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Orange-Bellied Parrot

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Orange-bellied parrots - Neophema chrysogaster

Orange-bellied parrots - Neophema chrysogaster

Photo © JJ Harrison / Wikipedia.

Orange-bellied parrots (Neophema chrysogaster) are a species of true parrots endemic to southern Australia. The species is classified as critically endangered.

Orange-bellied parrots are small parrots that measure about 8 inches in length when fully grown. They forage on the ground or in low shrubs. They feed on a variety of seeds (from grasses, saltbush and sea heath) as well as berries.

Adult male orange-bellied parrots have bright green feathers on their back and wings, yellow feathers on their underside and tail, and a patch of orange feathers on their belly. Their primary feathers are bright blue and they have a bar of turquoise feathers above their bill that stretches across their forehead. Adult female orange-bellied parrots and juveniles are not as brightly colored as adult males.

The vocalizations produced by orange-bellied parrots include a soft tinkling song, a rapid chatter call and a shriller alarm call. Their calls can be distinguished by their metallic "buzzy" quality.

When foraging, orange-bellied parrots are often found in pairs or small flocks. They entire population gathers together to migrate.

Orange-bellied parrots are one of only two species of parrots that migrate (the other species is the swift parrot). Both species—the orange-bellied parrot and the swift parrot—breed in Tasmania during the summer months and then migrate across the Bass Straight to mainland Australia where they spend the winter months.

Breeding:

The breeding habitat of orange-bellied parrots include eucalypt forest and rainforest habitats in Tasmania that border moorlands. Breeding season lasts from October to January. Each pair raises only one brood consisting of 4 or 5 white eggs.

Like many species of parrots, orange-bellied parrots nest in hollows. After breeding (and before migrating), orange-bellied parrots leave the forests to forage in open habitats such as saltmarshes, beaches, dunes and shrublands. When the summer comes to a close and cooler weather sets in, orange-bellied parrots migrate to mainland Australia.

Conservation:

Fewer than 50 individuals remain in the wild and the population has been declining rapidly in recent years. Recent estimates cite the wild population as low as 35 individuals. There are approximately 160 birds in captive breeding programs.

Concern for the status of the orange-bellied parrot is so great that numerous organizations have banded together in an effort to save the orange-bellied parrot. The conservation team includes the State Governments of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, the Commonwealth Government, the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union and the World Wildlife Fund.

Conservationists have identified multiple threats that face the orange-bellied parrot. These include fragmentation and degradation of their winter habitat, competition for food and nesting sites with introduced bird species, alteration of breeding habitat and increased pressure from introduced predators. Since their population is so small, orange-bellied parrots are susceptible to decline as a result of random events such as storms and disease.

In May 2011, ten orange-bellied parrots were captured from the wild and taken to Healesville Sanctuary, a zoo in Victoria, Australia that specializes in breeding native Australian wildlife in captivity. There, the ten newly-captured orange-bellied parrots will be placed with 80 others already at the sanctuary in an effort to bolster the genetic diversity in the captive population.

Classification:

Orange-bellied parrots are one of six species of grass parrots (Neophema), a group of true parrots endemic to Australia. Other grass parrots include the blue-winged parrot, elegant parrot, rock parrot, turquoise parrot, Bourke's parrot and scarlet-chested parrot.

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