Parrots trained to home-in for their survival


Orange-bellied parrots are one of just three migratory parrot species in the world, with fewer than 50 individuals being recorded in recent years as returning annually to breed in Tasmania.

THIRTEEN captive-bred orange-bellied parrots have been released in Western Port.

This is the first time the critically endangered parrots have been released in the area and followed a two-month “training regime” in a large aviary.

The training by Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park staff aimed to instil site-fidelity by daily calling the birds to a specially designed food station.

The Pearcedale sanctuary’s director Michael Johnson said the release was made possible thanks to two environmentally dedicated landowners who allowed the aviary to be built on their property next to the parrot’s saltmarsh habitat.

The release was part of the sanctuary’s commitment to the recovery of orange-bellied parrots in the wild, including breeding more than 180 birds since 2013.

“The parrots responded extremely well to the training while in the aviary,” the Pearcedale sanctuary’s life sciences manager Lisa Tuthill said. “We consulted several international and local animal behaviourists to tailor a program for the parrots and we are thrilled with how the pre-release training progressed.”

The time spent in the release aviary also gave the parrots exposure to environmental elements such as wind and rain, and awareness of birds of prey flying overhead, calling and perching in trees.

“Initially, the parrots reacted with confused and random flight when a bird of prey such as a goshawk approached the aviary,” Ms Tuthill said. “However, quite quickly, the parrots learnt to camouflage themselves on the grass in the aviary whenever a bird of prey appeared, so the training will help them survive better in the wild.”

Tracking devices were fitted to selected birds from the group their release by staff from the sanctuary and Zoos Victoria. The devices included GPS solar-powered satellite tags VHF transmitter tags.

Since their release, some of the parrots have been seen feeding on saltmarsh such as beaded glasswort, roosting in mangroves and also interacting with blue-winged parrots.

“The orange-bellied parrots that have been observed daily since the release are using the landscape just as we had hoped,” the sanctuary’s avian threatened species coordinator Ashley Herrod said. “We are excited at the prospect of naturally-migrating parrots arriving in Western Port and joining up with the released birds, which is one of the main aims of the broader project.”

The four-year orange-bellied parrot mainland release trial aims to establish the parrots in suitable habitat in Victoria and attract naturally migrating orange-bellied parrots to these sites. It is a joint project led by DELWP and Zoos Victoria.

First published in the Western Port News – 27 May 2020


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