New research shows one of the world’s rarest birds, the orange-bellied parrot,remains at severe risk of extinction despite decades of intensive conservationwork in their Tasmanian breeding range.

Although conservation efforts have increased the breeding success of parrotsin the wild, 80 per cent of juveniles born in their sole breeding ground inTasmania die on migration and over winter.

Researchers at The Australian National University used data collected by theTasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment tostudy survival of orange-bellied parrots over 22 years.

“Our results are very worrying,” lead author Dr Dejan Stojanovic said.

“We found that over time, survival of juvenile parrots has dropped from 51 percent in 1995 to only 20 per cent in recent years.”

Dr Shannon Troy, study co-author and lead wildlife biologist for the DPIPWEOrange-bellied Parrot Tasmanian Program said: “Although more orange-belliedparrots are born into the wild as a result of recovery efforts in Tasmania,these benefits are reduced by threats during migration and winter that areunidentified and unaddressed.”

There is uncertainty about what threats the parrots face during migration andwinter.

It is suspected the arduous flight over the Bass Strait between Tasmania andthe Australian mainland takes a severe toll on inexperienced juveniles ontheir first migration. This is exacerbated by the small population sizereducing flock size. Survivors then face the challenge of finding suitablehabitat in Victoria to endure winter.

“Migratory animals need protection from multiple different threats atdifferent times and places,” Dr Stojanovic said.

“Unfortunately the main threats to this species are the most difficult toidentify and fix, and our study shows that what’s been done to date hasn’tcorrected the declining survival of juvenile orange-bellied parrots.”

Orange-bellied parrots are critically endangered, which is the last stepbefore extinction. In 2016, low juvenile survival rates resulted in only threewild females returning alive to the breeding grounds, representing the lowestpoint of a decades-long decline.

This has improved in recent years, with 23 returns including 13 females in2019, but the population size remains perilously small.

Recently the Tasmanian Government invested in expanding their capacity tobreed parrots in captivity by constructing a new breeding center near Hobart.

“Determining why birds are failing to survive migration and winter is part ofthe solution to preventing extinction, which may be unavoidable over the longterm if these issues cannot be addressed,” Dr Troy said.

“This study shows that new, targeted conservation efforts are needed toidentify and address threats on migration and the mainland.”

The worrying results of this study highlight the perilous state of Australia’sthreatened species.

“Australia has one of the worst extinction rates in the world, and our studyshows that correcting decades of population decline of orange-bellied parrotsis extremely difficult, and despite our best efforts, may not be successful,”Dr Stojanovic said.

“We hope our study encourages others to think holistically about the way thatwe deploy conservation efforts for migratory species, so that good work at onetime and place isn’t undone when animals migrate away.”

Since the data for this study was collected, new orange-bellied parrotmanagement approaches have been trialled on the Australian mainland.

The research has been published in Emu: Austral Ornithology

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