The old man rang me early yesterday morning and quickly told me to turn on the radio… and it was a jolly good thing that he did.
Ian (Macca) McNamara was doing his usual Sunday morning ‘Australia All Over’ program on ABC 774, and Dad informed me that his guest was a bloke called Tom Biggs, and they were about to talk about the Night Parrot. I flicked on the wireless just in time to hear Macca announce that they were going to the news, but would be back shortly to talk with Tom about the ground parrot. This was surely a slip of the tongue as I knew, as will my reader, Tom Biggs as the associate of John Young – famous re-discoverer of the Night Parrot (still congeneric with the Eastern and Western Ground Parrots but for how much longer?)
Tom had evidently been an interesting guest, but no-one will be surprised to read that the only bit I was interested in was the parrot. Tom went through a quick summary of Night Parrot news since John Young’s 2013 announcement of its re-discovery. Tom then literally (figuratively) let the cat out of the bag with the revelation that John had discovered evidence at the site to indicate that a female Night Parrot had been taken by a feral cat.
This is bad news any way you slice it, but immediately I posted this news (I was sticking brief snippets on Facebook as I heard them for those unable to listen in), the thread sprang to life with some positive offerings along the lines of what this might teach us. Mark Carter, a frequent contributor to the scientific discourse on social media, responded in characteristically robust fashion:
“…this will be a chance to discover something more about their breeding ecology- will the male stay at the site, attract a new mate? How is that done? How long does it take him? Or does he leave and the site be occupied by new birds? Or the site just be abandoned (indicating that habitat availability isn’t what is holding these birds back)”
For all we know Night Parrots are getting taken by feral cats every week; here’s hoping, for this at least would mean that there is a population that has so far been big enough to endure this level of predation. In any case it means that the story of the conservation of the Night Parrot, like all of our other wildlife, is a story that will be inextricably linked with the control of invasive species. It’s only quite recently that the clear consensus emerging from the work of Australian ecologists has been that the very worst among the invasive animals (at least in terms of overall detrimental impact on native biodiversity) is the feral cat.
In October last year the birding community of Alice Springs was excited to have John Young at the Red Centre Bird Festival to deliver his talk about re-discovering the Night Parrot. Anyone who attended will testify that it was a riveting presentation, and historic in the sense that it was the first time John had told his story to an audience in the arid heartland of the bird’s former territory. I was lucky to attend on that night and will readily testify that John’s story had lost none of its immediacy in the telling, despite being almost 18 months old. John had no doubt recounted his journey hundreds of times over those months but the 104 people in the Alice Springs Desert Park theatre that evening felt as though they were the very first to hear it. They genuinely were the first to hear the announcement during that talk that John had been successful at locating two further populations of Night Parrots some 40kms from John’s initial site.
It’s exciting to announce then, that for the first time John will be travelling down to present his story to a Melbourne audience. On the evening of Sunday the 1st of March, the Deakin Edge at Federation Square will be hosting perhaps the greatest story of discovery in Australian natural history for over a century. Organisers are still finalising the finer details of this event, but we are hoping to have tickets available for purchase by the end of this week. As soon as further details are confirmed, they will be publicised here, and through all other channels that Melbourne birdos are likely to be checking.
If you’d like to listen to Macca’s full interview with Tom Biggs, or even just fast forward to the bits about the Night Parrot you can stream the entire show at this link.
With thanks to Steve Davidson for his beautiful painting of the Night Parrot for the thumbnail accompanying this post.