Western Ground Parrot nest discovered in Cape Arid

A western ground parrot in captivity. Photo: Jennene Riggs.
A western ground parrot in captivity. Photo: Jennene Riggs.

A nest of the western ground parrot was discovered for the first time in more than 100 years in Cape Arid National Park.

Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions principle research scientist Allan Burbidge said the department had monitored the Western Ground Parrot population and managed known threats.

“This is the first time a nest has been found in the wild,” he said. 

“The species formerly occurred along the south coast from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Arid, and in a few near-coastal areas south of Geraldton. 

“It is now confined to heathlands in Cape Arid National Park and the adjacent Nuytsland Nature Reserve.”

A small number of Western Ground Parrots are in Perth Zoo, the only birds of the species in captivity.

The discovery was made by a department research team in November 2018.

Mr Burbidge said the main threat to the parrot was introduced predators and bushfires.

A fire started by lightning on January 13, 2019 went on to burn through important parts of the parrot’s habitat.

Parks and Wildlife Services said the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions would evaluate the impact of the fire on the parrot once the fire was contained.

Before the fire, Mr Burbidge said there were estimated to be less than 140 western ground parrots in the wild.

“[That] is a critically low number, making the species highly susceptible to events like extensive bushfires,” he said.

“Nests are very difficult to find, and this is the first one known to have been found for about 100 years.”

He said the department would continue to manage the species, with a focus on preventing and mitigating bushfires and controlling feral predators.

“DBCA, with help from the Friends of the Western Ground Parrot, monitor the occurrence and abundance of the species through listening surveys, utilising both human observers and automatic sound recorders,” he said. 

“Recent field work in November last year indicated that there was a good proportion of newly fledged birds in the population, suggesting that the latest breeding season was successful.

“Feathers found at the nest site were identified with certainty by members of the recovery team as feathers of a western ground parrot.”

Mr Burbidge said DNA was collected from the feathers in an attempt to identify the predator, but that analysis was inconclusive.

Filmmaker Jennene Riggs spent three years with the recovery team for her documentary on the bird, Secrets at Sunrise.

“When I first decided to undertake the project I thought I would definitely have opportunities to film them in the wild,” she said.

“Three years of filming with the recovery project and going out doing the survey and monitoring work with them, I didn't ever see one in the wild.

“That is a bit of an indication that of how extremely rare they are.”

Mrs Riggs said she was excited to learn of the discovered nest as she had never even seen feathers in the wild.

”We knew they were there because we could hear them, but they don’t leave any indication that they are around other than their calling,” she said. 

Mrs Riggs said the Friends of the Western Ground Parrot, who work to preserve the species, were an immense help during her film-making.

She said she was concerned the fire had caused further damage to the species.

“They are known to fly but they’re not strong flyers,” she said.

“They could fly to get out of the way, but there are young ones in the nest who aren't as experienced.

“It’s also their habitat, they are very dependent on flowering and plant seeds.”