AppearanceThe Orange-bellied Parrot is a small parrot around 20 cm long; the adult male has bright green upperparts, and yellow below with a prominent, two-toned blue frontal band, a green-blue uppertail with yellow sides, and an orange patch on its belly. The under wing-coverts and flight feathers are dark blue, with paler blue median wing-coverts. Its iris is dark brown and beak and feet greyish. The adult female is a duller green with a paler blue frontal band. The juvenile is a duller green colour.
The Orange-bellied Parrot utters soft tinkling notes, as well as a distinctive rapidly repeated chittering alarm call unlike that of other members of the genus. The alarm call is a quickly repeated tzeet.
NamingThe Orange-bellied Parrot was first described by ornithologist John Latham in 1790. He gave it the specific name, ''chrysogaster'', Ancient Greek for 'golden belly'. No subspecies are recognised. It is one of six species of grass parrot in the genus ''Neophema''. It has previously been known as the Orange-breasted Parrot - a name given to the Orange-bellied Parrot in 1926 by the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union or RAOU when the word 'belly' was considered inelegant.
DistributionOrange-bellied Parrots only breed in South West Tasmania, where they nest in eucalypts bordering on button grass moors. The entire population migrates over Bass Strait to spend the winter on the coast of south-eastern Australia. These few sites contain their favoured salt marsh habitat, and includes sites in or close to Port Phillip such as Werribee Sewage Farm, the Spit Nature Conservation Reserve, the shores of Swan Bay, Swan Island, Lake Connewarre State Wildlife Reserve, Lake Victoria and Mud Islands, as well as French Island in Western Port.
StatusThis species has a very small population and is on the verge of extinction in the wild. It is listed on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered. The current wild population is estimated at under 50 individuals, with a further 208 birds in captive breeding programs. Recent modelling suggests that on current trends the species will become extinct in the wild within five years.
In early 2011, 21 new 'founders' were collected from the wild in order to improve the captive flock's genetic diversity. These birds were shared among the three core institutions with previous Orange-bellied Parrot breeding experience and were paired with existing captive birds to begin spreading new genes through the captive population.
In May 2011, media attention focussed on the 10 individuals transferred by aircraft from Tasmania to Healesville Sanctuary near Melbourne, which was described as a last-ditch effort to save the species from extinction. It is hoped that the new additions from the wild will improve the genetic diversity of the 80 birds at Healesville Sanctuary, which are all descended from three pairs. Captive populations in Hobart and Adelaide are also important to the aim of releasing captive bred birds back to the wild.
In July, 2012, it was announced that 19 of 21 pairs with founders had produced eggs and that across all three institutions, 31 fledglings had been produced from these new pairs.
Captive breeding began to be expanded at the end of 2011 when Priam Australia Pty Ltd, a commercial parrot breeding centre in New South Wales, received five pairs of Orange-bellied Parrots.
In August, 2012, a private zoo, Moonlit Sanctuary in Pearcedale, Victoria, received seven birds for display and possible breeding. The same month, another private zoo, Halls Gap Zoo in western Victoria, received five pairs of birds for breeding. With three larger breeding facilities and four smaller groups of birds involved in the captive breeding program, it is hoped the captive population will increase quickly.
BehaviorThe Orange-bellied Parrot is found in pairs or small flocks, and generally remain on the ground or in low foliage searching for food. Their diet consists of seeds of species such as the grass ''Poa billardierei'', saltbush , Austral seablite and sea heath , as well as berries, such as those of ''Coprosma''. They have also been reported eating kelp.
HabitatOrange-bellied Parrots only breed in South West Tasmania, where they nest in eucalypts bordering on button grass moors. The entire population migrates over Bass Strait to spend the winter on the coast of south-eastern Australia. These few sites contain their favoured salt marsh habitat, and includes sites in or close to Port Phillip such as Werribee Sewage Farm, the Spit Nature Conservation Reserve, the shores of Swan Bay, Swan Island, Lake Connewarre State Wildlife Reserve, Lake Victoria and Mud Islands, as well as French Island in Western Port.
ReproductionBreeding season is October to January with one brood raised. The nest is a hollow in a tree, less than 5 m above the ground. Four or five white eggs are laid measuring 20 mm x 23 mm.
PredatorsThe 2000 Action Plan for Australian Birds identifies the following potential threats to the Orange-bellied Parrot:
⤷ Fragmentation and degradation of over-wintering habitat
⤷ Competition with introduced seed-eaters
⤷ Abandonment of former breeding habitat due to altered fire regime and competition for hollows
⤷ Random events due to the small size of the population
⤷ Disorientation from brightly lit fishing boats
⤷ Introduced predators
Other identified potential threats include:
⤷ Lack of safety in numbers for a small bird attractive to avian predators
⤷ Historically was trapped for aviculture
⤷ A stomach virus is threatening a breeding program for the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot.
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