An Australian bushman and naturalist claims to have captured video footage of the night parrot, a bird not seen alive for more than a century.
John Young, who describes himself as a wildlife detective, showed the footage and a number of still photos of the bird to a packed room of enthusiasts and media at the Queensland Museum on Wednesday. The desert-dwelling night parrot, Pezoporus occidentalis, has never been photographed and the only evidence of its continued existence has been two dead birds found in 1990 and 2006.
Wildlife authorities and birders responded to the sighting with excitement, saying the evidence supporting Young’s claim was overwhelming.
Dr Steve Murphy, senior ecologist at the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Land Management Unit in South Australia, told ABC News that the finding was a certainty.
“It’s incontrovertible. He’s got stills, he’s got moving videos and he’s got feathers,” he said.
Decimated during the 19th century by introduced cats and foxes, the night parrot’s population plummeted and it fell out of the scientific record until 1990 when a dead bird was found by a roadside in southwest Queensland.
Throughout the next two decades, many naturalists ventured into the vast Australian desert attempting to confirm the bird’s continued existence and the nocturnal parrot began to develop a mythological reputation.
Australian conservationists likened Young’s sighting to “finding Elvis Presley flipping burgers in the outback”.
Young’s quest to find the parrot started 15 years ago. During that time he spent 17,000 hours in the field, camping in some of the most remote places in Australia’s dry, inhospitable interior.
In 2007, doubt was cast on a previous claim by Young to have discovered a new species of fig parrot. Some experts accused him of doctoring his photos to make the species appear to be novel. He says he has hundreds of photos and 17 seconds of video of the night parrot.
“There’s absolutely no doubt. I’ve made mistakes before but I won’t do it again,” said Young.
He has refused to make public the precise location of the find, somewhere in Western Queensland, in order to preserve the security of the habitat. His photographs and footage were unavailable due to a deal with a media company.
Birdlife International’s Dr Martin Fowlie said that, if confirmed, the announcement was “great news and incredibly exciting”.
“Among birdwatchers the night parrot has a sort of legendary status,” he said.
Fowlie said the current estimate of the population was between 50 and 250 night parrots but, due to its elusive nature and the size of the potential habitat, there may be many more.
He said the sighting was a wonderful opportunity to conserve the species.
Night parrot. Illustration by: John Gould.
The Warbler Guide – book review
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