatened Species Strategy priority. There is active management of cats and cattle grazing at one site. Surveys are underway. The recent discovery of a small population in 2013 has led to an intensive conservation and research programme, now directed towards the conservation actions proposed below, from TSSC (2016).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey area of the southwestern Queensland population to establish extent of occupation. Survey locations of previous confirmed and unconfirmed records according to veracity. Model and survey suitable habitat. Undertake genetic analysis to estimate population size and structuring. Increase knowledge of populations outside of south-western Queensland. Understand limitations to recruitment by examining sub-adult dispersal and mortality. Articulate tolerable cat densities.
Monitor the effectiveness and impact of land management actions in the area of the extant population and any other population discovered in the future. Continue to implement research priorities identified in Night Parrot Research Plan (Murphy 2014) and revise to reflect changes in knowledge or conservation strategy as required (TSSC 2016). Implement targeted cat control in area of extant population, and other areas according to priority. Collaborate with landholders to maintain dingoes in the landscape that encompasses the extant population in Queensland, to suppress cats and foxes. Eradicate buffel grass on land leased or managed for Night Parrot conservation. Collaborate with landholders to manage buffel grass to meet both economic and Night Parrot conservation objectives in area of extant population. Exclude cattle grazing of the habitat used by the population in Queensland on land leased or managed for Night Parrot conservation, ensuring that risks to parrots are avoided or minimised. Collaborate with landholders to manage stock grazing to meet both economic and Night Parrot conservation objectives in area of extant population. Collaborate with landholders to manage stock water access to meet both economic and Night Parrot conservation objectives in the area of the extant population.
Minimise the risk of extensive high-intensity fires, by increasing heterogeneity of fire classes in suitable habitat. Manage access to land leased or managed for Night Parrot conservation to minimise fire ignition, and brief visitors on strategies and protocols to prevent fire ignition. Collaborate with landholders to minimise the risk of fire in the landscape that encompasses the extant population. Establish strategic mineral earth fire breaks to prevent the spread of fire on land leased or managed for Night Parrot conservation. Establish capacity to suppress fires in habitat in area of extant population. Suppress fires in habitat in area of extant population.
Develop and implement quarantine protocols for persons who may come into contact with Night Parrots. Adopt/develop and implement hygiene and reporting protocols for the Night Parrot. Implement strategies to detect and prevent unauthorised access to land leased or managed for Night Parrot conservation. Establish protocols for access to land leased or managed for Night Parrot conservation that specify the conditions under which access is permitted. Establish protocols that specify the conditions under which research, survey, and observations of Night Parrots is considered acceptable in area of extant sub-population.
Avoid or minimise the use of fences in areas likely to be traversed by the night parrot. Where fences cannot be avoided, construct in a manner that avoids or minimises risks to the Night Parrot. Ensure pre-approval surveys undertaken at potential potash mining sites; if present, impose appropriate conditions on mining operations.
Promote opportunities to undertake or participate in survey and monitoring when techniques have been established and risks to the conservation of the Night Parrot can be controlled. Identify, inform and collaborate with partners, including traditional owners, landholders, community-based organisations, and conservation management organisations associated with the area of the extant sub-population. Prepare and implement a communications strategy that contributes to reducing risk associated with illegal and bird-watching activities, increases the effectiveness of survey and monitoring programs, and promotes collaboration.
22-25 cm. Short-tailed, dumpy parrot. Sexes alike. Adult predominantly green, grading to yellow underparts, with extensive fine black markings. Mainly dark grey upperwing with narrow, pale yellow wing-bar. Grey-green underwing with broad wing-bar. Juvenile probably similar but duller. Similar spp. Distinguished from Budgerigar Melopsittacus undulatus by larger size, shorter tail, terrestrial nature and furtive nocturnal habits - but note that quite a few records of Night Parrots are from the day time, especially if flushed. Superficially similar Ground Parrot Pezoporus wallicus has longer tail and different range and habitat. Voice Said to have low, two-note or drawn-out whistle, audible at a distance; and a frog-like croak.
Text account compilers
Berryman, A., Vine, J., Garnett, S.
Bamford, M.J., Burbidge, A.H., Butchart, S., Joseph, L., Leseberg, N., Metcalf, B.M. & Murphy, S.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Pezoporus occidentalis. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/night-parrot-pezoporus-occidentalis on 11/12/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 11/12/2023.