Species name: Swift parrot (Lathamus discolor)
Description: A small bird, just 25 centimeters long, with bright features and a particularly showy attitude.
Where found: Small portions of Tasmania. The birds also migrate to mainland Australia after their breeding season. Their migration can take them as much as 5,000 kilometers—more than any other parrot species.
Population: Currently estimated at 1,000 pairs or fewer, but that count is a few years old.
Major threats: Swift parrots face a one-two punch of deforestation and predation. The logging industry has already eliminated much of the birds’ traditional habitat. The parrots still fly to those areas, but without large trees they become vulnerable to predators, specifically an arboreal, nocturnal possum called the sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps). Sugar gliders didn’t live on Tasmania until humans brought them there in 1835. Research published this past week suggests that sugar gliders are eating so many swift parrots that the birds’ population will halve every four years and could be virtually gone 16 years from now.
Oddly enough, the deforestation that threatens the birds similarly threatens the very logging industry that’s causing the problem. Swift parrots are one of the major pollinators for valuable Tasmanian blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) and black gum (E. ovata) trees. Without the birds, the trees may soon fade away as well.
Notable conservation programs: The Nature Conservation Trust helps protect some of the parrot’s habitat.
Multimedia: Here’s a mini-documentary from 2008, produced by New South Wales National Parks:
Photo by Dejan Stojanovic