Drawing of two night parrots.

The night parrot is one of Australia’s most elusive birds. Fortunately, recent evidence indicates that it still survives.

Image: John Gould

DNA analysis of feathers confirms a recent sighting of the elusive night parrot. One of Australia’s rarest birds, this sighting is the first time a night parrot has been caught on camera.

The last live night parrot was caught more than 100 years ago. Since then, only dead specimens have been collected and they are few and far between. In the recent past, the species was so rarely encountered by humans that some people thought it was extinct.

Evidence of the most recent night parrot sighting was presented to scientists at the Queenland Museum in July by a bird watcher. Photographs, a video of the bird and feathers were unveiled to support the claim.

However, the evidence of the sighting was received with some scepticism. Previously this bird watcher had produced photographs – claiming to show a new species of parrot – but the authenticity of the images was called into doubt after expert analysis.

These new photos have been examined, and scientists in relevant fields have stated they think they are genuine. DNA analysis of the feathers by the Western Australian Museum is further evidence supporting the recent claims.

Although this recent sighting shows the night parrot is not extinct, it is still rare. Estimates vary, but none exceed a few hundred, and there may be as few as 50 of these birds left.

Major threats to the night parrot include introduced predators such as cats and foxes. The location of the sightings has been kept secret, to prevent others from disturbing the night parrot’s habitat.

As night parrots live in a remote area, only come out at night and are extremely shy, it is hard to prove they exist. This means studying these animals and their behaviour is difficult, so it’s hard to know how best to ensure the species’ survival. It also highlights the role of reliable evidence in making scientific claims.

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One response

  1. Jasmine Avatar

    Read more about this elusive bird in the book ‘Night Parrot’ by Penny Olsen, available from CSIRO Publishing:

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