Chunky, ground-dwelling parrots from Down Under are having quite the 2016. First the Kakapo had a breeding (and donations) boom over the summer in New Zealand, and now a new population of endangered Night Parrots, the Kakapo's cousin, has been spotted in an Australian national park.
After nearly a century of presumed extinction, the Australian Night Parrot was first rediscovered in 2013 after an exhaustive search by naturalist John Young. After that first discovery, Young kept up his searching and was recently rewarded by finding another population of the reclusive nocturnal birds in Diamantina National Park.
Leading a field team of researchers from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Young reported seven separate Night Parrot sightings, including three active nests with eggs, a pair of parrots, and recorded calls of three more birds. The discovery significantly increases the range and recorded numbers of the Night Parrot.
“My immediate reaction was excitement,” Atticus Fleming, chief executive of Australian Wildlife Conservancy, told Guardian Australia. “But when you start to analyze it, the really significant thing about this is that these birds may be more common than we thought.”
Much of the mystery around Night Parrots comes from their nocturnal and secretive life style. The medium-size birds live only in the arid and semi-arid parts of Australia, where they hop across the moonlit landscape like kangaroos. During the day, they disappear into dense, spikey grass that can make them hard to find with their camouflaged plumage.
Young, who spent 15 years scouring grasslands and scrubs for the mysterious bird prior to his 2013 discovery, found the new population in a completely different part of Queensland than the previous one. And according to an AWC model, a large portion of Diamantina National Park has the type of roosting habitat Night Parrots prefer.
“There’s a lot we don’t know but the discovery gives us hope we’ll find more populations, both in central western Queensland but potentially even in other states,” Fleming told ABC News Australia. “As we learn more about the night parrot, its future starts to look brighter.”
While the search will continue for other populations, protecting known populations is a top priority. The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service has already restricted access to newly discovered habitat along with taking steps to remove old cattle fences from the area and reducing threats, such as feral cats. There's only so much that can be done to protect the vulnerable bird, but with a little luck and a lot of help, the Night Parrot—and Kakapo, for that matter—might be on the cusp of an incredible comeback.