The Orange-bellied Parrot Tasmanian Program has seen many successes this season – and what a season it was!
The size of the Orange-bellied Parrot population is determined in December each year, after adult birds have returned to Melaleuca for breeding.
This season, the population size reached 51 birds! Five years ago, the population dropped to just 17 birds. Given that the entire population has had fewer than 35 adults since 2008, reaching 50+ returns was a huge milestone and a promising sign that the management actions occurring across the species distribution may be paying off.
With a total 76 Orange-bellied Parrots known to be alive at the start of November, program staff were hoping for a bumper breeding season, with up to 38 pairs available.
The DPIPWE-ANU team started nest checks in January, and the result was beyond any expectations. On the biggest day, the team banded and sampled 41 nestlings.
To put those numbers in perspective, no more than 40 Orange-bellied Parrot nestlings have been processed in any breeding season since 2006. This year, the team processed a total of 87 fledglings!
OBP team member Dr Shannon Troy with a handful of baby Orange-bellied Parrots
In total this season, 137 eggs were laid in 31 nests, hatching out 99 nestlings of which 87 fledged. The number of nests, eggs laid, and fledglings produced were the highest since systematic nest box monitoring began in 1994. The reproductive rates were also excellent, with average clutch and brood sizes and number of fledglings produced per nest all improving on recent years.
The other standout result this breeding season was the establishment of two nests at the New Harbour site, about 5km south of Melaleuca. Although within foraging range of Melaleuca, Orange-bellied Parrots have not nested in this area since nest boxes were installed in 2010, and recent releases of captive birds at the site did not establish breeding. This year, two pairs nested at New Harbour, producing seven fledglings, all of which joined the flock at Melaleuca before leaving on their migration.
This year, DPIPWE released a total of 81 Orange-bellied Parrots at Melaleuca: 31 adults in spring to increase the number of breeding pairs, and 50 juveniles at the end of the season to increase the size of the flock heading north.
Both releases were successful, with at least 7 of the nests this year parented by a captive-bred released adult, and 49 of the 50 captive-bred juveniles surviving to the end of the season to migrate.
Transporting Orange-bellied Parrots to Melaleuca for release
Throughout the season, Orange-bellied Parrots were observed feeding in the buttongrass plains around Melaleuca. While the supplementary food provided is important for population monitoring, Orange-bellied Parrots need to forage on natural food plants for nutritional reasons, to allow the population to expand beyond the feed table area, to reduce opportunities for disease transmission, and to ensure that birds are capable of foraging when they leave Melaleuca for the migration to spend winter on mainland Australia.
The program is currently seeing the benefits of planned burns that aimed to increase the abundance and availability of Orange-bellied Parrot food plants, and continues to work with the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service to identify priority areas for planned burns to improve Orange-bellied Parrot foraging habitat.
Large migrating population
One hundred and ninety-two Orange-bellied Parrots survived to the end of the breeding season to head north to migrate to mainland Australia this winter. This is the highest number of Orange-bellied Parrots to migrate since monitoring began in the early 1990s.
There is still a long way to go for the Orange-bellied Parrot to have a viable self-sustaining wild population, but this season's results are a long-awaited big step in the right direction.
DPIPWE's OBP climbing team getting ready to prepare nest boxes.
Next update will be a season wrap up from our DPIPWE Five Mile Beach captive team, who have also had an outstanding breeding season.
updates from the OBP program.