Tag Archives: parrot

Native birds in south eastern Australia worst affected by habitat loss

An Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis). More than 60 per cent of the birds of south-east mainland Australia have lost more than half of their natural habitat. Credit: Graham Winterflood.

New research has found that habitat loss is a major concern for hundreds of Australian bird species, and south eastern Australia has been the worst affected. The Threatened Species Recovery Hub study, featuring University of Queensland scientists, found that half of all native bird species have each lost almost two-thirds of their natural habitat across Victoria, parts of South Australia and New South Wales.

Lead researcher, Dr Jeremy Simmonds, said the team looked at both threatened and non-threatened birds, including common species.

“While more attention is usually paid to threatened species, common species, like many of our familiar fairy-wrens, pigeons and honeyeaters, are crucially important,” Dr Simmonds said. “Common species play a vital role in controlling insect pests and pollination and their decline through loss of habitat has implications for the health of ecosystems. Along with feral and invasive species, habitat destruction is among the greatest threats facing biodiversity in Australia, so it is important to understand how big the problem of habitat removal is: our research developed a method to do this, called the Loss Index. 

“We looked at how the amount of habitat available for each of Australia’s 447 different land bird species had changed since 1750. In places like Queensland’s south-east and the Wet Tropics, each hectare of forest cleared can affect up to 180 different native bird species. 

“Habitat loss has been particularly devastating for birds from south-east Australia; more than half of the 262 native birds in this region only have a small fraction of their natural habitat remaining in this part of the country. Northern Australia and Australia’s arid zone have had the least habitat loss, as there has been much less vegetation clearing across that region. We also looked at different bird groups and found that Australia’s parrot species are more impacted by habitat loss, compared with birds of prey, like eagles and owls.”

Dr Simmonds said the index provided a tool for conservation managers and planners to better understand how habitat loss affects all birds, and not just the endangered ones.  

 “It helps to show that every hectare of native vegetation that is removed chips away at remaining habitat for dozens and sometimes hundreds of species, including common species which typically do not receive conservation attention,” he said. The quality of the remaining habitat is often reduced, due to weeds, grazing and changed fire patterns, such as more and hotter fires, and this can further reduce the number and type of birds that an area can support.“

The Loss Index can also be applied to other species like mammals or plants.

The research was conducted by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program, a national initiative to undertake science to help save Australia’s threatened species.

It was published in Conservation Biology (DOI: 10.1111/cobi.13331).

Meet the ‘Hercules parrot’ from prehistoric New Zealand — the biggest ever discovered

Trevor H. Worthy, The Conversation

Heracles inexpectatus on the forest floor, with three small wrens foraging at its feet. Picture: Dr. Brian Choo, Flinders University.Source:Supplied

Say hello to Heracles inexpectatus, a parrot the size of a human child.

But don’t worry, you won’t meet one face-to-face.

Our new discovery lived around 20 million years ago in what is now New Zealand — adding to the islands’ rich and storied collection of remarkable bird species.

Heracles was truly a giant among birds, The Conversationreports.

It was about one metre long, stood 80-90cm tall, and weighed about 7kg. That makes it about the same size as a dodo, and far bigger than its modern-day cousin, the kākāpō. Unsurprisingly, given its heft, it was likely also flightless.

We discovered Heracles in the St Bathans Fauna, a collection of 20 million-year-old fossils from Central Otago.

Over the past 20 years, our research has discovered around 40 species from the St Bathans Fauna, including a wealth of fascinating prehistoric bird remains. These include eggshell and fragments of moa ancestors, a tiny kiwi, many ducks, a couple of pigeons, flightless rails, hawks and eagles, shorebirds, songbirds, and several small parrot species. Crocodilians, turtles, bats and even rare land mammals complete this eclectic group.

Heracles now reveals that another avian giant existed in this fauna. For the first and only time since, a giant parrot occupied the herbivore/omnivore niche on a forest floor.

emarkably, the fragments of bone that allowed us to discover this giant parrot had sat on a shelf since 2008, patiently waiting for their turn to be described. We had known that St Bathans also contains eagle fossils of similar size, so the Heracles fossils were put on the eagle pile while we waited to find some more fossils that might tell us more.

But upon pulling them out and looking more closely, it was immediately clear that these were not eagle bones, so we started trying to work out what they were. Parrots were not on our radar at first, purely because these bones were far larger than those of any known parrot. But after a while the bones told their story — they were of a parrot, and nothing else was remotely similar. Moreover, they were in some ways fairly similar to the kākāpō.

And so Heracles inexpectatus was born, the name derived from Greek mythology.

So what was a giant parrot doing in ancient New Zealand? What did it eat? Could it have had a taste for meat, as the kea still does? These mountain parrots prey on the chicks of burrowing petrels and are notorious for attacking sheep.

But in New Zealand 20 million years ago there were no sheep, and in fact no large mammals at all. Probably, like most parrots, Heracles ate plants. Its size meant no fruit was too big, no nut too tough to crack. And the botanical evidence shows that it lived in a rich and diverse subtropical forest, where cycads, palms, casuarinas and up to 60 species of laurels thrived.

