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Kiwirrkurra rangers have recorded the song of the elusive night parrot

Joseph Guenzler -

Indigenous rangers in a remote Western Australia area have successfully recorded the call of the elusive night parrot, an achievement considered the "holy grail" in ornithology (the study of birds).

The bird, deemed extremely secretive, was rediscovered in 2013, over a century since its last sighting.

Researchers now identify approximately twelve locations nationwide where the night parrot is documented to inhabit.

The Kiwirrkurra ranger team, situated 700 kilometres west of Alice Springs in the Gibson Desert, recently captured the bird's call in a remote area.

The team, having successfully recorded the night parrot's call in a remote Gibson Desert area, opts to keep the precise location confidential.

This decision aligns with ongoing efforts to safeguard the critically endangered bird.

With this achievement, Kiwirrkurra becomes the fifth Indigenous ranger team in the country to detect the elusive night parrot.

Pintupi woman and Kiwirrkurra traditional owner, Nolia Yurrkultji Ward, told the ABC it was the first time she heard the night parrot's call since childhood.

"I feel really happy, really excited," she said.

Kiwirrkurra rangers strategically placed five sound meters in potential night parrot habitats, recording for over a month.

A man in the desert

Spotting the elusive night parrot is a rare occurrence, according to expert Nick Leseberg. (Image: ABC/Andrew Dawson)

University of Queensland's night parrot expert, Nick Leseberg, highlighted the significance of uncovering the bird's "predictable calling sequence."

"Every time we get a new dot on the map, that extends the range of the night parrot just a little bit further. It's critical," he told the ABC.

Dr Leseberg revealed that the "mysterious" night parrots nest in spinifex hummocks during the day, emerging only at night.

Unfortunately, their habitat, particularly spinifex untouched by fire for an extended period, faces threats in recent decades.

Factors such as cats and inappropriate fires over the last 200 years have significantly diminished suitable habitat for these elusive birds.

Regarding the precise number of remaining night parrots, Dr Leseberg described it as the "million-dollar question," estimating the population to be likely "a few hundred."

Since 2016, Dr Leseberg has been honing detection methods for the night parrot, sharing his expertise with Indigenous ranger groups, including Kiwirrkurra.

This collaboration has resulted in the discovery of the species at numerous new sites, especially in central Western Australia.

Notably, around half of the sites identified in the past decade can be credited to the efforts of Indigenous ranger teams.

A group stands together against a bush

Kiwirrkurra ranger coordinators Dannika and Ed Blackwood with traditional owner Nolia Yurrkultji Ward and daughter Lydia. (Image: ABC/Xavier Martin)

In her childhood on country, Ms Ward and her siblings were told by their mother to sleep upon hearing the night parrot's song, fearing it was a "mamu" or evil spirit.

For a long while, Ms Ward did not hear the night parrot's call until now.

Kiwirrkurra ranger Conway Gibson expressed excitement at hearing the bird's call for the first time.

Following the discovery, the ranger team is committed to safeguarding the night parrot from feral animals and bushfires.

"They're a rare bird that hasn't been seen for a while. Back in old days they'd probably see it," he said.

"That's why we're trying to look after them, get more numbers in coming years."

The recent finding has added to Kiwirrkurra rangers' conservation efforts, now focused on safeguarding four endangered species: the princess parrot, ninu (bilby), tjalapa (great desert skink), and the elusive night parrot.

"It made me really excited that the night parrot still exists there, because it means we're doing lots of good work," Kiwirrkurra ranger coordinator Ed Blackwood said.

"If that's there, it means lots of other animals can live and be happy in that same area."


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