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Migrating Parrots – Two Long-Distance Travelers from Australia

Swift ParrotRight now, as autumn progresses in the north and spring arrives in the south, billions of birds embark on epic migrations that take them to breeding and wintering grounds.  The journeys of many species, such as the pole-to-pole trip of the Arctic Tern, are well-known to bird enthusiasts.  We don’t often think of parrots as migrants, yet many do undertake very impressive seasonal trips.  Today I’ll highlight 2 little-known migratory rarities, the Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor) and the Orange-Bellied Grass Parakeet (Neophema chrysogaster).

Perilous Travels

The journeys of Australia’s only migratory parrots do not approach in length those of many other birds, but they are fraught with danger for other reasons.  Both species are rare, and rely upon disappearing habitats and very unique foods; like all migrants, protection is needed at both their Australian winter and Tasmanian summer ranges, and along their migration routes. 

The Swift Parrot

Sporting a bright red tail and a neon-green body, the 9-inch-long Swift Parrot breeds in Tasmania.  The tree hollows it requires are a rare resource for which larger birds also compete.  Furthermore, the Swift parrot must find hollows that are within daily flying distance of its primary food – the blossoms of the Tasmanian Blue Gum Tree and the insects associated with them.  To complicate matters, this tree blooms sporadically and in different locations, rather than all at once as do most others.  In some years the parrots must travel far and wide in search of food…this places them at risk of predation and starvation, and reduces nesting success.

The Swift Parrot faces similar difficulties on its wintering grounds in Australia.  After migrating across the Bass Strait to escape Tasmania’s frigid cold, it must locate stands of flowering Swamp Mahogany, Spotted Gum and related trees, all of which also bloom at different times.  Its primary winter home lies in Victoria and southern New South Wales, but food shortages often force it north into Queensland.

The Orange-Bellied Grass Parakeet

The Orange-Bellied Grass Parakeet’s total population is estimated to hover between 50-180 individuals, making it one of the world’s scarcest birds…some ornithologists believe that it will be extinct in the wild within 5 years.  Also known as the Orange-Bellied Parrot, it shares many of the threats facing the Swift Parrot.  It too migrates from Australia to Tasmania to breed, then crosses the Bass Strait back to Australia as winter arrives.  Its breeding range is limited to a single patch of woodland in southwest Tasmania.

In common with the Swift Parrot, the Orange-Bellied Grass Parakeet also relies upon a scarce habitat and specialized food source while in South Australia, where it spends the winters.  Oddly for a parrot, it favors salt marshes, lagoons and estuaries – coastline habitats that are themselves threatened by development.  Its preferred foods, the seeds, fruits and stems of salt marsh plants, are to be found only within these fragile environments.  Introduced Red Foxes, Domestic Cats and European Starlings place additional pressures on over-wintering birds.

Further Reading

Ecology and Conservation of the Orange Bellied Parrot.

Swift Parrot Video.


Swift Parrot image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Frank Wouters and Snowmanradio


About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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