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New car park for Ben Lomond National Park


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Swift parrot

Current status

[Photo of swift parrot by D. Watts.]

The swift parrot (Lathamus discolor) is listed as endangered under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 and the Federal Act.

Why is it a threatened species?

The swift parrot fits the criteria because its numbers are low and do not appear to be increasing. In fact, there is some indication that its numbers may be continuing to decline. Summer counts (1995-96) estimated the population at less than 1000 breeding pairs. Another reason for the swift parrot's threatened status is its blue gum habitat is mostly on unprotected land and is disappearing.

To understand why the swift parrot is threatened you need to have some understanding of its ecology. Swift parrots are what we call breeding endemics. This means they only breed in Tasmania. They spend winter on the mainland, dispersed throughout Victoria and NSW. On the mainland they are semi-nomadic, often flying around in large flocks, foraging on flowering eucalypts and lerps (lerps are a protective covering secreted by some insects).

Why are blue gums important?

Prior to summer, swift parrots return to Tasmania to breed in old hollow trees. The birds mainly feed on the nectar of blue gum flowers (Eucalyptus globulus). Their breeding range is restricted to the areas in Tasmania where blue gums occur, which is on Tasmania's east coast.

Unfortunately blue gums have been cleared for agriculture and are continuing to be cleared. Also timber harvesting removes old trees so that the age of our blue gum forests is lowered. Old trees produce more flowers and nectar for the swift parrots and other nectar-feeding animals. Loss of old trees means there is less food for the swift parrots to eat during the breeding season and is the major reason for the swift parrot's decline. Old trees also provide nesting hollows essential for the breeding success of the swift parrot.

What is being done?

There is an Environment Australia sponsored recovery plan in progress for the swift parrot. This identifies the threats to it and the action required to reduce these threats and prevent the species from continuing to decline. One obvious thing is to stop cutting down blue gum trees. Instead we should be retaining blue gums and also planting them on the east coast within their natural range. Education programs have been set up to encourage planting of blue gums and there has been a good response. However, it will be a long time before they can support swift parrots. Much research is still needed to work out the big picture effects of blue gum flowering on swift parrot breeding success.

As with the orange-bellied parrot, the swift parrot is a good example of how co-operation between the States is needed to ensure the survival of a species. In Tasmania it is important that we protect and encourage the parrot's breeding and feeding habitat. Mainland States where the parrot spends its winter need to protect this part of its habitat also. Volunteers find and count parrots in mainland States and Tasmania. This helps to gather important information including identification of the bird's habitat.

Another threat to the swift parrots comes from collisions with man made objects. Collisions can be reduced by placing pot plants in front of windows or applying a stencil to the window. Shade cloths can be thrown over chain mesh fences in areas where swift parrots feed.

View Distribution Map

Recommended further reading

Gaffney RF and PB Brown 1992. The Swift Parrot Recovery Plan: Research Phase. Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmania.

Notesheet available from Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmania

Endangered Species: The Swift Parrot 1996.