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Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park provides a world-first training regime for Orange-bellied Parrots

Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park recently released 13 captive-bred Orange-bellied Parrots near Westernport Bay, southeast of Melbourne. This is the first time the parrots have ever been released in this area and involved a world-first training regime for these critically endangered parrots.

A large purpose-built release aviary was home to the flock of OBPs for two months before their release, where the birds received their pre-release training. The training aimed to instill site-fidelity through daily re-call training to their specially-designed food station.

“The parrots responded extremely well to the training whilst in the aviary,” said Lisa Tuthill, Moonlit Sanctuary’s Life Sciences Manager. “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,” added Lisa, “however quite quickly, the parrots learned 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 prior to the release by Moonlit Sanctuary and Zoos Victoria staff. GPS solar-powered satellite tags were fitted to some of the parrots, while others were fitted with VHF transmitter tags. These devices are now allowing the birds’ whereabouts to be followed closely.

Since their release, several of the parrots have been observed feeding on saltmarsh such as Beaded Glasswort, roosting in Mangroves, and also interacting with local Blue-winged Parrots.

“The Orange-bellied Parrots that have been observed daily since the release are using the landscape just as we had hoped,” said Ashley Herrod, Moonlit Sanctuary’s Avian Threatened Species Coordinator. “We are excited at the prospect of naturally-migrating parrots arriving in Western Port Bay and joining up with the release birds, which is one of the main aims of the broader project,” he said, “and we are on the lookout every day we are monitoring them!”

Moonlit Sanctuary Director, Michael Johnson, said the release was only possible thanks to two environmentally-dedicated landowners who allowed Moonlit Sanctuary to build the aviary on their property adjacent to the parrot’s saltmarsh habitat.

“This release is part of Moonlit Sanctuary’s commitment to the recovery of Orange-bellied Parrots in the wild, including breeding over 180 birds since 2013, and management of the National Captive Program,” he added.

Orange-bellied Parrots are one of only three migratory parrot species in the world and are Critically Endangered with fewer than 50 individuals returning annually to breed in Tasmania over recent years. The release is part of the four-year Orange-bellied Parrot Mainland Release Trial, which aims to establish OBPs in suitable habitat in Victoria and attract naturally-migrating OBPs to these sites. It is a joint project led by DELWP and Zoos Victoria.