Breeding Orange-bellied Parrots (OBPs) in captivity provides an insurance population if extinction occurs in the wild and captive-bred birds for release to supplement the wild population.
Captive breeding population
The OBP captive-breeding program commenced in 1984 in Hobart and there are currently approximately 310 OBPs in captivity in Australia (as at 25/9/16). This number fluctuates throughout the year (e.g. declining when birds are released to the wild and increasing during the breeding season as juveniles are recruited into the population). The captive breeding program is managed as a Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasian Species Management Program and all breeding and transfers are per Species Coordinator recommendations.
The OBP captive breeding population is now housed at several locations: Hobart (Tas), Zoos Victoria and Moonlit Sanctuary (Vic), Adelaide Zoo (SA), and Priam Parrot Breeding Centre (NSW). The Zoos and Aquarium Association provides advice and oversight to the captive breeding program.
Orange-bellied Parrot chicks at the captive breeding facility in Hobart. Photo: DPIPWE
Translocation of captive-bred birds
Translocation of captive-bred birds into the wild is seen as an important management action to assist the recovery of OBPs in the wild. Ahead of the captive release, a number of OBPs are placed in quarantine under tight biosecurity controls and are screened for health and disease status, including
Psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD). The ancestry of all released birds is well known and is documented within the Zoos and Aquarium Association’s OBP studbook.
All captive-bred OBPs that are released into the wild have coloured leg bands, allowing ongoing identification and monitoring of individual birds.
Wild Orange-bellied Parrots interacting with captive-bred birds awaiting release at Melaleuca. Photo: DPIPWE
History of captive-bred release birds
Orange-bellied Parrots acclimatising to environmental conditions in an on-site avairy at Melaleuca prior to release. Photo: DPIPWE
In 1991–92 and 1992–93, a total of 25 captive-bred OBPs were released into the wild at Melaleuca to establish release techniques and post-release survival (Brown et al. 1994). Coloured bands were applied to each individual to aid identification and a soft release technique was used. Observations indicated post-release survival was high and most birds remained in the area for the entire summer. Released birds were also observed to pair with other released birds or with wild birds, and many successfully raised young. Released birds tended to migrate later than wild-bred adults, behaving more like wild-bred juveniles (i.e. departing March–April).
None of the 11 birds released in 1991 were subsequently observed on the mainland nor in the following season at Melaleuca. Of the 14 birds released in 1992, two individuals were observed in Victoria during winter and an additional two birds were observed back at Melaleuca in the spring of 1993, thus confirming captive-bred birds can migrate successfully and return to breed after release. However, some released birds were not seen again, either in the wintering range or at Melaleuca in subsequent years
– their fate remaining unknown.
The success of trial releases at Melaleuca led to attempts to reintroduce the species to a previously known breeding area at Birchs Inlet. Between 1999 and 2009, ca. 423 OBPs were released and monitored. While a small number of released birds bred at Birchs Inlet, producing 71 fledglings, and some were observed to complete migration, ultimately the population did not establish. The reason for this failure are probably a combination of small numbers of releases, low fertility, predation of females by sugar gliders, low annual survival and, most importantly, the lack of wild birds (to provide opportunities for learnt wild behaviours).
In 2013, ten of the 24 captive-bred birds that were released at Melaleuca survived to migrate north at the end of the breeding season (Gales 2014). Four of these birds subsequently returned to Melaleuca at the start of the 2014–15 breeding season, confirming their ability to survive and undertake migration. Eighteen of the 27 birds released in the spring 2014 survived to migrate north in autumn 2015 (Troy and Gales 2015). In November 2015, a further translocation of 13 captive-bred OBPs took place at Melaleuca and 11 survived the breeding season (Troy and Gales 2016).
Brown, P.B., Holdsworth, M.C. and Rounsevell, D.E. 1994. Captive breeding and release as a means of increasing the orange-bellied parrot population in the wild. Pp. 135-141 in Serena, M. (Ed.) 1995. Reintroduction Biology of Australian and New Zealand Fauna. Surrey Beatty, Chipping Norton.
Gales, R. 2014. Save the Orange-bellied Parrot Program Tasmanian Wild Population 2013-14 Report. DPIPWE, Tasmania
Troy, S. and R. Gales. 2015. Orange-bellied Parrot Program Tasmanian Wild Population 2014-15 Report. DPIPWE, Tasmania
Troy, S. and R. Gales. 2016. Tasmanian Orange-bellied Parrot Program: Report on the Tasmanian Wild Population 2015-16. DPIPWE, Tasmania