by Mary Caton

The Lathamus discolor or Swift Parrot is currently on the endangered list. It is estimated that there is a population of less than 2000 remaining in the wild.

swift parrot 1
Photo courtesty of Geoffrey Dabb

At the current rate, it is estimated that the Swift Parrot could become extinct within three generations. The number continues to decline due to loss of habitat and the predatory sugar glider. The Difficult Bird Research Group, based at the Australian National University, researches and studies the Swift Parrot as well as other endangered bird species. They report the difficulties in studying the Swift Parrot is due to the large, rugged migratory area as well as their elusiveness. The goal of the group is to find ways to intervene and prevent extinction.

The Swift Parrot is a slim, medium size parrot with bright green body and blue feathers from forehead to throat. There are crimson patches on the outer wing with crimson on the on the underwing. The females are slightly duller in color with prominent cream color on the underwing. Swift parrots are noisy, fast and very active.

Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Dabb

In early August to mid-September, the Swift Parrots migrate from the Australian mainland across Bass Straight to Tasmania where they forage the nectar of flowering eucalyptus. Upon arriving, they tend to be nomadic, staying in one place for days or just a few hours. In dry years, they are forced to travel longer distances for food. Swift Parrots breed in Tasmania during October to December. They make their nests in the hollows of the eucalyptus from which they feed.

Both the male and the female are involved in searching and preparing a nest. They like to build their nests close to other pairs. The female occupies the nest first and does not leave until the eggs are laid, the young are hatched and are sufficiently developed. Meanwhile, the male forages for food and feeds it to the female every 3-5 hours. The female usually lays 4 eggs. The babies fledge at 6 weeks. The young remain in the nesting area and gather in flocks before dispersing with the adults.

Snapshot video sequence
Photo courtesty of Geoffrey Dabb

During February-April the Swift Parrots arrive back on the mainland. During May-August they are nomadic throughout central, southern and northeast Victoria as well as along the coast. Occasionally, they are found in Southeast Queensland.

There are several factors leading to the endangerment of the Swift Parrot. Approximately one third of Australia’s woodlands are being cleared for commercial and residential projects. Loss of habitat due to logging has reduced their habitat and worsened the risk of being attacked by the sugar gliders. Sugar gliders are nocturnal and enter the nests at night killing the female and the young. About half the female swift parrots that attempt to nest are eaten by the sugar gliders every year. One solution to stop the sugar glider is to install nest boxes with mechanical doors which close at night. Swift Parrots need protection from Sugar Gliders, but that is not enough.

Dr. Dejan Stojanovic studies this wonderful bird and other birds that are endangered. Follow him on Twitter @teamswiftparrot. Through his work, support from others, and ongoing education, perhaps we can stop the extinction. For further information, you can visit the websites listed under Resources.

Resources: View this great Powerpoint by Chris Tzaros and Dean Ingwersen of the Woodland Bird Conservation Project. Go to Downloads and click Swifty-Regents Powerpoint

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