Population boost

Orange-bellied parrot

Orange-bellied parrots are being released into the wild as part of a ground-breaking trial to help boost the endangered species population, thanks to funding from the Andrews Government, the Commonwealth and Moonlit Sanctuary.

Victoria Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio said up to 36 captive-bred orange-bellied parrots are being released at three Victorian sites in a bid to attract migrating birds and give them a better chance of survival. She said, “The orange-bellied parrot is one of the world’s rarest birds and innovative projects like this are vitally important to ensure its survival.”

Birds will be released at the Spit Nature Conservation Reserve near Werribee’s Western Treatment Plant, on the Bellarine Peninsula and on the northern shore of Western Port Bay. This builds on the first four years of the trial which has seen 80 captive-bred birds released.

Each year released birds join up with migrating wild birds. Approximately 180 orange-bellied parrots are expected to head north this autumn from the Tasmanian breeding grounds to the mainland – an increase of more than 50 per cent on the previous year.

Birds released at Lake Connewarre on the Bellarine Peninsula.

D’Ambrosio went on to say, “In the last four years this species has gone from being at imminent risk of extinction, to numbers in the wild being at a ten-year high – and it’s wonderful to be part of the recovery program during this exciting time.”

Wildlife conservation organisation Moonlit Sanctuary, which will release the birds, not only breeds the birds but also leads an innovative pre-release training program to improve success rates. Tiny radio-tracking tags on the birds helps researchers monitor their progress. Zoos Victoria Senior Research Manager Michael Magrath said, “To help keep track of the birds, we’re attaching tiny radio transmitters that allow us to investigate their movement patterns, social behaviour, and habitat use.”

The orange-bellied parrot Mainland Release Trial has contributed to the broader recovery efforts since 2017, when the number of orange-bellied parrots left in the wild was less than 50.

It is supported by $255,000 through the Victorian Government’s Biodiversity On-Ground Action Icon Species Grants program, $200,000 from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, $115,000 from Zoos Victoria and $60,000 from Moonlit Sanctuary.

Moonlit Sanctuary Director Michael Johnson said, “At Moonlit, our breeding and training program is something we’re really proud of, so it’s exciting to see releases like this happening to protect the endangered orange-bellied parrot in the wild.”

Members of the project team.

Peninsula Essence – June 2021