People and Places
28/05/2020
Parrots’ release a feather in the cap for sanctuary

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The future of our orange-bellied parrots is just a little brighter after Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park recently released 13 captive-bred parrots near Western Port Bay. This is the first time parrots have been released in this area and involves a world-first training regimen for these critically endangered birds.

The parrots spent two months before their release in a large aviary where they received daily re-call training to their food station in a bid to instil site fidelity – the tendency to return to or remain in a particular area. “The parrots responded extremely well to the training,” said Moonlit Sanctuary’s life sciences manager, Lisa Tuthill. “We consulted several international and local animal behaviourists to tailor a program for the parrots and we are thrilled with how the pre-release training progressed.”

The parrots were also able to be exposed to wind and rain, and gain awareness of birds of prey nearby. “Initially the parrots reacted with confused and random flight when a bird of prey such as a goshawk approached the aviary,” Lisa said. “However, quite quickly the parrots learnt to camouflage themselves on the grass in the aviary whenever a bird of prey appeared, so the training will help them survive better in the wild.”

Tracking devices were fitted to some of the parrots before their release so their whereabouts could be monitored. Several have since been observed feeding on saltmarsh, roosting in mangroves and also interacting with local blue-winged parrots. 

“The parrots are using the landscape just as we had hoped,” said Moonlit Sanctuary’s avian threatened species co-ordinator, Ashley Herrod. “We are excited at the prospect of naturally-migrating parrots arriving in Western Port Bay and joining up with the release birds, which is one of the main aims of the broader project.” 

Moonlit Sanctuary director Michael Johnson said the release was only possible thanks to two environmentally-dedicated landowners who allowed the sanctuary to build the aviary on their property next to the parrots’ saltmarsh habitat. 

The release is part of the four-year orange-bellied parrot mainland release trial, which aims to establish the parrots in suitable habitat in Victoria and attract naturally-migrating parrots to these sites. It is a joint project led by DELWP and Zoos Victoria. 

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