21 April 2021

Critically Endangered Orange-bellied Parrots Take Flight

Orange-bellied parrots will be released into the wild as part of a ground-breaking trial that’s helping boost the population of the critically endangered species.

The orange-bellied parrot is a migratory bird, and each year spends the spring and summer in Tasmania before flying north to settle in coastal Victoria and South Australia for the autumn and winter.

Over the coming days, up to 36 captive-bred orange-bellied parrots will be released into ideal habitat at three Victorian sites in a bid to attract migrating birds and give them a better chance of survival.

Birds will be released at the Spit Nature Conservation Reserve near Werribee’s Western Treatment Plant, Lake Connewarre on the Bellarine Peninsula and on private property near North Western Port in Western Port Bay.

This builds on the first four years of the trial which has seen 80 captive-bred birds released into the wild.

The release of birds at Western Port Bay will be undertaken by wildlife conservation organisation Moonlit Sanctuary who, in addition to breeding birds for this release site, are also leading an innovative pre-release training program to improve success rates.

Moonlit Sanctuary Director, Michael Johnson, said,

“At Moonlit, our breeding and training program is something we’re really proud of, so it’s exciting to see releases like this happening to protect the endangered orange-bellied parrot in the wild.”

Each year released birds join up with wild birds making the migration, and this autumn approximately 180 orange-bellied parrots are expected to head north from the Tasmanian breeding grounds to the mainland – an increase of more than 50 per cent on the previous year.

Tiny radio-tracking tags on the birds help researchers monitor their progress, by providing information on how the birds are using habitat at the release sites.

This year, Zoos Victoria is also trialling a new tracking method that includes setting up six-metre-tall fixed-receiver stations at Lake Connewarre to provide regular data.

The Orange-bellied Parrot Mainland Release Trial joined the broader recovery efforts in 2017, when the number of Orange-bellied Parrots left in the wild was less than 50.

The trial is being delivered by DELWP and Zoos Victoria through the Victorian Government’s Icon Species Program, the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program as well as with funding and support from Moonlit Sanctuary.

The release groups include captive-bred birds sourced from Moonlit Sanctuary, Werribee Open Range Zoo, Adelaide Zoo, Priam Psittaculture Centre and the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. BirdLife Australia, Melbourne Water, Parks Victoria and private landholders are assisting in preparing the release sites and monitoring the birds.

Critically endangered orange-bellied parrot at Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Park