Thursday, 21 June 2012

Feral cats a problem for rare ground parrot

HALTING THE DECLINE of one of Australia's most threatened birds is proving difficult, say researchers in south-western Australia.
Recent tracking of feral cats - funded by a generous $19,000 donation from the Australian Geographic  Society - may help explain why only 100 western ground parrots (Pezoporus wallicus flaviventris) are believed to remain in the wild.
Ecologist Sarah Comer says cats in the wild are, quite literally, eating into the parrot populations. "They are the ultimate hunting machine," she says.
Sarah, who is coordinating a ground parrot recovery team in the WA Department of Environment and Conservation, says Australian Geographic's donation has enabled the team to collar feral cats and lay baits at Cape Arid National Park, 120km east of Esperance.
"We were surprised how many cats are out there. We collared 20 cats with GPS tags that allow us to follow their movements and see how effective our baits are in ultimately removing cats from the landscape."

Western ground parrot highly vulnerable to extinction

Two areas in Western Australia's coastal southwest are the last known refuge of this Endangered bird: Cape Arid and Fitzgerald River national parks. With numbers reduced to such small known populations, this mottled green and black parrot remains highly vulnerable to being wiped out by events like bushfire.

Recent monitoring of western ground parrots' main haunts has recorded fewer bird calls than five years ago. The parrots call at dusk as they fly back to their night roosts; they can be heard clearly after other bird species have ceased tweeting.
"In some places there used to be a cacophony of parrots, and every now and then you could see them against the dimming light in the sky," says Sarah. "More often, you'd just hear them, up to 300 to 400 metres away."
The drop in recorded calls in several key locations is puzzling, she says. "The parrots have always been fairly sedentary, and a few years ago you would have heard a lot of birds, so we're very worried."
Her colleague Dr Allan Burbidge, a senior DEC researcher, says that a research team, in 2000, surveyed the same part of Fitzgerald River National Park and heard at least 90 calls on some nights. 
"There were times when, in such areas, you might even flush a bird out walking back to your vehicle," he says. "But not now."

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