Night Parrot in the Northern Territory

An SM3 autonomous recording unit in action. ©Mark Carter 2017 

An SM3 autonomous recording unit in action. ©Mark Carter 2017 

Historic find and research effort funded by Birding and Wildlife tours

In early 2017 myself (Mark Carter) and fellow zoologist/bird guide Chris Watson recorded a nocturnal bird call which was later identified as probably being made by a Night Parrot Pezoporus occidentalis. Since then multiple observers have heard further calls at the site and a program of monitoring using automated acoustic recorders has begun.  This species was once common in Central Australia but went through apparent dramatic decline in the twentieth century. The status of the bird in the NT is unknown but its habitat has been profoundly altered across much of its former range so it is likely the Night Parrots surviving in the NT could be in trouble. Research is urgently required to learn more.

I am an experienced bioacoustic fieldworker with a long background in looking for the bird (more news on that later) so I am well placed to get the NT Night Parrot effort underway. There is a small team of us working on the bird as best we can with the resources we can pool. Other Night Parrot researchers around Australia are being very generous with their knowledge- it is great to know there are so many good skilled people out there who care for the species. Personally I have invested significant time, funds and equipment to this early research effort all paid for one way or another by my wildlife tour enterprise. If anyone would like to assist me in this you are very welcome but I'm not asking for donations- instead the best way to help is to book on one of my tours. To be clear let me say there is currently no prospect of my operating tours to this site for this species.

It is still very early days and there is a huge amount to learn about this bird. There are early indications that the Night Parrot may be exceptionally prone to human disturbance. In any event the only way that clear sightings or photographs off the bird are possible are through the use of call playback and through flushing roosting birds. The impact of these activities on the bird are unknown therefore we will not be undertaking either approach at the site we have found in the NT. Intentionally interfering with the bird in this way in the NT without an explicit permit is an offence under NT legislation and could result in a substantial fine or even imprisonment so DON'T DO IT. Using call playback to find Night Parrots is rumoured to be an inconsistent method of detecting the bird so there appears to be little excuse for it. There are now some representative calls of the species publicly available to allow observers/listeners to know what calls to be alert to. These, along with further information on habitat and effective ethical search methods are at the excellent Night Parrot Recovery Team website.

Lastly, all too often wildlife tourism is dismissed by some as frivolous, insignificant or even harmful to wildlife conservation. I firmly believe that this approach is demonstrably wrong. Many wildlife guides have field skills which rival or even surpass those of specialist researchers. Tourism enterprises like mine can channel valuable resources into conservation- in an era of minuscule and shrinking public funding for conservation this cannot be snubbed. Ultimately wildlife tourism relies entirely on a healthy ecosystem and flourishing wildlife so we have every incentive to care for and advocate on behalf of our subjects while we create income and employment. Perhaps one day it will be possible for tours to operate in a way that allow ordinary people to experience the Night Parrot for themselves without impacting on the birds but there is a lot of important work to be done first.

Mark Carter

8th June 2017