Third female Orange-Bellied Parrot returns as federal Threatened Species Commissioner notes critical stage

A third female wild orange-bellied parrot has been reported at Melaleuca in the state’s South, nearing the end of the migration season.

The critically endangered parrot has been the focus of increasing concern as few females returned this season, but eggs are being laid in nestboxes with teams on the ground monitoring the bird’s progress.

Only 16 birds to date have returned from their annual migration to Victoria, including one captive-bred.

A statement posted by the Orange Bellied Parrot Tasmanian Program on social media said the third female, a juvenile born in March this year, had been spotted.

However the female, named RED RED Z for the identification bands on her legs, disappeared for nine months and was not identified on the mainland or in Tasmania. 

The program’s statement said RED RED Z was seen with “unusual” yellow flecked feathers across her back and wings. It’s not known what has caused the unusual colouring, whether disease or genetic issues.

“A member of the Orange-bellied Parrot Tasmanian Program has flown to Melaleuca to examine RED RED Z to assess her body condition, weight and general health,” the statement said.

Federal Threatened Species Commissioner Sebastian Lang said the recovery of the orange-bellied parrot was “a priority” for the federal government. 

“We continue to closely monitor the status of the orange-bellied parrot via the recovery team and receive regular updates from researchers and conservation practitioners in the field,” he said.

“This breeding season, we have received updates on the number of wild birds returning to Tasmania, the sex ratio of the population and recovery actions undertaken such as boosting the breeding population through the releases of captive-bred birds.”

The Commissioner said the parrot is one of 20 birds targeted for improved recovery by 2020, with the federal government contributing more than $1.1 million for projects supporting the parrots.

“This year we commissioned a review, led by Birdlife Australia, of orange-bellied parrot recovery projects in order to inform future recovery investment. Results of the review will be available in early 2018,” he said.

An orange-bellied parrot expert and former manager of the OBP Tasmanian program, Mark Holdsworth, recently suggested juvenile birds from this season should be “ranched”, or kept in aviaries throughout the next migration season to protect them from the high-risk migration until fully mature.

Mr Holdsworth said the fate of the parrots was at a critical stage as numbers of returning birds have declined three years in a row.

Parks Minister Elise Archer said earlier this week that the $300,000 program was continuing to work well toward the bird’s recovery, and the state government had invested more than $2 million in new infrastructure for the bird’s recovery.