A LEADING orange-bellied parrot expert has warned that the species – which breeds only in Tasmania – could be extinct within one year.
Just 21 parrots have so far returned to Melaleuca in Tasmania’s South-West for the breeding season – a 40 per cent decrease on last year’s returning wild population numbers.
Former long-serving DPIPWE orange-bellied parrot program manager and recovery team member Mark Holdsworth said that with fewer than 30 birds known to survive in the wild, the parrots were ‘‘teetering right on the edge’’ of extinction.
Mr Holdsworth said that among those that had returned, a heavy bias towards males and an ageing population were also causes for concern.
‘‘Unfortunately there’s going to be not enough females to breed this year, so that’s going to be an issue,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s not a very long-lived bird, so some of the birds that have returned are five, six or seven years old – and their average age is only about two and a half – so some of the birds that are there are old-age. It is likely they won’t survive much longer.
‘‘If we have a disease issue or some other natural event – weather can play a big part here, fire is a big risk – or just a bad breeding season ... they’re teetering right on the edge.’’
The species last year suffered from an outbreak of deadly psittacine beak and feather disease, which wiped out most of the nestlings and fledglings for the 2014-15 breeding season.
DPIPWE spokesman Howel Williams said orange-bellied parrots could continue to return to Melaleuca until mid-December, and 21 returned birds was ‘‘in line with the average over recent years’’.
‘‘It is expected this figure will continue to increase,’’ Dr Williams said.
‘‘It is encouraging that birds at Melaleuca are forming pairs and have commenced breeding.’’
Mr Holdsworth said that although possible, it would be unusual for many more birds to arrive back at Melaleuca this year.
‘‘There’s still hope that we can rescue this species, but with such a low return ... that doesn’t bode all that well for the species overall.’’
Eight captive-bred birds were released earlier in November, and a further four are expected to be released in coming days.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.