One of the world’s most endangered birds faces an uncertain future this month after massive bushfires in Australia destroyed at least 90 percent of the species’ habitat.
Only about 140 western ground parrots (Pezoporus flaviventris) remained before the fires. The birds—one of just five ground-dwelling parrot species on the planet—depend on dense vegetation for their nests. Many of their known nesting sites were destroyed in fires that ripped through the region around Cape Arid National Park last month. The bushfires destroyed 30,000 acres of crops, killed four people, and burned 15,000 livestock animals to death.
Officials for Western Australia’s Department of Parks and Wildlife told the Australian Broadcasting Company that two “pockets” of the birds’ habitat did not burn and that automated recording devices indicate that an unknown number of the birds remain alive in those sections. Two birds—a male and a female—were rescued before fires completely overran the park and are now recovering at Perth Zoo, which already has five other parrots in their collection.
The fires also reportedly took a toll on the local population of another critically endangered species, a mouse-like kangaroo called the Gilbert's potoroo (Potorous gilbertii).
Fire is a normal part of the ground parrot’s ecosystem, although the birds prefer areas that have not been burned for at least 40 years and which have a high level of low-growing shrubs. The birds can fly, but they spend most of their time on the ground, so it seems unlikely that they could have escaped the flames that hit their nests.
Little is known about this species’ breeding requirements, but the conservation organization Friends of the Western Ground Parrot reports that a captive breeding program is undergoing a trial at Pert Zoo. The organization hopes to raise $100,000 to help save the species from extinction.
Photo by Brent Barrett. Used under Creative Commons license