Saving the swift parrot

4 December 2017

The Difficult Birds Research Group based in the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University (ANU) has pursued a series of tailored solutions to save the swift parrot and other unique Australian species.

The swift parrot – the world’s fastest parrot – has had a rough go. But ANU researchers are balancing the odds for this critically endangered bird.

Swift parrots feed on the flowers of blue gum and black gum, but flowering patterns are variable from year to year. This means the population moves around, following the food each year. Since 2009, ANU scientists have led a collaboration of government and conservation groups to track the population’s annual settlement patterns.

One of only three migratory parrots in the world, the swift parrot travels from the mainland to Tasmania each year to nest in the hollows of mature trees. Nesting hollows of the right size and depth are scarcer than ever, due to wildfire and old growth logging. In 2015, the Difficult Birds Team raised funds and built nesting boxes for swift parrots, increasing the number of suitable nesting sites.

Swift parrots have bred well in ample, old growth forests, or in the years when they nest in predator-free locations. In 2016, the Difficult Birds team tracked a successful year of breeding in the new nesting boxes on Bruny Island.

However, when these rare parrots are required to nest and feed elsewhere, they fall prey to sugar gliders, an introduced inhabitant of Tasmania. Sugar gliders raid the nests, killing mothers, eggs and hatchlings. In October 2017, the Difficult Birds team raised funds to build and install nesting boxes with robotic doors that close at dusk, protecting the nesting birds from sugar gliders.

Unfortunately, a known nesting forest was recently logged, pinching the suitable habitat even further. This November, researchers went to Tyler Hill to plan for the installation of the new nesting boxes. Although swift parrots have been observed nesting there for a decade, the scientists were shocked to find that part of the forest had been felled.

In spite of the most recent setback, Difficult Birds conservation biologist Dejan Stojanovic is undeterred.

“The Difficult Birds Research Group is in the midst of the field season at the moment, so we are busily searching for and processing swift parrot nests across Tasmania.  

“As our techniques to protect swift parrots yield results, we’ll provide further updates to report how many swift parrots were saved this year.”

To check in on the Difficult Bird Research Group and the species they study and protect, visit their website, or make a donation toward saving the rare birds of Australia.