This weekend is one of the annual winter Orange-bellied Parrot surveys throughout north-west Tasmania, King Island and south-east coastal areas of the mainland. This is part of a regular volunteer program run every year by Birdlife Australia to give a better picture of the population of one of the worlds rarest parrots.
This species is in critical danger from extinction and numbers are drastically low with estimates ranging from 60-70 individuals left in the wild. Several zoos have breeding stocks as insurance and these occasionally release birds into the wild. These parrots breed in Tasmania and migrate to the mainland in winter to feed in coastal saltmarshes from South Australia to southern Victoria. The majority of sightings of the parrot on the mainland are in the Westernport region but occasionally some turn up in unexpected places.
I was involved in surveying one site on the northern part of Anderson’s Inlet, east of Inverloch in Victoria but unfortunately, and not surprisingly, no Orange-bellied Parrots were seen.
Large flocks of Blue-winged Parrots were seen feeding on the extensive areas of Beaded Glasswort Sarcocornia quinqueflora and Shrubby Glasswort Sclerostegia arbuscula. These are also one of the favourite foods of the Orange-bellied Parrot and occasionally individuals may join the Blue-wing flocks. In an area of about 1km I counted about 75 Blue-winged Parrots in several feeding flocks.
The Blue-winged Parrot is very closely related to the Orange-bellied and is distinguished by subtle differences in the overall body colour, a larger blue stripe on the wings and no orange belly.
Even though no OBP’s were seen at the site this is still valuable information as it gives a better overall picture of where populations tend to be centered and which areas are higher priority for conservation efforts. Having such low numbers it is very prone to extinction from predation, disease, development and changes in habitat. Even a freak storm could wipe most of the population out!
Lets hope this species can bounce back before its too late.