Orange-bellied Parrot

Neophema chrysogaster

CONSERVATION STATUS

Critically Endangered

Orange-bellied Parrots (OBPs) are one of only three migratory parrots in the world. They breed in south-west Tasmania during spring and summer, then migrate to the southeast coast of mainland Australia where they spend the autumn and winter in Victoria and South Australia. The species is classified as Critically Endangered. At the start of the 2017/18 breeding season, the wild population numbered less than 20 adults. In the last two years however the number of OBPs returning to Tasmania has increased, and there is new optimism for their future. At the start of the 2020/21 breeding season, the returning population reached 51 individuals, and at the end of the breeding season the Tasmanian Orange-bellied Parrot Program counted a total of 192 OBPs at Melaleuca prior to their annual migration to the mainland.

Moonlit Sanctuary is dedicated to the recovery of OBPs. In 2016 we constructed a breeding facility capable of holding up to 20 pairs with the support of Zoos Victoria and The Avicultural Society of Australia. Since 2014, we have bred over 230 OBPs and provided over 140 OBPs for release on Tasmania and the mainland.

The Sanctuary is situated right next to Western Port Bay, which supports wild OBP wintering habitat with large areas of saltmarsh vegetation. Within Western Port Bay OBPs have been recorded on the northern shoreline and on French and Philip Island. In 2020 and 2021 Moonlit Sanctuary released captive-bred OBPs in Western Port Bay as part of the OBP Mainland Release Trial (delivered by DELWP, Zoos Victoria and Moonlit Sanctuary). In 2021 a wild-bred natural migrant OBP was observed foraging on saltmarsh right alongside three of the released birds. This was a very exciting observation because the last time an OBP was seen in the area was in 1984. It is therefore a significant event for the conservation of the species for a wild bird to have reoccupied this part of their distribution.

In addition to captive breeding and release, Moonlit Sanctuary has a “ranching” aviary capable of holding up to 40 wild OBPs. Each year a proportion of the wild OBP population doesn’t survive the winter migration period, so when required the ranching facility holds genetically-valuable wild birds over this time to increase their annual survival. They are then released back into the wild in the breeding grounds the following spring to boost the population of OBPs that have naturally migrated back to the breeding grounds and increase wild reproductive output.

Orange-bellied parrots are seen almost exclusively in coastal and sub-coastal areas, preferring peninsulas and islands. Saltmarshes, littoral (shore) heathlands and low scrublands are preferred habitats as well as grassy areas, which can include golf courses. They breed in forests on the west coast of Tasmania dominated by Smithton Peppermints, Eucalyptus nitida, but tend to avoid extensive tracts of temperate rainforest.

WHAT THEY EAT

The orange-bellied parrot feeds on the ground or on low-growing shrubs, with food consisting of seeds, fruits, flowers and berries of sedges, herbaceous plants and plants that grow in salty or alkaline conditions such as saltmarshes.

BREEDING

The orange-bellied parrot nests in tree-hollows, both knot-holes in trunks and holes in dead branches, but usually not in dead trees. The female cleans out the nest hollow then lays the eggs about two days apart. She incubates the eggs and broods the nestlings, while being fed by the male every two to three hours. The male may feed up to 5 km away from the nest site. When the nestlings are about ten days old, the female leaves them during the day and helps the male in feeding them. The juvenile birds leave the nest four to five weeks after hatching and may be fed by their parents before becoming independent. Juveniles form small foraging flocks and depart for the mainland about a month later than the adults.