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Welcome to Birdata 24 July 2016

Night Parrot: Catch Me If You Can

Peter Marsack

The Night Parrot is probably the most mysterious of Australia's birds. Inhabiting spinifex country of arid and semi-arid areas, they have been reported from all mainland states, but few have been confirmed. They have usually been a source of frustration. In the 1870s, a collector named Frederick W. Andrews knew how to find them, and collected many specimens. Since then, this secretive species has proved far more elusive, and has even occasionally been considered extinct.

Ornithological history is scattered with tales of expeditions into the arid interior, especially to find this elusive parrot, but almost without exception they returned without their prize, though some came tantalizingly close. In 1923, F.L. Whitlock travelled by camel expedition to the Northern Territory, specifically to see a Night Parrot. He was eventually told that some aborigines had found one nearby, but by the time he arrived at the site, the bird had been cooked and eaten (feathers and all!) before he had a chance to see it. A similar tale of woe afflicted a camel expedition in 1979. Four Night Parrots were said to have been flushed from a floodplain at Lake Perigundi in South Australia. Unfortunately for the expedition leader, he looked to the left as the birds flew to his right; he never saw them, and later wrote "I shall never forgive myself!"

To add to the frustration, many others have been reported, but these have usually been a fleeting glimpse in unfavourable conditions, and sometimes even by the illumination of car headlights. Unfortunately, most have been inconclusive, even though they may well have involved Night Parrots. Eventually a Night Parrot was conclusively recorded in 1990, when the dried corpse of one was fortuitously found beside a road near Boulia in western Queensland. The discoverers are said to have stopped their car for a toilet break and stumbled onto it!

Several rare species of birds have been recorded in the current Atlas, but unfortunately, as the accompanying blank map shows, the Night Parrot is not one of them.

If you want to discover more information about this species or any other birds that occur in Australia, just follow this link and you can explore BirdLife Australia's Atlas of Australian Birds.

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