All these plants would have provided a rich bounty for this large parrot. But we warrant that it likely still snacked on moa occasionally, as kea still did more recently, when they got mired in swamps.

Trevor H. Worthy is an Associate Professor and leading vertebrate palaeontologist at Flinders University. Continue the conversation | trevor.worthy@flinders.edu.au

This article originally appeared in The Conversation and is republished here with permission

Wind turbines ‘an extinction threat’ for birds

MATTHEW DENHOLM THE AUSTRALIAN

The critically endangered Swift Parrot. Picture: Norm Oorloff
The critically endangered Swift Parrot. Picture: Norm Oorloff

Regulators should consider the cumulative impacts of wind farms on birds before approving new turbines, or risk driving species to ­extinction, a prominent conservation ecologist warns.

Jamie Kirkpatrick, from the University of Tasmania, yesterday said federal and state environmental assessments typically ­examined the impact on threatened species of single projects only. “This is really a failure of the process because one swift parrot here or one eagle there is not of great moment, but when you have it repeated and repeated you soon get to a critical level,” Professor Kirkpatrick said.

In Tasmania, 10 new wind farms are proposed or under construction, adding to a number of existing major turbine sites, three of which have killed at least 37 eagles since 2002. There are fears the wind farm boom will push endangered species such as the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle, swift parrot and orange-bellied parrot closer to extinction.

Professor Kirkpatrick urged the federal and state governments to ensure assessment of the new projects considered the wider impact of similar developments on bird populations.

Wind farms are typically ­approved on the condition proponents take measures to mitigate or offset expected impacts on local threatened bird species.

Professor Kirkpatrick said this did not address the bigger picture of wind farm impacts: “The individual small impacts of each one is theoretically bearable but when you consider the cumulative ­impact, they are not. It’s only when you start adding them up and look at the overall fecundity of that species that it starts to become ­really concerning.”

Tasmanian Environment Minister Peter Gutwein defended the adequacy of existing state ­assessments: “Large-scale wind farm developments are subject to rigorous assessments and environmental approvals, with the ­opportunity for public submissions. The government has complete confidence in the ability of the independent Environment Protection Agency to assess any major wind farm proposals.”

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the impact of wind farms on threatened species was already a “key factor” in assessment: “A proposed wind farm development is not considered in isolation. In regions where there are a number of wind farms, existing levels of impact on threatened bird species may be considered.

“When a nationally listed bird species is in small numbers nationally, or its distribution or habitat is limited, or if the habitat has particular importance for the species, wind farm activity could have a significant impact, and this is taken into account.”

Last month, The Weekend Australian revealed Woolnorth Wind Farm Holdings’ two sites in the state’s northwest had recorded three eagle deaths in the past few months. It was also ­revealed the company’s wider operations, including a third wind farm in the state’s northeast, had combined recorded the deaths of 32 wedge-tailed eagles and five white-bellied sea eagles since the first site began operating in 2002-04.

Animal lovers chasing glimpse of rare species fuel tourism boom but can create headaches

ABC Kimberley By Erin Parke

Discoveries of rare and endangered animals in Australia’s remote deserts have prompted mini tourism booms, but they are also causing some headaches for local Aboriginal rangers and their conservation efforts.

Bird obsessives, known as twitchers, have descended on remote sites in the wake of rare parrot sightings, such as the rediscovery of the princess parrot by rangers in 2012 in the Northern Territory.

“The scientists got really happy because it was the first one around that area, followed by all the birdwatchers,” said Anangu Luritjiku ranger Terrence Abbott.

“They wanted more details, so we tried to make it sort of secret at first because we didn’t want everyone arriving on a big bus.”

But the location soon leaked and lit up birdwatching chat pages online — and the twitchers started to arrive.

“We’ve got a permit system out there, but these ones here were illegal visitors without a permit.”

“When we went out there to patrol the area, we saw one tourist with a ladder on the top of his car, so we went and had a chat with him,” Mr Abbott said.

It’s a growing issue in areas where local Aboriginal rangers are making regular scientific breakthroughs, documenting the presence of animals thought to be extinct or only found in small geographical pockets.

The discoveries often come on Aboriginal-owned land where visitors — campers, fishermen or animal enthusiasts — require a permit to enter, something the rangers said many tourists did not realise.

The number of permit systems is growing in outback Australia; there are six in the Kimberley region of Western Australia alone, with most costing less than $50, including camping.

Bird-related tourism boom

Animal-inspired spike in tourism have helped fund ranger work and create local jobs.

After the night parrot — so rare it’s been referred to as the million-dollar bird — was photographed in the Great Sandy Desert in 2017, the number of visitor permits sold jumped 80 per cent.

Paruku head ranger Jamie Brown said they kept the news quiet for awhile to make sure the birds were protected.

“We were really worried because we didn’t want a big impact of lots of people coming in, and we didn’t know how to manage all of them as well as the bird,” he said.

“These twitchers, they love all sorts of birds, and this is a really rare one, so we could have a big run of people if we’d put it out straight away.”

“Most people who visit here do the right thing, they get their permit and they are respectful.

“Being a ranger is really good — it’s not just about the animals, we are getting more young people in to work with us and get out on country and learn from the old people.”