Melbourne’s north mecca for rare parrot

Birdwatchers from far and wide are coming to La Trobe University's Melbourne campus and nearby woodlands in unprecedented numbers to see the very rare and critically endangered Swift Parrot.

The vivid green migratory bird with its distinctive red face is making its annual winter journey to mainland Australia from Tasmania. Only about 1,000 breeding pairs remain according to recent reports.

Botany researcher Dr Denise Fernando says the native trees and bush character of the University is a significant near-city drawcard for the birds. 

La Trobe's Wildlife Sanctuary and the protected native trees of Macleod form valuable remnant habitat where eucalypts produce nectar, pollen and lerps critical for the survival of Swift Parrots and other native wildlife.

Dr Fernando says the nomadic Swift Parrot's habitat is increasingly at risk, primarily due to habitat loss in its native Tasmania, as well as in SE Australia where it winters on the mainland.  Its mainland range includes box-ironbark forests of Victoria and New South Wales.

Dream sighting

'Maintaining native tree cover in our rapidly developing northern suburbs is important. I've lived here for more than 20 years, and been fortunate to see them in our neighbourhood where native trees are protected,' she says.

The parrots arrived about two weeks ago, but Dr Fernando says she has never seen that much buzz around them, with so many telephoto lenses and binoculars trained at tree canopies.

She has spoken to birdwatchers – also known as twitchers ­– three of whom had come from Warrnambool just to see the birds.  'Word spreads fast by internet and face book among passionate bird watchers. They will jump into their cars at a moment's notice to go to reported sightings.'

La Trobe Head of Life Sciences Professor Michael Clarke is a leading ornithologist and conservationist, and by dint of his job a professional bird watcher. 

In a dream sighting for most twitchers, he spotted 20 parrots in one tree – some one per cent of the entire reported population!

Media Contact: Ernest Raetz, 0412 261 919.

Photo: Rohan Clarke Wildlife Images

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