night parrot in flight
Night parrot spotted in
Western Australia in March 2017
© Bruce Greatwich

The night parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) is a small, elusive parrot endemic to Australia. It is 22-25 cm long, short-tailed and dumpy in appearance. Adults are mostly green with extensive black and yellow markings, and a yellow belly. Night parrots are highly cryptic in nature – they are nocturnal, ground-feeding parrots that inhabit remote arid and semi-arid areas of Australia.

The night parrot is a threatened species under State and Commonwealth legislation. In Western Australia, the species is listed as Critically Endangered fauna under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. Nationally it is listed as Endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and internationally on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.

Where are night parrots found?

Historically, night parrots have been reported from arid and semi-arid regions of Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory.

map night parrots
Map of historical records compiled by S. Murphy et al., including records to 2007.

Records of night parrots over the last century are scant. Because the species is highly cryptic, it has been difficult to obtain convincing proof of its current presence, though there have been persuasive ongoing reports. In 1990 and 2006, two dead specimens were found in western Queensland. Accepted sightings have been recorded from near Fortescue Marsh in the Pilbara in 2005 and near Wiluna in the Goldfields over the last decade. In 2013, a population of night parrots was rediscovered and subsequently intensively studied in western Queensland, revealing much about their ecology. In March 2017 a population was observed and photographed at an interior salt lake in central Western Australia.

Night parrot roosting and nesting sites are in clumps of dense vegetation, primarily old and large spinifex (Triodia) clumps, but sometimes other vegetation types. Often the vegetation in these habitats will be naturally fragmented and therefore well protected from fire. Little is known about foraging sites, but favoured sites are likely to vary across the range of the species. In Queensland, night parrots have been shown to feed in areas rich in herbs including forbs, grasses and grass-like plants, and it is likely that such areas may also be important in Western Australia. Triodia is likely also to provide a good food resource for night parrots, in times of mass flowering and seeding, but they also rely heavily on a range of other food species. Sclerolaena has been shown to be a source of food and moisture.

Main threats to night parrots

Little is known about the threats to night parrots and they are likely to vary across its range. Suspected threats include:

  • Inappropriate fire regimes (frequent and/or widespread fires)
  • Moderate/heavy grazing by domestic or feral herbivores (noting however that some populations of night parrots have been found to persist in areas of low levels of grazing by cattle in both Queensland and Western Australia)
  • Predation by feral cats
  • Loss or degradation of habitat by deliberate disturbance or development activities potentially including mining and associated infrastructure / related activities
  • Climate change (increasing temperatures will increase the need to find water or succulent (55% water) food during summer and risk of fire).

Night parrot surveys

Given the apparent rarity and specific habitat requirements of the night parrot, surveys in suitable areas of Western Australia that may be proposed for significant disturbance activities are likely to be necessary to determine their presence, population size and distribution. This will assist in preventing night parrot populations from being significantly negatively impacted before their distribution and ecological requirements are properly understood.

An interim survey guideline has been developed based on the best available knowledge to assist in determining when night parrot surveys may be required and the appropriate methods for preliminary survey in Western Australia. The latest version of the guideline is provided below. Please note that this guideline will be subject to change as new information about night parrots becomes available.

Any surveys for night parrots should be reported to Parks and Wildlife (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), including when night parrots are not detected from targeted surveys, so that knowledge can be built up about the likely distribution of this species, its habitat and the optimal survey methodology. Similarly, any sightings outside of formal surveys should also be reported to this address.

Current night parrot research

Detailed research on the biology and ecology of night parrots is being undertaken in Queensland. Currently, the highest research priority in Western Australia is survey to determine the extent and abundance of the species in this state.

Further information