The Orange-bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) is a small broad-tailed parrot endemic to Australia.
The adult male is distinguished by its bright grass-green upperparts, yellow underparts and orange belly patch. The adult female and juvenile are duller green in colour. All birds have a blue frontal band and blue outer wing feathers. The diet consists of seeds and berries of small coastal grasses and shrubs.
The Orange-bellied Parrot breeds in Tasmania and winters in coastal grasslands on southern mainland Australia. With an estimated wild population of around 180 birds, it is regarded as a critically endangered species.
Taxonomy and naming
The specific name, chrysogaster, was given by ornithologist John Latham in 1790 and means 'golden belly'. It has previously been known as the Orange-breasted Parrot - a name given to the Orange-bellied Parrot in 1926 by the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union or RAOU (now known as Birds Australia) when the word 'belly' was considered inelegant.
It is a small parrot around 20 cm (8 in) long; the adult male has bright green upperparts, and yellow below with a prominent, two-toned blue frontal band, a green-blue uppertail with yellow sides, and an orange patch on its belly. The under wing-coverts and flight feathers are dark blue, with paler blue median wing-coverts. Its iris is dark brown and beak and feet greyish. The adult female is a duller green with a paler blue frontal band. The juvenile is a duller green colour.
The Orange-bellied parrot utters soft tinkling notes, as well as a distinctive rapidly repeated chittering alarm call unlike that of other members of the genus. The alarm call is a quickly repeated tzeet.
Distribution and habitat
Orange-bellied Parrots only breed in South West Tasmania. The entire population migrates over Bass Strait to spend the winter on the coast of south-eastern Australia. These few sites contain their favoured saltmarsh habitat, and includes sites in or close to Port Phillip such as Werribee Sewage Farm, the shores of Swan Bay, Swan Island, Lake Connewarre State Wildlife Reserve, Lake Victoria and Mud Islands, as well as French Island in Western Port.
The Orange-bellied Parrot is found in pairs or small flocks, and generally remain on the ground or in low foliage searching for food. Their diet consists of seeds of species such as the grass Poa biliarderi, saltbush (Atriplex cinerea), Suaeda maritima and sea heath (Frankenia pauciflora), as well as berries, such as those of Coprosma. They have also been reported eating kelp.
Breeding season is October to January with one brood raised. The nest is a hollow in a tree, less than 5 m (16 ft) above the ground. Four or five white eggs are laid measuring 20 mm x 23 mm.
This species has a very small population and although numbers are stable or increasing at one intensively-managed breeding site in Tasmania, numbers continue to decline at outlying sites, and it is assumed to be declining overall. It is therefore listed on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered. The current population is estimated at 180.
It is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
- In 2007, its status was upgraded from endangered to critically endangered on the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
- The 2000 Action Plan for Australian Birds lists it as critically endangered (Garnett and Crowley 2000).
- In a report on threatened and extinct birds in Australia in 1992, it was listed as endangered (Garnett 1992).
- In a report on threatened birds in Australia in 1990, it was listed as endangered (Brouwer and Garnett 1990).
The Orange-bellied Parrot has been recorded from four states within Australia; Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. Its conservation status varies from state to state within Australia. For example:
- The Orange-bellied Parrot is listed as threatened on the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988). Under this Act, an Action Statement for the recovery and future management of this species has been prepared.
- On the 2007 advisory list of threatened vertebrate fauna in Victoria, the Orange-bellied Parrot is listed as critically endangered.
The 2000 Action Plan for Australian Birds identifies the following potential threats to the Orange-bellied Parrot:
- Fragmentation and degradation of over-wintering habitat
- Competition with introduced seed-eaters
- Abandonment of former breeding habitat due to altered fire regime and competition for hollows (with the introduced Common Starling)
- Random events due to the small size of the population
- Disorientation from brightly-lit fishing boats (during the migrations across Bass Strait)
- Introduced predators
- Disease (such as Psittacine Circoviral Disease)
Other identified potential threats include:
- Lack of safety in numbers for a small bird attractive to avian predators (Brouwer and Garnett 1990)
- Historically was trapped for aviculture (Garnett 1992)
Conflict with development
The Woolnorth windfarm on Tasmania's North-West coast is operating with a license to kill up to six Orange-bellied Parrots every two years. In 2001, then Australian federal environment minister Robert Hill approved the wind farm, along the main migratory flight path for the parrot, with several conditions to protect migrating birds. To date no Orange-bellied Parrots have been found to collide with the turbines.
The Orange-bellied Parrot earned the wrath of Victorian premier Jeff Kennett in the 1990s. A proposed relocation of the Coode Island Chemical storage facility to a location near Point Wilson was jeopardised by the potential impacts upon Orange-bellied Parrot habitat. Mr Kennett famously described this species as a 'trumped-up corella'. This moniker was later adopted as the title for the Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Teams newsletter.
In 2006, the potential threats to the Orange-bellied Parrot were cited as the key reason for Commonwealth Minister rejecting the proposal to build the Bald Hills Wind Farm in eastern Victoria. This decision was later reversed, and the company was provided with approval to proceed (under certain conditions). The intense media scrutiny at this time placed the Orange-bellied Parrot temporarily into the spotlight. In the subsequent months, additional funding was provided for the parrots recovery, and its status under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 was raised from endangered to critically endangered.