Most bird experts thought that it had all but gone extinct in the 1960s, with only a handful of rare sightings – including the remains of two dead individuals 25 years ago and some not uncontroversial photos – in the last hundred years. But researchers in Queensland, Australia, recently managed to find the birding holy grail, having managed not only to capture, but also to tag a wild night parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis).
It was in 2013 that interest was piqued when, after spending 15 years searching, an ornithologist revealed a 17 second film of a night parrot – the first ever of a live individual – on a remote ranch in Queensland, though he refused to reveal the exact location. Suspected of forging previous photos of rare birds, doubt was cast on the authenticity of this footage, but either way, it was enough for Dr Steve Murphy to be commissioned to investigate further.
Following 18 long months, and collecting a staggering 15,000 hours of camera trap footage, Murphy finally netted one of the birds along with his colleague Rachel Barr. “When we had the bird … it was terrible to be honest … there was an enormous responsibility, being the first people to touch one,” Dr Murphy told The Australian. “But since then we have looked at each other and gone: ‘Wow, we really did it!’”
After collecting a DNA sample, the researchers were able to attach a transmitter to its back, to hopefully learn something – anything – about the elusive bird’s habits. Since the tagging, the bird has only been spotted once more, and Murphy thinks it likely that the tag has since fallen off, but not before they collected some data on its movements. The DNA sample taken also adds to the mystery, as the researchers were unable to determine if the parrot they caught was male or female.
The tracking of the nocturnal bird revealed that it traveled up to 8 kilometers (4 miles) a night in search of food, but always returned to the same nesting site. Due to the likely threat of not only poaching, but also well-meaning ornithologists hoping to get a glimpse of the rare parrot, the exact location has been kept under wraps. Now that at least one location for the night parrot has been confirmed beyond doubt, the wheels are in motion to get the area protected, while Dr Murphy plans on returning to see if he can net and tag any more.
Center image: An artist's drawing of the night parrot, thought to have been extinct for the last 100 years. Credit: Martin Thompson/Flyingidiot/Wikimedia Commons.